EPA says no direct health risk from a Sellafield accident
A Sellafield accident would pose no immediate health risk in Ireland but strong food controls would be necessary, according to a new report published by the Environmental Protection Agency on the potential radiological impact of a serious accident at the nuclear plant.
The study assessed the potential exposure to radiation for people and contamination of the environment for a year following an accident.
For each of the worst case scenarios considered, the predicted radiation doses were found to be below levels which would require measures such as sheltering, relocation or the evacuation of people.
However, without appropriate food controls, significant radiation doses could be experienced in the year following the accident through the consumption of contaminated food, according to the report.
Ireland's National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents provides for the implementation of food controls and measures on farms to reduce radiation doses and ensure food for sale is safe to eat.
The EPA study highlights the importance of effective food controls as envisaged in the national plan.
'The report concludes that severe radiological effects in Ireland are unlikely as a result of an accident at the Sellafield fuel reprocessing plan but food controls would be a key priority in order to protect the public,' said Dr. Ciara McMahon, Programme Manager in the EPA's Office of Radiological Protection.
She said the assessment was carried out as part of the EPA's role in advising the Government and the public on radiation risks.
'It is an important piece of research as it allows us to focus emergency arrangements on the actual risks we could face in the event of a severe accident at Sellafield', she said.
The EPA carried out an indepth study of the consequences of the most severe accidents that were identified in the Sellafield risk assessment combined with weather conditions that carried the radioactive plume across Ireland with rain depositing material on the ground.
Four potential accident scenarios were assessed. All involved low probability, severe nuclear accident scenarios and the corresponding potential radioactive releases to the environment.
For almost 90% of the time, the prevalent meteorological conditions in Ireland would result in any radioactive plume from Sellafield travelling in an easterly direction away from Ireland.
Environmental prediction models were used to calculate the transfer of radioactivity to Ireland via the air. Computer models were used to determine the transfer of radioactivity through the Irish environment and into food and the consequent radiation doses to people.
While protective actions have been shown to be effective in ensuring that food for sale is safe to consume, they do have significant socio-economic implications and costs, according to the report.
The National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents which can be found on the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government website is intended to minimise the impact on Ireland and its population in the event of a major nuclear accident abroad.
While previous studies showed that the likelihood of a severe accident at Sellafield is low, the accident scenarios studied were those identified as having the greatest potential to have an impact on Ireland.
The EPA report complements the recently published ESRI report into the significant economic consequences of a major nuclear event.
The term 'radiological impact' means radiation doses to people and food contamination.
The full report is available on the EPA website.