Radiation and radioactivity

We encounter radiation and radioactivity every day. Most of this is from natural sources and is harmless.

We encounter radiation and radioactivity every day. Most of this is from natural sources and is harmless. Naturally occurring Radon gas is an exception because it can reach harmful concentrations when it collects in buildings and confined spaces.

People tend to be more worried about radioactivity produced artificially by man. Sources of man-made radioactivity are strictly controlled by law.

The council and other agencies monitor environmental levels to provide a watching brief. The information on this page is an outline of the subject.

Introducing radiation and radioactivity

‘Radiation’ refers to invisible emissions such as light and heat from the sun. Natural radiation such as this is essential for life. Mankind generates other types of useful radiation every day:

  • microwaves for cooking
  • radio waves for communication
  • radar for navigation
  • X-rays for medical examinations.

Materials that give off radiation are called ‘Radioactive’. Almost all natural materials – air, water, grass, rocks – are radioactive to some extent. However Man produces other types of radioactive materials artificially. These range from luminous watch dials to nuclear power by-products. A helpful introduction titled 'Living with radiation' is available from the government agency the Public Health England.

Nuclear power and nuclear fuels

There are two EDF nuclear power stations located at Heysham in the Council’s area. The council and the community are both represented at regular liaison committees.

To the south, west of Preston, the Springfields nuclear fuel manufacturing process falls in Fylde Borough Council’s area.

To the north, the Sellafield nuclear power station and Drigg reprocessing facility in Cumbria are located in Copeland District Council’s area.

Emergency Planning responsibilities for our local sources of nuclear power / fuel reprocessing are provided by Lancashire County Council.

Legal controls

Businesses and organisations wishing to use radioactive materials must be licensed. The Environment Agency (E.A) enforces these licensing requirements. A public register of places licensed to use and store radioactive materials is maintained by the Environmental Protection Team at Morecambe Town Hall.

Nuclear power stations and nuclear fuel reprocessing sites are regulated by the Office of Nuclear Regulation and the E.A.

Radon

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas, associated with certain rocks, which enters buildings from the ground and gives radiation doses to the occupants.

Environmental monitoring

The Environmental Protection Team monitors radioactivity levels in our environment in a number of ways:

  • Sampling air, water, grass, heather, dust and sediments
  • Sampling drinking water and foods – milk, eggs, fish, meat and honey
  • Measuring radioactivity in the air and trash washed up on beaches

In Lancashire our environmental monitoring activities are coordinated by a partnership called ‘Radiation Monitoring in Lancashire’ or RADMIL. All our sampling and measurement findings are published in RADMIL’s annual report.

Nationally a network called RIMNET set up after the Chernobyl incident monitors radioactivity levels in the UK and alerts from other countries. RIMNET advises the Government and local councils on appropriate action following any 'radiation incident'.

Radiation from mobile phone base stations

Man-made radiation from mobile phone base stations, radio transmitters, and microwave transmitters is currently the source of debate and controversy. The Government takes advice from Public Health England and its expert medical group COMARE.

The siting and location of this equipment is subject to the Town and Country Planning Acts. The Government has issued policy advice that health effects from mobile phone base stations is not a suitable matter for debate at local level.

Last updated: 01 March 2016