Radiation - overview

Radioactive substances are used in Northern Ireland in medicine (to diagnose and treat disease), scientific research and in industrial processes (e.g for measuring the thickness or integrity of materials). The type of industries using radioactive substances in NI are generally low risk and very unlikely to cause a danger to the general public. Radioactive substances also occur naturally in the environment.

What we do

  • The Industrial Pollution and Radiochemical Inspectorate (IPRI) is responsible for controlling the keeping and use of radioactive material and the disposal of radioactive waste through enforcing the Radioactive Substances Act 1993. For further information, see section below.
  • IPRI also enforces the legislation covering the transport of radioactive material by road. For further information and guidance, see the section on Radioactive Transport and Transfrontier Shipments.
  • IPRI carries out environmental monitoring of the impact of discharges of artificial radionuclides (primarily from nuclear establishments) on the Northern Ireland coastline. 
  • IPRI are responsible for mapping levels of Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas which can build up in homes. For more information, see the NI Direct section on Radon Gas in Your Home.
  • IPRI has an important role to play in the Northern Ireland response should there be an overseas nuclear incident.

Or contact us for more information.

Radioactive Substances Act 1993

If your business keeps or uses radioactive substances, or accumulates or disposes of radioactive waste, you must have a certificate of registration or authorisation issued under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993, as amended by the Radioactive Substances Act 1993 (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2011 or be covered by an exemption to that Act (see below).

There are different types of radioactive material used for different activities:

Open sources are radioactive materials that you can easily divide, dilute or disperse. They can be in liquid, gaseous or solid form.

Holders of a Certificate of Registration for open sources will generally also require a Certificate of Authorisation for the accumulation or disposal of radioactive waste. An environmental impact assessment will be required to demonstrate how you will safely dispose of your radioactive waste.

Sealed sources are defined as being a “radioactive source containing radioactive material where the structure is designed to prevent, under normal use, any dispersion of radioactive substances”. They are categorised according to their hazard or risk as high activity sealed sources (HASS), sources of similar potential hazard to HASS or category 5 (low hazard or risk).

HASS sources are covered by the High-activity Sealed Radioactive Sources and Orphan Sources Regulations 2005. HASS sources are considered to present a greater hazard to the environment and human health than other sealed sources and as such have a number of extra controls applied to them.

Mobile sources can include sealed or open radioactive sources. Mobile sealed sources are normally used  in equipment for testing or measuring substances.

Application forms for Certificates of Registration and/or Authorisation can be downloaded as detailed below.

The completed form should be forwarded to the Industrial Pollution & Radiochemical Inspectorate along with the applicable fee. For more information on the application process please contact us.

Public register:

Copies of certificates, application forms and enforcement notices (other than those covered by a National Security Direction) can be viewed on request by emailing radiationteam@daera-ni.gov.uk

Other forms:

If you hold a High-Activity Sealed Source you must complete and return a HASS Record Form annually; or within 14 days of any changes to the specified information.

If you are importing sealed sources or other relevant sources into Northern Ireland, you must complete a prior written declaration. The form should be submitted to the Industrial Pollution & Radiochemical Inspectorate for approval. There is no charge for this and the declaration can cover one shipment or a number of shipments and last for up to 3 years.

For further advice and guidance, see the section on Compliance.


Radioactive Substances Act 1993 Exemptions

The Radioactive Substances Exemption (Northern Ireland) Order 2011 exempts certain activities from the need for a certificate of registration or authorisation. There is guidance on the exemption regime available from DEFRA and more specific guidance on the application of the exemption regime to specific activities on the SEPA website (see below).

If you rely on an exemption you do not need to inform NIEA but you must ensure that the exemption applies to your activities and that you are capable of complying with the conditions of the exemption.

Regulatory Guidance

Recent developments

Publication of UK Policy Framework for managing radioactive substances and nuclear decommissioning

The UK Government and devolved administrations have published a final UK-wide policy framework on managing radioactive substances and nuclear decommissioning.  It covers the management of radioactive substances under normal operating conditions, including orphan sources (radioactive sources which have been abandoned, lost, misplaced, stolen or otherwise transferred without proper authorisation).

The UK framework replaces and updates a number of existing UK wide policies that extend to Northern Ireland, namely the Policy for the Long-Term Management of Solid Low Level Radioactive Waste in the United Kingdom and the Policy – Implementing Geological Disposal: A Framework for the Long-Term Management of Higher Activity Waste.

The main changes most relevant to Northern Ireland are:

  1. Requiring those responsible for creating and managing solid radioactive waste to apply a risk-informed approach as a decision-making framework for managing all solid radioactive waste (already policy for higher activity waste in Scotland and low level waste across the UK).  A risk-informed approach means basing decisions on how to manage the waste on all its properties (radiological, chemical, physical) and the risks and hazards it poses to people and the environment, rather than basing decisions primarily on the waste’s radioactivity classifications. 
  2. Requiring the application of the waste hierarchy for managing all categories of solid radioactive waste to ensure that the creation of radioactive waste is prevented or minimised (already policy for higher activity waste in Scotland and low level waste across the UK). 
  3. Allowing disposal of intermediate level waste in near surface facilities by amending UK Government and the devolved administrations of Wales and Northern Ireland policies on implementing geological disposal to make clear that not all intermediate level waste (ILW) must be disposed of in a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF). This set out the proposed siting policy for near surface disposal facilities which is being implemented in England and Wales only.

The UK Policy Framework for managing radioactive substances and nuclear decommissioning is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/managing-radioactive-substances-and-nuclear-decommissioning.

    Radioactivity in Food and the Environment Report

    The latest issue of the Radiation in Food and the Environment (RIFE) report has now been published. The RIFE report contains results of monitoring carried out by the Environment Agencies in NI (NIEA), England & Wales (EA) and Scotland (SEPA) as well as the Food Standards Agency. The latest RIFE report is RIFE 28 and brings together the results of radiological monitoring carried out during 2022. The results in the report demonstrate both that food remains safe and that the levels of radioactivity measured in Northern Ireland are of negligible radiological significance.

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