The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) All Ireland Forum has read with interest the Environment Protection Agency’s report on health and environmental impacts from a major accident to the Sellafield facility, and has real concerns about it in a number of key areas.
This second EPA report follows on from an earlier report of the economic impacts of a nuclear accident affecting Ireland. It noted in the worse case scenario an accident could cost Ireland €161 billion. (1)
The EPA report, ‘Potential radiological impact on Ireland of postulated severe accidents at Sellafield’, assessed the potential radiological impact on Ireland of a range of severe hypothetical accident scenarios at the Sellafield nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. It notes that the hypothetical accident scenarios studied were those identified in a risk assessment of Sellafield commissioned by the Irish Government as having the greatest potential to have an impact on Ireland.
The report found that for each of the accident scenarios that were considered, the predicted radiation doses were found to be below the levels which would give rise to sheltering, relocation or the evacuation of people being required.
The EPA does though note that without appropriate food controls, significant radiation doses could occur in the year following the accident through the consumption of contaminated foods. The EPA notes that Ireland’s National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents (NEPNA) would introduce food controls and on-farm measures, as appropriate, to reduce radiation doses from this pathway and ensure all food for sale is safe to eat. The EPA asserts that this highlights the importance of the introduction of effective food controls as highlighted in NEPNA. EPA argue that while protective actions have been shown to be very effective in controlling radioactivity levels in foods for sale, and hence radiation doses to people, they do have significant socio-economic implications and costs. (2)
The NFLA’s representative to the EPA’s Radiation Issues Committee, Paul Dorfman, has considered the report. He first notes that the EPA Report is actually based on a risk assessment developed by the Sellafield site.
He also notes that:
- The report does not take into consideration the key issue – the so-called ‘beyond design-based cascading accidents’ – involved in all major nuclear accidents so far.
- As the official Japanese Fukushima Investigation Committee reported: “The Fukushima accidents present us with crucial lessons on how we should be prepared for incidents beyond assumptions”.
- The reality is that the kind of ‘Probabilistic Risk Assessment’ that the study was based on is beset with problems. For example, as the European Environment Agency Report “Late Lessons from Early Warnings” notes: “Key to the analysis of nuclear safety is the analytical concept of probabilistic risk assessment (PRA). However, PRA has proven structurally limited in its ability to conceive and capture the outcomes and consequences of a nuclear accident resulting from a cascading series of events, as described in the Fukushima disaster and all previous major nuclear accidents”. (3)
NFLA also urge the EPA to consider the much broader approach to the same subject of Sellafield risks taken by the Norwegian Radiological Protection Agency. This includes an analysis of the age of components at the Sellafield site or by unintended initiated accidents like an airplane crash or a malicious attack on the facility. Their results are different to that of the EPA. In the view of the NFLA, if probability is the determining factor relating to nuclear accidents then no serious accidents may have happened, but they have, as most recently seen at Fukushima. The NFLA believe the EPA may have used very low probability and also low release fractions in the report which unsurprisingly have led to lower levels of contamination and can therefore be qualified as not hazardous. (4)
NFLA further note with disappointment that the Government has yet to make any substantive public comment on the BBC ‘Panorama’ documentary which raised serious revelations from a former senior employee on critical risks at the Sellafield site. NFLA have written repeatedly to the Environment Minister Denis Naughton and have received to date no formal response. (5)
NFLA would also like to see a full audit on Ireland’s state of readiness under the National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents. It is now nine years (Exercise Euranos, November 2007) since the plan was given a full test. (6) That exercise only focused on food and not on other key issues such as whether the health service could cope with additional pressures from a nuclear accident. Since 2007, there have also been many learning points from the Fukushima disaster that need to be considered and the country has gone through a deep recession affecting most areas of critical public services. It is not clear to the NFLA if these services would be able to now cope with such a national emergency. A new exercise is therefore urgently required to consider all aspects of an emergency response.
NFLA All Ireland Forum Co-Chair (Republic of Ireland) Councillor Mark Dearey said:
While I welcome further consideration by the EPA of the radiological impact of a severe accident at Sellafield I feel this report repeats the mistakes of previous reports. The EPA need to make a full analysis of the probabilistic risk assessment model and consider whether it is actually fit for purpose. The Fukushima disaster suggested it is not, and an accident at Sellafield could be of a much greater magnitude than even that disaster. I am also very concerned that there has not been a comprehensive test of the National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents since 2007. Fukushima and serious cutbacks to our public services suggest Ireland is much more vulnerable to the impact of a nuclear accident than ever before.”
NFLA All Ireland Forum Co-Chair (Northern Ireland) Councillor John Trainor said:
Recently the UK Energy Minister Jesse Norman MP corresponded with Newry, Mourne and Down Council to assure it that keeping Sellafield as a safe nuclear site was a key priority for the Government. The Council replied that it should be given a yearly update on Sellafield and asked that the minister does not make cost an issue given the huge nature of the clean-up task. As we have heard before, if there was a serious incident at Sellafield it would not just affect the UK and Ireland but could very well encompass the whole of Western Europe. This cannot be made light of and people should not be falsely led to believe that it will not have a severe impact on life within these Isles.”
For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on either 00 44 (0)161 234 3244 or 00 44 (0)7771 930196.
Notes for editors:
(1) Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment report on the economic impacts of a nuclear accident on Ireland, November 2016
(2) Environmental Protection Agency, Potential radiological impact on Ireland of postulated severe accidents at Sellafield’, December 2016 http://www.epa.ie/pubs/reports/radiation/Potential_radiological_impact_Ireland.pdf
(3) European Environment Agency Report “Late Lessons from Early Warnings” January 2013
(4) Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, Consequences in Norway of a hypothetical accident at Sellafield – potential release, transport and fallout, July 2009
(5) NFLA Media Release, September 6th 2016
(6) Irish National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents