Thursday, 19 October 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
29. Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Public Enterprise the health risks that the public are exposed to due to radioactive and other pollutants being discharged from Sellafield, UK; the impact such discharges has had on the health and well being of the public over the past number of years especially when there were high discharges from the Sellafield plant; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22510/00]
Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise (Mr. Jacob): The consumption of fish and shellfish is the main pathway through which the public is exposed to radiation as a result of Sellafield discharges and assessment of the health risks is determined from the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, monitoring programme. The RPII's September 2000 Report on Radioactivity Monitoring of the Irish Marine Environment presents the results of the marine monitoring programme carried out in 1998 and 1999 by the RPII. The RPII report points out that the committed effective doses to heavy consumers of seafood due to artificial radioactivity were 1.42 microsieverts in 1998 and 1.33 microsieverts in 1999, which may be compared with a dose of approximately 70 microsieverts in 1982.
Discharges from Sellafield of the radionuclude, technetium-99 to the marine environment increased steeply between 1994 and 1997 and were at their highest in 1995. However, the low radiotoxicity of technetium-99 means that it is generally of lesser radiological significance than caesium-137 and accounted for under 25% of the radiation dose to seafood consumers in 1998 and 1999. The RPII's monitoring report shows that for the first time since 1994 a decrease in the mean activity concentrations of technetium-99 was observed in north-east coastline samples during 1998 and this trend continued in 1999.
The recent RPII report states that the level of radioactive contamination which prevails at present in the marine environment does not pose a significant health risk to the public and does not warrant any modification of the habits of the public in Ireland with regard to consumption of seafood or any other use of the amenities of the marine environment.
I should add that it is the view of the RPII that  it is not possible to quantify any increase in cancer incidence in the Irish public, which might be attributable to discharges from Sellafield. This is because the much larger number of cancer cases arising from other causes would mask the number of such cases.
Public perception of the impact of radioactive discharges on the legitimate uses of the sea such as marine-based livelihoods and the enjoyment of the sea's amenities has influenced international efforts to reduce significantly marine discharges. The OSPAR strategy on radioactive substances commits the contracting parties to the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic to achieving “close to zero” radioactive discharges to the sea by the year 2020. I will be doing everything possible to ensure that this strategy is implemented within the timeframe laid down through progressive and substantial reductions in discharges.
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