The threat to the health of the Irish population posed by the construction of nuclear power plants at up to eight sites in the UK before 2025 is ‘very low,’ according to a new report from the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII).

The study, released 21 May, said that routine operation of the proposed nuclear power plants, five of which are located on the Irish Sea coast, will have "no measurable radiological impact" on Ireland or the Irish marine environment. It also found that radioactive releases associated with other aspects of the UK nuclear programme, such as fuel fabrication and radioactive waste management, would have no radiological significance to people in Ireland.

The study assessed five severe accident scenarios with chances of occurrence ranging from 1 in 50,000 to 1 in 33 million per year. For all but the worst case scenario the RPII concluded that there would be "no observable health effects." However it did note that food controls and agricultural protective actions would be required if any of the accidents occurred, potentially coming at a "high socio-economic cost."

In the worst-case scenario studied, people would require short-term sheltering (remaining indoors for 24-48 hours during passage of the plume), and there would be long-term food controls and changes in farming practices. Additional monitoring of the environment and food would also be required in the years to decades following the accident.

The report noted that any radioactive contamination in the air, either from day-to-day operation of the proposed nuclear power plants or accidental releases, would be transported away from Ireland "most of the time," based on analysis of weather conditions prevailing in Ireland and the UK over the past two decades.

"This report concludes that severe radiological effects in Ireland are unlikely as a result of building new nuclear power plants in the UK, but a socio-economic impact will be seen in the event of a very severe accident," said to Dr Ann McGarry, chief executive of the RPII.

The report also warned that there is a "continuing need" for the maintenance of emergency plans in Ireland to deal with the consequences of a nuclear accident abroad.

The full report is available here


Photo: Wylfa at 110 km is the closest nuclear reactor to Ireland (photo: Magnox Limited)