Environmental monitoring and assessment

Radioactive substances are used widely in industry, medicine and research, from the diagnosis and treatment of disease to energy generation and defence. 

We work to minimise the impact of radioactive material and radioactive waste on human health and the environment in Scotland.

Under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993, licences are granted for the keeping and use of radioactive substances and the accumulation and disposal of radioactive wastes, including discharges to the environment. 

We are responsible for ensuring that public radiation doses as a result of authorised radioactive discharges do not exceed the public dose limit, which is defined as one 1mSv per year. The sievert (Sv) is a measure of radiation dose.   

To do this, we collect data on the levels of radioactivity in food and the environment and on public habits that may result in exposure to radioactivity in the environment. 

This page contains more details about the data we collect, how it is collected and how it is used.

What is the Environmental Radioactivity Monitoring Programme?

Our environmental radioactivity monitoring programme is an annual programme to collect data on the levels of radioactivity in food and the environment. It is currently carried out on our behalf by Public Health England’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards(CRCE), based in Glasgow.

The programme focuses on areas where concentrations of man-made radioactivity may be found, paying special attention to areas surrounding nuclear licensed sites, as well as taking samples to monitor non-nuclear industry. In addition, we undertake sampling across Scotland to determine typical background levels of radioactivity in food and the environment.

More than 1000 samples a year are analysed for a range of radionuclides.

Sample types include:

  • marine  foodstuffs such as fish and shellfish;
  • terrestrial foodstuffs  such as milk and locally grown food; and
  • environmental samples  such as seawater, seaweed, sediment, grass, soil, air and freshwater.

The results of the monitoring programme are used to undertake dose assessments to ensure public doses do not exceed the limit. The monitoring data and the results of the dose assessments are published annually in the Radioactivity in Food and the Environment (RIFE) report.

As a means of reviewing our monitoring programme and ensuring it continues to be fit for purpose we convene the Environmental Radioactivity Monitoring Task Team (ERMTT) biannually.  The team contains our own experts and representatives from the Scottish Government, the Food Standards Agencyand Public Health England.

What are habits surveys?

In order to undertake dose assessments, we need to collect data on public habits to gain an understanding of how members of the public may be exposed to radioactivity. 

We undertake surveys around each of Scotland’s nuclear licensed sites every five years. Researchers interview local residents, food retailers, fishing managers and farmers, observe habits at particular locations, such as beaches, and take measurements of radioactivity.

The research also takes into account the following factors:

  • angling, commercial fishing (netting and creeling) and mollusc collection
  • production, use and destination of local produce
  • types, seasonality and consumption of local wild foods
  • land use and soil types
  • occupancy near  the site
  • local food consumption rates
  • any extraordinary (unusual) practices

Our Radioactive Substances Reports page contains reports from habit surveys from across Scotland.

What is the Radioactivity in Food and the Environment (RIFE) report?

We work with the Environment Agency(EA), Food Standards Agency(FSA), Food Standards Scotland (FSS), Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency(NIEA) to produce the annual Radioactivity in Food and the Environment (RIFE) report. 

We are responsible for environmental protection and regulation in Scotland. This role is performed by the EA in England, NRW in Wales, and the NIEA in Northern Ireland. Food Standards Scotland (FSS) are responsible for food safety in Scotland while the Food Standards Agency has this responsibility for the rest of the UK.  

The RIFE report presents the results of the radiological monitoring programmes carried out by each organisation and the results of the public dose assessments.  The report focuses on key information that demonstrates both that food remains safe and that the public's exposure to radiation is within the legal limit.

Our Radioactive Substances Reports page contains the most recent RIFE reports.

Other monitoring and assessments

In addition to our regular monitoring programmes, we undertake ad-hoc monitoring and assessments in order to address any knowledge gaps or specific areas of concern.

Our Radioactive Substances Reports page contains details of other monitoring and assessments we have undertaken.

Contact us

For more information on how we monitor and assess levels of radioactivity, please contact us.