Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twenty-Seventh Report





COM(02) 130

Draft Council Directive on the control of high-activity sealed radioactive sources.

Legal base:

Articles 31 and 32 Euratom; consultation; qualified majority voting


Document originated:

18 March 2002

Deposited in Parliament:

11 April 2002


Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Basis of consideration:

EM of 25 April 2002

Previous Committee Report:


To be discussed in Council:

No date set

Committee's assessment:

Politically important

Committee's decision:

Not cleared; further information awaited




  2.1  The Community has for many years had legislation laying down basic safety standards to protect workers and the general public against the dangers arising from radiation in a number of areas, notably industry, medicine and research. In particular, Council Directive 96/29/Euratom[1] imposes a number of basic principles of general application governing prior authorisation, dose limitation, operational protection, measures to assess and restrict exposure, medical surveillance of exposed workers, and radiation protection for the general population.

  2.2  Although the Directive does not set out detailed rules, these measures are, according to the Commission, sufficient to deal with the risks arising from the planned use of radioactive sources. However, the Commission says that there have recently been problems over so-called "orphan" sources which, for various reasons, are not under proper control, and which are liable to be recovered by workers or members of the general public who are unaware of the possible risks, resulting in serious radiation injuries. It adds that sealed sources, which are often small and used in mobile devices, involve particular risks, in that they have been supplied over the years in large numbers and are also more likely to be collected by the public or metal scrap handlers.

The current document

  2.3  The Commission has therefore proposed that specific legislation should be adopted, supplementing Directive 96/29, with a view to strengthening the controls exercised by national authorities over those sealed radioactive sources posing the greatest risk, and emphasizing the responsibilities of the holders of such sources. The proposed Council Directive would therefore apply additional measures to sealed sources giving rise to a dose rate above a certain level, and of a kind which in recent years have caused accidents with serious health effects or major contamination at plants handling scrap metal.

  2.4  These would:

require the prior authorisation of any practice involving a high- activity source, involving confirmation by a competent national authority that arrangements, including any necessary financial provision, are in place both for the safe use of the source and its eventual disposal;

oblige holders of such sources to keep standard record sheets and provide information on checks, tests and transfers;

include arrangements for detecting, recovering and dealing appropriately with any high activity sources not currently under regulatory control ("orphan" sources).

The Government's view

  2.5  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 25 April 2002, the Minister of State (Environment) at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Michael Meacher) says that the need for a measure of this kind has been recognised within the UK by the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee (RWMAC). Also, a study carried out by consultants on behalf of the Government in 1995 concluded that, although the number of significant incidents involving orphan sources in the UK is small (and standards of control generally high), some improvement could be made in the effectiveness of controls. However, the Minister also says that, although the exact extent of the burdens which might fall on industry in the UK following the adoption of the proposal has yet to be assessed, these could be considerable, particularly in setting up a system for the control of transfers of individual sources. The Minister adds that the Environment Agency has carried out informal consultation with industry, but that more formal and wider consultation on this proposal will be carried out in the context of preparing a Regulatory Impact Assessment.


  2.6  We have noted the present position, and that the Government will be providing a Regulatory Impact Assessment in connection with the consultation exercise it will be carrying out on this proposal. We will therefore await the outcome of that process. However, in the light of our comments on the proposals dealing with emissions from large combustion plants[2], we would expect the Minister to alert us if any question arose of substantive progress being made on the proposal before that Assessment is available.


1   OJ No. L.159, 29.6.96, p.1. Back

2   See paragraph 2.4 above. Back

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