Sellafield accident 'would not harm health here'

  • Deborah Condon

A serious incident at the Sellafield nuclear site, such as an explosion or earthquake, would have ‘no observable health effects in Ireland', a new report has found.

The report, Risks to Ireland from Incidents at the Sellafield Site, was prepared by a team of international experts and was released by the Department of the Environment.

The Sellafield site in the UK is, at its nearest point, about 180km from Ireland's coastline. According to the report, ‘because of the site's location, its history, and the amount and type of radioactive materials there, the government and the Irish people have long been concerned about how an incident at the site might impact Ireland and the Irish Sea'.

The independent team of experts carried out a probabilistic risk assessment (PRA). This calculated the consequences from three different ‘realistic release scenarios with varying capability to loft radioactive materials high in the air so that the materials could be transported significant distances beyond the site boundary'.

The PRA then calculated how these materials could be dispersed and potentially deposited in Ireland.

The report concluded that ‘based on the results of the PRA, an incident at Sellafield or the Low-Level Waste Repository would result in no observable health effects in Ireland'.

However an incident would have the potential to create ‘significant socioeconomic impacts in Ireland', it noted.

"These impacts may include 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 report said.

The team looked at a number of incidents ranging from ‘mild', such as minor equipment malfunctions, to ‘severe', such as earthquakes, to ‘very rare severe incidents, such as impacts by meteorites'.

The probability that a meteorite would hit a part of Sellafield containing highly radioactive materials in the next 100 years was estimated to be just 0.007%.

"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," commented Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan.


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