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Serious accident at Sellafield would pose 'no immediate risks to health' in Ireland

A recent BBC panorama investigation suggested there were serious safety concerns at the plant.

Image: Owen Humphreys PA Archive/PA Images

A NEW REPORT from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that a serious accident occurring at Sellafield would pose no immediate health risk to the population in Ireland.

Looking at the potential radiological impact of a severe accident at the nuclear plant, the EPA report suggests strong controls on food to avoid long term consequences.

Dr Ciara McMahon, programme manager in the EPA’s office of Radiological Protection, said that “severe radiological effects in Ireland are unlikely” if a serious accident were to occur at the facility, which is approximately 180km from Ireland’s coastline on the Cumbrian coast.

Safety concerns

A recent BBC panorama investigation unearthed several safety concerns at the nuclear plant.

The programme found that parts of the plant in Cumbria regularly have too few staff to operate safely and that radioactive materials have been stored in degrading plastic bottles.

The investigation was prompted by a whistleblower, with Panorama being told parts of the facility are dangerously rundown.

The whistleblower, a former senior manager, said: “If there is a fire there it could generate a plume of radiological waste that will go across Western Europe.”

At the time, Minister Denis Naughten said that Sellafield was an ongoing concern for the Irish government. He said that a meeting had been requested with the UK’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to discuss the Panorama programme.

Radiological impact

The EPA’s study assessed the potential exposure to radiation for people and contamination of the environment for a year following such an accident.

In each scenario considered, the EPA said that the “predicted radiation doses were found to be below the levels which would require measures such as sheltering, relocation or evacuation of people”.

sellafield Sellafield is on the west coast of England, around 180km away from Irish coastlines Source: Google Maps

The report did, however, recommend appropriate food controls to ensure food for sale is safe to eat. If controls weren’t put in place, “significant radiation doses could be incurred in the year following the accident through the consumption of contaminated foods,” the EPA said.

They added that, for almost 90% of the time, the prevailing weather conditions in Ireland would mean that any radioactive plume from Sellafield would travel in an easterly direction, and thus away from Ireland.

Green Party councillor David Healy told TheJournal.ie that the report showed that the health impact can be avoided if government takes the appropriate steps.

Healy said:

It’s re-assuring that we can take the right steps but that itself is very challenging, but it requires a fast administrative reaction. The report show that systems could be put in place to protect the public at an enormous cost, but it would be worth paying.

You can read the full report here.

Read: Calls for Sellafield to be closed down after investigation exposes safety concerns

Read: 30 years on: The impact of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster

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Sean Murray

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