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Volume 409: debated on Friday 18 July 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will make a statement on the Department's role in the monitoring of releases of radioactivity. [126359]

The Environment Agency, which is a non-departmental public body sponsored by Defra, authorises releases of radioactivity to the environment from nuclear licensed sites and non-nuclear premises in England and Wales. Authorisations specify limits on the amounts of radioactivity that may be discharged. The Environment Agency requires nuclear site operators to carry out monitoring of their own discharges and of the environment in the vicinity of their sites, to demonstrate the effectiveness of these controls.The Environment Agency also commissions independent check sampling of authorised discharges and conducts a comprehensive programme to monitor radioactivity in the environment resulting from such discharges. Results have been published annually by the Environment Agency in its report "Radioactivity in the Environment", copies of which are Jn the Library. From 2003, the results will be published in "Radioactivity in Food and the Environment" (RIFE), which will be a joint publication between the Environment Agency, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Department of Environment, Northern Ireland and the Food Standards Agency.Defra co-ordinates the monitoring of radioactivity in air, rainwater and drinking water at locations throughout the UK and submits the results to the European Commission in compliance with Articles 35 and 36 of the Euratom Treaty. The results are included in "Radioactivity in the Environment" and will be included in RIFE from 2003. The Food Standards Agency carries out its own extensive programme of monitoring radioactivity, to ensure that discharges do not adversely affect food safety, and it submits data to the Commission on radioactivity in dairy milk and a typical mixed diet. The Food Standards Agency and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency have jointly published their monitoring results annually in RIFE, copies of which are in the Library.Defra is also responsible for operation and maintenance of the Radioactive Incident Monitoring Network (RIMNET) which is designed to detect radioactivity released as a result of an accident outside the UK. RIMNET continuously monitors gamma radiation at 93 locations throughout the UK and raises an alert if pre-set levels are exceeded.The great majority of radioactivity in the environment arises from natural sources, such as the release of radon gas from the ground. Radon can accumulate in buildings and may contaminate private water supplies in some areas of the UK. Defra conducts an ongoing measurement programme of radon in homes and has carried out research in partnership with West Devon borough council into the levels of radon in drinking water from private boreholes and wells.