Serious incident at Sellafield 'would not force evacuations in Ireland'
A worst-case scenario accident at the Sellafield nuclear plant in Britain would not force evacuations in Ireland, experts have claimed.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said a major radiation leak or serious incident at the fuel reprocessing plant would not cause immediate health risks on this side of the Irish Sea.
It predicts that radiation doses from an accident, meteor strike or plane crash would be below the levels which would force people to shelter in bunkers or indoors, to relocate or to flee homes and businesses.
The experts said strong food controls would be needed to avoid people suffering significant radiation doses in the year after an incident by consuming contaminated foods.
Dr Ciara McMahon, of the EPA's radiological protection unit, said strict measures on farms and food supply would be a key safety measure in the wake of a nuclear fallout.
"This report concludes that severe radiological effects in Ireland are unlikely as a result of an accident at the Sellafield reprocessing plant, but food controls would be a key priority in order to protect the public," she said.
The EPA looked at four scenarios, all, it said, with a low probability of happening.
These included two unspecified severe events where there would be a continuous release of a plume of radioactive material for two hours , a meteorite strike that would lead to a five-minute leak and a plane crash that would cause a 30-minute leak.
The agency found that f or almost 90% of the time prevailing winds and weather over Ireland would push any radioactive plume from Sellafield east over Britain.
And it said that even if winds were blowing from the east at the time of an incident for hours after the radiation leak and it was raining, levels would not be high enough to require shelters and evacuations.
But it said that staying indoors while the radioactive plume was passing over Ireland could ensure exposure would be cut by up to 80%.
The EPA also warned that farming, both on land and at sea, and tourism could suffer loses for years after a radiation scare unless protective measures to ensure food for sale is safe to eat are put in place.
Sellafield is about 112 miles from the north-east coast of Ireland and is the largest nuclear site in Europe with more than 1,000 facilities that process and store used nuclear fuel and other radioactive materials.
Green Party c ouncillor David Healy said: "Assuming maximum mitigation steps are taken by the Irish authorities, the overall message is that health impacts in the Irish population can be avoided if rapid and determined steps are taken to prevent contaminated foodstuffs from entering the food supply."