Thursday, 4 November 2004

Questions (81)

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

67 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the potential for the development of a so-called dirty bomb here and the importation of the components of such a device into the country; the advice he has been offered by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland on the detection of such components at point of entry into the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27549/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The term "dirty bomb" refers to a device created by mixing conventional explosives with radioactive materials so that the detonation of the explosives would result in the dispersal of radioactive materials. National regulatory authorities worldwide and relevant international organisations fully recognise this threat and a number of initiatives have been taken to combat it. For example, the International Atomic Energy Agency has produced a code of conduct on the safety and security of radioactive sources, which Ireland has formally endorsed. This code is intended to help guide national regulatory authorities to develop strategies to ensure that holders of radioactive materials have appropriate safety and security arrangements in place.

Under the Radiological Protection Act 1991, (Ionising Radiation) Order 2000, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, RPII, is responsible for regulating the custody, use, transport, importation, exportation, distribution, disposal and so on, of radioactive substances, nuclear devices or irradiating apparatus, as specified in the order. Under the order, any such activity is prohibited, save under licence issued by the RPII.

In this context, the RPII has taken a number of steps to improve security in situations where radioactive materials are stored, transported or used in Ireland. Licensed holders of such materials have been instructed by the RPII to pay increased attention to arrangements for ensuring security of the materials held in this country. In addition, the frequency of RPII inspections of radioactive materials and the licensees' storage arrangements has increased. The RPII also proposes to introduce new licensing conditions, which will require the licensee to undertake more frequent inventory checks of all their licensed radioactive materials. This will help to ensure a greater level of security is in place for such radioactive materials, whether in use or not. The RPII has also provided briefing to senior members of the Garda crime prevention unit, including advice on the security hazards posed by different radionuclides and practices.

Radioactive materials imported into Ireland must comply with international requirements in regard to packaging and must be clearly labelled. Obviously, materials being imported for use in the making of a dirty bomb may not be so labelled. In this regard, earlier this year, the RPII held preliminary discussions with the customs authorities to advise them on how they might look out for and detect illegal imports. Security will be further strengthened when the EU high activity sealed sources directive is implemented in national law. This directive, the provisions of which must be enshrined in national law by the end of 2005, requires,inter alia, that customs authorities must be trained in methods for detecting radioactive materials.

The RPII's regulatory services will continue to keep the matter of the security of radioactive sources under constant review and maintain best practice in accordance with international and EU standards and advice.