Sellafield poses no health risk to State, says report

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Sellafield nuclear site on the edge of the Irish Sea in Cumbria poses no health risk to Ireland, according to a report commissioned by the Government. Even the worst-case incident such as a massive explosion would not produce “observable health effects in Ireland”, the report states.

Put together over several years by eight mostly US experts, the report was released yesterday by Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan.

The experts assessed the impact of a range of incidents such as earthquakes, aircraft crashes, explosions, fires, terrorist attacks and even meteorite strikes. They looked at the Sellafield plant but also at anything affecting the on-site low-level nuclear waste repository.

They included incidents where radioactive materials were blown on the wind across the Irish Sea to be deposited here, but even then such an incident would cause no detectable health impact, the report’s authors stated.

The only measurable adverse effect was the potential for socioeconomic impacts, they said. This would arise if tourists were put off coming to Ireland because of radiation or if sales of Irish seafood or farm products were reduced.

The report became possible following the 2008 release by the British authorities of information on Sellafield which was not previously available, Mr Hogan said. This enabled the Government to commission the international group of engineers and scientists to conduct a “probabilistic risk assessment” to gauge the dangers posed by the plant, Mr Hogan said. The team, including several experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, made three two-week site visits to Sellafield, he said. The report represented a significant advance in answering Irelands concerns about the plant, he added.

Oisín Coghlan of Friends of the Earth said: “If it is borne out it is welcome, but it doesn’t change the objections we have to nuclear power as a fake solution for climate change.”

The report was independent of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, but was welcomed by it, a spokesman there said yesterday. “It provides more detailed information about an accident at Sellafield,” he said.

The team included a “very long-term event” in its calculations, massive sea level rise hundreds of years into the future that would wash all of the contents of the waste repository into the sea. Even then radioactivity levels would be “barely detectable anywhere near our coasts”, the report said.

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