New advice on nuclear safety published

With a new generation of nuclear power station on the horizon, the agency responsible for protecting the health of the British public has updated its guidance on the disposal of radioactive waste.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has developed the advice primarily to inform risk assessments during the planning process as and when new plants are built.

It covers in some detail the safety procedures that should be in place for the disposal of solid waste.

The advice also sets a cap of the level of increased exposure that could be considered acceptable for those involved in the disposal.

This should ‘certainly be below a maximum of 0.15mSv per year’ -slightly less than ten per cent of the average level of radiation exposure from natural sources for someone living in the UK of 2.2mSv per year.

The agency also advises that the highest estimated doses to people who unintentionally disturb a ‘near surface’ disposal site should be below a guidance level of between 3 and 20 mSv per year, depending on the duration of exposure.

The advice also outlines safety precautions expected to last a million years – saying that during this period the waste should cause serious illness to no more than an average of one per 100,000 individuals per year.

HPA chief executive, Justin McCracken, said: “This is an important report at a time of increasing interest in nuclear power and in the safe disposal of radioactive waste. Given the long half life of some radioactive waste, the principle behind the advice is that people in the future should have the same level of protection as people have today.”

David Gibbs

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