Our yearly radiation exposure equal to 200 X-rays
THE Irish population is exposed to more radiation than most of our EU neighbours, receiving the equivalent dose of 200 chest X-rays each year.
And a new study says that the amount of radiation we're exposed to is almost 10pc more than previously thought.
The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) revealed yesterday that most exposure is from natural radiation, particularly radon gas, but that using airplanes, undergoing medical procedures and discharges from Sellafield and the after-effects of 1986's Chernobyl nuclear disaster also play a part.
The report, 'Radiation Doses Received by the Irish Population', notes that radon gas is the second most common cause of lung cancer but that it can be controlled through measurement and remediation.
However, medical exposure is a cause for "potential concern", the report notes, with author Dr Tony Colgan warning that X-rays should be "fully justified".
"In recent years several countries have experienced a very significant increase in the radiation exposure of patients," he said.
"Many of the new diagnostic techniques now available routinely deliver relatively high radiation doses and it is important that, at the individual level and in consultation with expert medical advice, each exposure is fully justified."
Radiation falls into two groups: naturally occurring and man-made or artificial. Natural radiation sources include radon, thoron, cosmic rays, gamma radiation from the ground and natural radiation found in food and water.
Man-made radiation is used in medicine and industry and comes from nuclear power generation; reprocessing of nuclear fuel in facilities such as Sellafield; medical procedures; and fallout from nuclear weapons testing.
A breakdown shows that 85.9pc of radiation exposure is from natural sources, with medical sources comprising 13.7pc.
The remainder, 0.4pc, is from artificial sources.
"The evaluation undertaken clearly identifies radon as the primary source of radiation dose in Ireland," Dr Colgan said.
"Radon is a cancer causing gas and is the second most important cause of lung cancer in the country. It is also one of the few sources which can be controlled through measurement and remediation, both of which are relatively inexpensive to undertake. For these reasons, the RPII has always highlighted radon as a key radiation protection issue."
Over 95pc of all radiation exposure in the workplace is due to radon.
Radiation doses in Ireland attributable to discharges from the Sellafield reprocessing plant are "low" compared to other sources of radiation exposure.
The report's findings show that the average annual radiation dose in Ireland from all sources of radiation is 3950 microsievert (mSv).
The is compared with 2600mSv in the UK, 4200mSv in Germany and a worldwide average of 2800mSv. In Germany, the dose due to medical exposures is more than three times higher than in Ireland.