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Sellafield accident 'would not cause Irish evacuations'

Sellafield

A major accident at the Sellafield nuclear fuel reprocessing plant would not cause evacuations in the Republic of Ireland, a report has found.

The Republic's Environmental Protection Agency released the study of a worst-case-scenario accident at the plant.

It found that people would not have to shelter indoors or flee the country in the case of a major radiation leak.

In September, a BBC investigation uncovered a catalogue of safety concerns at the Cumbria site.

Panorama found parts of Sellafield regularly have too few staff to operate safely and that radioactive materials have been stored in degrading plastic bottles.

The report from the Irish EPA found that a serious accident at the plant would lead to people in the Republic of Ireland receiving twice the average annual dose of radiation they normally receive from a variety of sources.

Image caption A BBC investigation uncovered a catalogue of safety concerns at the Cumbria site

It also said significant food controls would have to put in place in order to avoid long-term health consequences.

But Dr Ciara McMahon, programme manager in the EPA's office of Radiological Protection, said "severe radiological effects in Ireland are unlikely" if a serious accident were to occur at the facility, which is some 180km from the Irish coastline.

The study outlined the EPA's assessment of the potential radiation doses to the Irish public from a variety of different potential scenarios at Sellafield.

They included two unspecified severe events, in which there would be an aerial release of hot radioactive material into a plume, a meteorite impact or a plane crash.

Food chain

The study modelled how a radioactive cloud might disperse in the atmosphere following a release from the plant in the north-west of England, and focused on worst-case weather conditions for the Republic of Ireland.

In particular, it looked at how ingestion into the food chain would impact human health during the passage of such a cloud over the country, a week later and a year later.

It found that the doses the public would be exposed to from inhaling the radioactivity would not be so high as to require people to shelter, relocate or even evacuate.

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Image caption The study modelled how a radioactive cloud might disperse in the atmosphere following a release from the plant in the north-west of England

But the report does state that staying indoors, particularly during the passage of the plume overhead, could reduce the amount of radioactivity that people would be exposed to by as much as 80%.

It adds that a National Emergency Plan for Nuclear Accidents would "provide a coordinated emergency response to a situation where there is widespread radioactive contamination in Ireland".

Among the impacts would be a loss of tourism and damage to markets for Irish seafood and farm products, which the report says could continue long after radioactivity levels return to normal.

Reacting to the report, South Down MP Margaret Ritchie said "News last year that the plant is due to miss its target for the completion of all oversees processing contracts adds further to the growing body of evidence that the decommissioning of nuclear plants is entirely unsafe and unmanageable.

"This comes following the discovery of incredibly dangerous conditions at Sellafield, including cracked storage ponds and wildlife swimming within ponds used for storing radioactive material."

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