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New Report assesses the risks to Ireland from incidents at Sellafield

27/11/12

Report concludes that incidents at the Sellafield site resulting in the release of radioactive material would result in “no observable health effects in Ireland”
 
Phil Hogan T.D., Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government today (27.11.2012) released the summary of a report prepared by an independent team of international experts which assesses the probable risks to Ireland from incidents at the Sellafield nuclear site. The Report concluded that  incidents at the Sellafield site resulting in the release of radioactive material would result in “no observable health effects in Ireland”.

Minister Hogan said: “For many decades, the Government of Ireland and its people have been concerned about the potential impacts on Ireland and the Irish Sea from nuclear activities at the Sellafield site. A group of eight independent experts  quantified the likelihood of incidents occurring at Sellafield, and amongst their key findings is, that incidents at the Sellafield site resulting in the release of radioactive material would result in “no observable health effects in Ireland”.

In 2008, a joint confidential technical information exchange project relating to Sellafield and its associated facilities was set up by the Irish and British Governments. The shared objective of the project is to provide an established co-operative process for sharing information and addressing any technical issues arising. This represented a significant advance in addressing Ireland’s longstanding concerns about Sellafield. Its key output is a Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) report of the risks to Ireland and Irish interests from incidents at the Sellafield nuclear site. The assessment was conducted by a team of independent technical experts, that included nuclear physicists, chemists and engineers.

This report released today entitled - “Risks to Ireland from Incidents at the Sellafield Site” is based on previously unavailable information which was essential to building up an objective and scientifically robust assessment of the risks to Ireland from Sellafield.

The Minister added: “My Department and others will now study the information in the report in detail and use it to feed it into Government policies relating to Sellafield and nuclear policy in the UK. Ireland must continue to be vigilant in relation to Sellafield as work to decommission the site over the lifetime of the “Sellafield Plan” continues. It is critical from an Irish perspective that the UK decommissioning of the site is undertaken safely and in accordance with best international practice.”

The publication of this report today marks the improved information sharing process that has developed between the Irish and UK Governments since 2008. Particularly given our status as a non-nuclear country, Ireland looks forward to the continued timely sharing of key information with the UK Authorities in the future on nuclear matters.

ENDS


Note for Editors

Project history:
In 2008, following correspondence between the Taoiseach and UK Prime Minister in which the Taoiseach raised concerns about safety issues, risk assessments and other technical matters associated with the Sellafield nuclear site in West Cumbria, a confidential technical information exchange project was set up by the two Governments.
 
The shared objective of the project was to provide an established co-operative process for sharing information and addressing technical issues relating to activities carried out at Sellafield and its associated facilities. Its key output is a Probabilistic Risk Assessment (PRA) report of the risks from Sellafield to Ireland and to Irish interests.

This assessment was conducted by a team of independent, international experts commissioned by  the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, and was facilitated by the UK authorities (with the co-operation of Sellafield management) through the provision of detailed technical information about the Sellafield site and the activities carried out there. The expert team has brought specialist knowledge and expertise which is not readily available within the Irish Government system due to the absence of a nuclear power generation or reprocessing industry here.

The project required substantial preparations between both Governments before the information exchange began.  Once it did begin the expert team developed their understanding of the individual facilities and their operations by means of three 2 week site visits over a two year period as well as examining hundreds of documents related to the operations at Sellafield. This initiative represented a significant advance in addressing Ireland’s longstanding concerns about Sellafield.

Key findings of the Project:

Based on the results of the PRA, an incident at Sellafield or the nearby Low-Level Waste Repository (LLWR) causing the release of radioactive material would result in no observable health effects in Ireland.

Possible scenarios, or combinations thereof, considered by the PRA Team included natural phenomena (eg; earthquakes, meteorite strikes), and incidents such as airplane crashes, terrorist attacks, explosions, fires, and human error.

However, the PRA also found that some severe incidents at Sellafield or at the LLWR have the potential to create significant socioeconomic impacts in Ireland, such as loss of tourism and markets for Irish seafood and farm products because of concerns that radioactive materials may be present, despite monitoring data confirming that all food for sale or export complies with the limits set to protect consumer health..

The expert team also examined a very long term event: Hundreds of years from now, rising sea levels and severe coastal storms could cause the entire contents of the LLWR to be released into the Irish Sea. Radioactive materials decay predictably over time, making them less toxic to human health and the environment. If the radioactive material in the repository emptied into the Irish Sea in the far future, the radioactive materials will have reached less harmful levels by that time. In addition, the discharges would be diluted by seawater and currents. Based on calculations that overestimate the consequences of such a release, the increase in radioactivitylevels in seawater would be barely detectable anywhere near the coast of Ireland..

RPII Survey:
In 2010, in a survey commissioned by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland of a nationally representative sample of adults aged 15+ (1,000 interviews)
• 29% of respondents said they were very/fairly concerned about how Sellafield affects Ireland, and
• 59% of respondents perceived pollution from Sellafield as high risk .

 

 

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