The Ionising Radiation (Basic Safety Standards) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 2018 [Ref. 1] came into force on the 8th May.
Regulation 4 is concerned with “land [that] is contaminated as a result of the after-effects of an emergency, past practice or past work activity and the level of exposure of members of the public to ionising radiation cannot be disregarded from a radiation protection point of view”.
This is a very important aspect of emergency planning as learning how to live with the increased levels of environmental contamination that would follow from a significant accidental release of radioactivity is vital to the recovery and well-being of the local community.
The regulation requires that an appropriate minister sets a reference level for the land.
The definition of “reference” level is now different in three important documents:
- The regulations (note: regulation not guidance) defines a reference level as
“the level of effective dose or equivalent dose above which optimisation of radiation protection for members of the public must be prioritised”
- ICRP 103 [Ref. 2] has “In emergency or existing controllable exposure situations, this represents the level of dose or risk, above which it is judged to be inappropriate to plan to allow exposures to occur, and below which optimisation of protection should be implemented. The chosen value for a reference level will depend upon the prevailing circumstances of the exposure under consideration”
- The EU BSS [Ref 3] has “reference level” means in an emergency exposure situation or in an existing exposure situation, the level of effective dose or equivalent dose or activity concentration above which it is judged inappropriate to allow exposures to occur as a result of that exposure situation, even though it is not a limit that may not be exceeded;”
It would be interesting to understand why those who framed the regulation felt that their definition was better than either the ICRP’s or EU BSS’s. What do the regulations mean by “prioritised”? Does it mean that the UK cannot budget any money for the schools, NHS, social care or road maintenance until the clean-up costs have been covered?
Paragraph 4 requires the appropriate minister to ensure that “appropriate arrangements are established for the on-going control of exposure of members of the public to ionising radiation, with the aim of establishing living conditions that can be considered as normal, including—
(a) the establishment of an infrastructure to support continuing self-help protective measures in the affected area, which may include the provision of information, advice and monitoring;
(b) remediation measures; and
(c) the delineation of the area.”
This must be in place “before the resumption of habitation, or economic or social activities, on the land”. We need to be careful that this does not lead to people being kept away from their homes and offices for longer than is necessary as this is known to add to the social and economic stresses of the situation. We also need to avoid hasty decisions about reference levels and area delineation and, in fact, these are likely to be very fluid in the days and weeks following a serious accidental release of radioactivity.
The establishment of support infrastructure is likely to be a moving target as things become clearer and the affected members of the public become better informed of the situation and its ramifications. To say it must be in place before the public move back seems wrong.
Another major concern is that “this regulation does not apply while any part of an emergency plan is in effect in relation to the land in accordance with [REPPIR 2001]”. It is, of course very difficult to define when an emergency plan closes. Most off-site plans make provision for Recovery Working Groups which morph into the leadership of the recovery phase of the response which, it is recognised, could last for several years. Arguably, since this is a “part of an emergency plan” it stalls the application of this regulation pretty much indefinitely.
We need to understand a few things, including:
- At what level can exposure of members of the public to ionising radiation be disregarded from a radiation protection point of view?
- What does “prioritised” mean in Regulation 4(5)?
- How are we to understand the clause that this regulation requires the emergency plan to cease to be in effect before the regulation comes into effect?
In summary this regulation touches on an important and difficult aspect of emergency planning; that of how do we keep the public safe, informed, healthy and at ease in areas that have been contaminated with radioactive material. The regulations require that a government minister establishes areas that have been significantly affected and defines reference levels, infrastructure, information streams and remediation plans to support these aims in those areas. There can be no argument that this is the right level for these decisions to be made.
Whether this regulation provides the appropriate regulatory tool is questionable. Hopefully we will never find out.
- The Ionising Radiation (Basic Safety Standards) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 2018, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2018/482/made.
- ICRP, 2007. The 2007 Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection. ICRP Publication 103. Ann. ICRP 37 (2-4). http://www.icrp.org/publication.asp?id=ICRP%20Publication%20103.
- Council Directive 2013/59/Euratom of 5 December 2013 laying down basic safety standards for protection against the dangers arising from exposure to ionising radiation, and repealing Directives 89/618/Euratom, 90/641/Euratom, 96/29/Euratom, 97/43/Euratom and 2003/122/Euratom, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32013L0059.