Private Members' Business. - Nuclear Power Installations: Motion.

Tuesday, 6 May 1986

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 365 No. 14

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Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  I move the motion put down in the name of Deputy V. Brady:

That Dáil Éireann, in view of the serious menace represented by nuclear power installations which in the event of an accident could cause serious injury and long-lasting contamination in Ireland, requests the Government:

(1) to demand the closure of the Sellafield complex in the light of its deplorable safety record;

(2) to undertake a complete review of plans and arrangements for the protection of the civilian population in the event of fall-out from a nuclear accident, take whatever steps are shown to be necessary by this review, and report back to the Dáil within three months on the current state of these plans.

The disaster at the Soviet nuclear power station at Chernobyl has put the world on notice that all nuclear power, civilian as well as military, represents a threat to the safety of mankind. The lessons of this latest happening in the unfolding drama of growing nuclear danger are as clear as they are ominous.

It must now be obvious to sensible people everywhere that there is a real [2852] doubt about our ability to control nuclear power. Atoms for war or atoms for peace; the distinction between them is becoming less and less significant. When a deadly nuclear cloud of radioactivity drifts unpredictably around our globe it does not really matter whether it had civilian or military origins.

While the immediate extent of the fallout and the danger to health arising from the Chernobyl disaster are becoming clear, what is not clear and what we cannot know is the long term effects of this increase in radioactivity levels throughout Europe. The chilling truth is that nobody can tell us. We know that the Irish sea and certain coastal areas have already been affected by emissions and discharges from Sellafield. I have been assured, for instance, by people I trust, that in a town on the coast of Northern Ireland there is an inexplicably high level of leukaemia which is almost certainly related to the Sellafield installation. We also know that these levels have now been added to significantly but with what final outcome we do not know, but we know enough to make us deeply anxious.

It is no longer enough for countries who wish to do so to remain nuclear free zones. Our international environment is now polluted by something that happened in an installation in the Ukraine, even the existence of which would not have been known to more than a handful of people in this country.

Radiation related disease is one of the most insidious enemies that mankind has ever known, particularly because in many cases it cannot be detected or directly and demonstrably related to a particular cause.

I would like to pose the question whether the people who are in charge of nuclear reactors have the faintest idea of what they should do if a melt down of a nuclear core occurs. Is it not the position that all they can do is pray that it does not ever happen, because if it does it will be beyond their control?

There is no safe means of disposing of nuclear waste. The people in charge do not know how to dismantle a nuclear [2853] power station when its active life is over, yet there are now dozens of these lethal installations in existence which are capable of wiping out large sections of humanity and more are still being built.

It is, unfortunately, true that the nuclear industry and those who manage it cannot be trusted. There is clearcut evidence from around the world of lies and cover-ups in the name of national security. Accidents, leaks and lapses of security have occurred and have been concealed. The dreadful, inescapable reality is that we are not told the truth about the nuclear threat.

Immediately Chernobyl happened it was announced in Britain that further tighter controls had been imposed at Sellafield, but how could that happen? How, after all, we had been previously told, could there have still been room to further tighten the controls? How could we have been previously assured that the controls were adequate and satisfactory if under the pressure of this latest disaster they can be improved further? This process of deception has gone on too long. Every time there is an accident or an incident we are told that some new monitoring system or some new safety mechanisms are being installed. Will this process of deception continue until the final disastrous explosion occurs? What will they say then? Will those who have lied and deceived us be brought to trial for crimes against humanity? These are questions which the time has now come to ask.

Quite a few days after the extent of the Chernobyl was unlikely to constitute a Minister for Energy said that the Nuclear Energy Board had advised him that the increase in radiation levels following Chernobyl was unlikely to constitute a health hazard. What does that mean? Does it or does it not constitute a health hazard? Why is there this constant fudging, these attempts to conceal and cover up? Even that statement has been contradicted by events today.

The attitude of this Coalition Government to the deadly danger posed to the Irish people by Sellafield has been feeble and ambiguous. They have been in gross [2854] neglect of their duty to the Irish people. As the threat to the health and safety of our population became increasingly obvious the Ministers involved have been dragged reluctantly toward a greater but still half-hearted acknowledgement of the reality of the dangers. As usual, this handler-controlled Fine Gael Party endeavour to conceal their own failures and neglect by personal attacks and by accusing those of us who are trying to discharge our duty to the people on this issue of being alarmist. I would like to say to the Government speakers in this debate that they need not bother accusing me or my colleagues of being alarmist on this occasion. We want to sound the alarm and use this debate to persuade, if possible, an aroused Dáil Éireann to act, now that the dangers we spoke about the last time have become a reality.

In February 1984, after a major leak of radioactive waste into the Irish sea to his eternal discredit, the Minister for Energy declared himself “particularly satisfied” with the talks he had with the British Government and with an assurance that such an incident could not happen again. When the now discredited Black report appeared, I called it “a dreadful piece of whitewash”, and demanded Sellafield's closure and the imprisonment of those responsible for telling lies. The then Minister for the Environment called this unnecessarily alarmist, and maintained that the level of radioactivity in the Irish Sea was quite safe. A couple of days later when the British Government themselves decided to prosecute the operators of Windscale for unauthorised discharges, the Minister did a somersault and maintained at one and the same time that “a reduction in any contamination will have very beneficial effects for Irish water”, and that radioactivity levels did not pose any health risks. At the beginning of 1985, the Minister of State at the Department of Energy, Deputy Eddie Collins, again stated in the Dáil that I was being alarmist and that “there is no danger to people living in Ireland from discharges from Sellafield”. Last December the same Minister stated he had no reason to [2855] believe that the UK was not carrying out its international obligations on the prevention of pollution.

Only three months later the Minister for Energy stated, in contradiction to all previous assurances, that the safety record at Sellafield had been less than satisfactory, and that he had lost confidence in their safety procedures. Yet on 12 March last, when it came to a Dáil vote, the Government voted down our call for the closure of Sellafield.

I am indebted to a British newspaper, The Guardian, for the following information on 5 May about the way the German authorities regard Sellafield:

The state government in Munich has considered it necessary to start a publicity campaign in local newspapers explaining that “Sellafield could not happen here".

It is not up to the Bavarian government to meddle with internal British affairs, but it is our duty to tell our people that the safety of Sellafield, which is more than 30 years old, cannot be compared with that of the new plant at Wackersdorf. Sellafield, in its present condition, could not operate in West Germany, the advertisement says.

What a startling contrast with the complacent attitude of this Coalition Government. Their record of weak and contradictory statements have made this Irish Government ineffective and without any real influence in protecting the Irish people from the menace of Sellafield.

The present position of the Government is still unsatisfactory, even though they have recently been forced by the facts to abandon their previous position of telling the people that there is nothing to worry about. Their response is now the very restricted one of calling for Community inspection.

Fianna Fáil are urging the Government to discard their present stance of pretending to deal with the menace of Sellafield by looking for European inspection. That is not an adequate response. It appears [2856] to us to be taking the easy way out and trying to sidetrack it and avoiding confronting Britain directly on the issue.

Does the Minister for Energy realise that the proposal for a Euratom safety inspection force may well require amendment of the Euratom Treaty? At present, the Treaty provides only for safeguards inspectors, which is a different thing altogether, concerned with ensuring that nuclear materials are not diverted from peaceful to military uses, particularly in non-nuclear weapons countries. The Euratom inspectors are concerned only with accounting for materials such as uranium and plutonium and have no functions in relation to safety.

But, in any case, it is no use tinkering with cosmetic proposals for Euratom inspectors or declaring oneself satisfied with reassurances that originate from the nuclear industry. Nothing less is required than a complete reappraisal of nuclear power by the international community. Ireland, as a member of relevant international bodies, should play an active part in initiating that reappraisal.

The Minister of State at the Department of Energy adopts the pathetic position of claiming that he cannot demand the closure of Sellafield because it will not be conceded. We cannot accept that subservient attitude. How can he know that his demand will not be conceded until he makes it and especially if he makes it with the full public support of Dáil Éireann? It is his duty to keep on calling insistently for the closure of this deadly menace across the Irish Sea. He must demand the closure of this demonstrably dangerous installation until such time as he succeeds, which we are demanding in this motion. This is the second time we have made such a demand. The last time we put down this motion we knew we were right, and the events since then have totally and completely confirmed that we were right in demanding that Sellafield should be closed and refusing to accept anything else. I cannot understand why the Government still do not accept that position. Their amendment agrees with practically everything we are saying and [2857] suggesting except for the crucial demand to close this dangerous, menacing installation.

Sellafield is a bilateral issue between the British and Irish Government which should be pursued consistently as such. Our case this evening is that if the Government will not even now after Chernobyl do their duty, Dáil Éireann, as a national Parliament, must give a lead and do it for them.

What was the state of preparedness here when this latest disaster happened? Did we have in Ireland any worthwhile contingency plans to deal with nuclear fall-out? Had we even a system in place for measuring the level of fall-out on a countrywide, comprehensive basis? Were the Nuclear Energy Board continually monitoring the level of radioactivity in the air, water and soil so that a sudden rise could be detected from our own domestic sources, something in fact required by the Euratom Treaty? All the evidence is that we had none of these things.

There was no preparation whatever for the eventuality of a major radioactive fall-out despite the fact that the possibility of such a fall-out from Sellafield had been there for years and even though the Government are apparently not prepared to offend the British Government by demanding the closure of Sellafield and were not even prepared to take measures here to protect the people in the event of the same thing happening in Sellafield as happened in Chernobyl. This will have to be probed very deeply. There was an inexcusable delay in taking any action, even after the announcement of the Chernobyl disaster. There was a hurriedly assembled ad hoc interdepartmental committee coming together, late in the day, and the very fact that that unwieldy committee assembled in that scrambled fashion proves conclusively that there was no Government plan here to deal with the situation now confronting us and which could have confronted us at any time during the last five or six months or indeed over the last ten or 15 years.

The Nuclear Energy Board here are little better than a public relations front [2858] for the nuclear industry. Like the Government, they have been reluctantly forced by the increasing seriousness of the situation into slightly more critical statements, but all always after an event which cannot be denied and then only to the minimum extent they think they can get away with, never publishing these statistics of their accounts but always saying that there was nothing to worry about. We know now that all along there was something to worry about.

The Nuclear Energy Board was set up in late 1973 by Deputy Peter Barry, when he was Minister for Transport and Power, to act as the regulatory agency for an Irish nuclear plant which it was then intended to build. What we need is a radiological protection institute which will have statutory responsibility for protecting the population against the menace of nuclear fall-out, which will publish full and reliable statistics, and which will speak out fearlessly and independently when necessary.

We are satisfied that the Nuclear Energy Board no longer fulfils any useful function because in our view — we are determined about this — there never will be a nuclear reactor built here. Therefore, there never will be any need for any regulatory agency to supervise it. What we need, and this has become increasingly obvious, is an impartial institution which will have the statutory responsibility placed on it by the House to oversee the whole area of radiation. It should take whatever action is necessary, do the monitoring that is necessary and issue the warnings that may be necessary to protect the interests of the Irish people.

The whole area must be reviewed and decisions taken about the extent that dangers can be anticipated and provided for. I should like to make another reasonably important point in regard to this. These recent experiences have shown also that the fatalist approach which claims that because there is nothing we can do if the holocaust happens we need not bother doing anything, cannot be sustained. It is now clear that there can be situations short of Armageddon which can be provided against and contingency plans [2859] should be ready to be put into effect as soon as particular radiation thresholds are reached.

We need to have a co-ordinated plan involving a new radiological protection institute, Civil Defence, the Meterological Service, the universities, the local authorities and relevant Government Departments. That plan should have been in place long ago but even now we want the Government to take immediate steps to devise it and take all the necessary action it demands.

On the international side, Ireland should approach other countries which, like us, have no nuclear installations or interests and sound them out on the possibility of convening an international conference of all the countries not engaged in nuclear power production so that they can formulate their position and their demands as countries not engaged in this business of producing nuclear energy.

As the Italian Foreign Minister, Signor Andriotti, has pointed out, national sovereignty is absolutely irrelevant when considering disasters of the scale of Chernobyl. The accident there has shown that countries with or without nuclear power of their own have an entirely legitimate interest in dangerous and potentially lethal nuclear activities carried out by their neighbours. The German Foreign Minister, Herr Genscher, has already asked that all plants similar to the Chernobyl plant in the Soviet Union be closed down. Today there is a widespread recognition that nuclear installations in any one country are not simply a matter for that country alone but are the legitimate concern of all countries but particularly the neighbouring countries. Certainly, it is axiomatic and basic that the plant at Sellafield is a perfectly legitimate concern to the Irish people and the Irish Government. We claim, and rightly, that we have as much say, and are entitled to as much say in the management of that plant as the British Government and the British people. We also claim that everything we know about it demands that steps be taken immediately to effect its ultimate closedown. Does it not frighten the [2860] Minister for Energy, and the Government, that the German Government would use Sellafield as an example in their advertisements of what should not be done in the nuclear industry? They say that as a plant that is 30 years old it would not be tolerated in Germany but our Government are prepared to tolerate it. Our Government are not prepared to stand up and protest to the British Government about it.

At the very minimum Ireland should call for an emergency plenary conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency, at which all countries are represented, to discuss the implications and consequences of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. There are many things that we should be canvassing international support for at this stage, such as a system whereby, all countries engaging in nuclear power programmes, whether civil or military, promptly notify their neighbours immediately an accident involving the release of radiation has occurred. The slowness of the Soviet Union in informing its neighbours about the accident was reprehensible and it must be said that the nuclear industry in Britain, and other Western countries, is also extremely secretive and loath to reveal details about accidents.

We must offer our sympathy to the Russian people on the accident and the deaths and injuries that have occurred but we must also be very critical of the way they handled the effects of that accident in so far as the rest of Europe, particularly their neighbours, are concerned. We should be very active in the international arena in demanding that more openness and frankness be practised in this area.

In my view there is now an unanswerable case for an international moratorium on the construction of nuclear power stations and other facilities such as reprocessing plants.

The Chernobyl disaster will have consequences for decades and possibly generations to come. The consequences for Ireland of a similar accident at Sellafield or other nuclear power stations on the west coast of Britain do not bear [2861] thinking about. It is clear that no invention, least of all a complex structure such as a nuclear power station, can be regarded as absolutely safe. The propaganda about well-managed, safe reactors has now been shown finally to be a dangerously misleading palliative.

The Soviet Minister for Energy said only a couple of months ago about Chernobyl: “The odds of a meltdown are one in 10,000 years. The plants have safe and reliable controls that are protected from any breakdown... The environment is also securely protected. Hermetically sealed buildings, closed cycles for technological processes with radioactive agents, and systems for purification... Even if the incredible should happen, the automatic control and safety systems would shut down the reactor in a matter of minutes”.

The incredible occurred after two months not 10,000 years. We should compare that statement to the official one issued after the Windscale accident in Britain in 1957. There is a great deal of similarity about what those authorities say about their nuclear situations. The British said about that accident: “It is untrue...that a large amount of radioactivity was released; the amount released was not hazardous to the public and what there was was carried out to sea”. Out to sea, of course, meant across to Ireland. The fall-out from the Chernobyl accident which reached Ireland from 1,500 miles away must surely vindicate the case made by Dr. Patricia Sheehan and Professor Irene Hillery linking the incidence of Down's Syndrome babies among former school girls in Dundalk to the nuclear accident at Windscale in 1957. Is it not evident from the Chernobyl accident that the treatment of the 1957 Windscale accident by nuclear apologists here and in Britain has been very superficial, if not downright misleading? The idea that the east coast of Ireland somehow escaped altogether from a serious increase in radiation levals as a result of the 1957 accident at Windscale can now be clearly seen for the absurdity it is.

I have been appalled by the totally inadequate statement issued by the seven [2862] leaders of the developed industrial world at their meeting in Tokyo about this critical world situation now confronting us. All they could bring themselves to do was to call for better reporting of accidents and emergencies. One might at the very least have expected that they would call for a worldwide review of the nuclear industry emphasising the need for greater safety. Far from doing anything of that nature, there is an apparent acceptance by those leaders of the fact that more accidents are going to occur. They are not apparently concerned about preventing the accidents but only that they should be reported when they do occur. After that statement one must despairingly ask: is there no one to stand up for humanity, no one to defend the health and safety of ordinary people around the world?

Ireland must have a clear, independent international stance on this vital life and death issue. We must not be compromised for any reason. We must stand out against the proliferation of nuclear power in whatever form it may take. We must oppose any further expansion, civil or military, and seek the closure of facilities such as Sellafield which pose the most immediate threat to our safety.

We must demand in the short term the imposition of stronger mandatory international safety controls and the inspection of all nuclear reactors until such time as the only really safe course of action can finally begin internationally. There are good, sound international examples for us to follow — Sweden and Austria for example, both of whom have renounced nuclear power.

The world does not need nuclear power. It is now apparent that there are other energy resources available which will meet world energy needs for many centuries to come. It may not now be five minutes to midnight but it is certainly late in the day. Unless action is taken very soon it is difficult to see how further major nuclear catastrophes can be avoided in the next few decades. The time for deceptive reassurances and complacency is over. Countries like Ireland, with no vested interest in nuclear power, must act as best they can in the [2863] interest of the safety if not the very survival of mankind. I believe that is a solemn duty placed on this country, particularly on us, because we have no nuclear interests and because we have a respected position of neutrality around the world. From that respected position of neutrality I believe we can do a great deal in this area. This nuclear menace is like no other because we do not fully understand it and we are helpless before it. When it arrives there is nowhere to hide and very little we can do.

The Chernobyl accident must be accepted by all as a deadly serious warning of where our modern world is heading. It is likely that countries over which this particular nuclear cloud has passed will experience deaths, disease and genetic malformations, some of which will manifest themselves many years from now. Why should we be compelled to live under this shadow? Sellafield is the immediate issue, but we must now confront the whole issue of nuclear power as such. Nothing else has the ultimate disastrous potential of a single serious nuclear accident. I do not want to suggest that those governments who support a nuclear industry in their own countries do not seek what is right for their people, but I do honestly believe they are wrong in their judgment in identifying where the good of their people really lies.

I would like to give the House a quotation from very unlikely source. These are not the words of some timid pacifist or misguided environmentalist but a sombre message from a leader whose macho credentials are as good as any of those bestriding the world stage today. It was Winston Churchill who said:

The stone age may return on the gleaming wings of science and what might now shower immeasurable blessings upon mankind may even bring about its total destruction. Beware, I say, time may be short!

Once again I am asking Deputies on all sides of the House to support this motion.

I should like Deputies to fully understand what is happening in the world [2864] around us today, why our people are so full of fear and apprehension at present. Many of the things that were good, wholesome and beneficial for us have turned sour. We all know that our parents used to advise us, as children, to go out and get some fresh air, wash in the rain — because it was good for us — bathe in the sea, to eat fresh vegetables, drink milk. These were the good things of life. Today that is no longer the case. All of those things now in different parts of Europe and here represent potential hazards to health. Are we losing our senses that we tolerate, without protest, this devastation of our natural environment, this turning upsidedown of our daily lives and the things that matter to us in our daily lives?

Deputies must now be aware — if they were not aware when we last discussed this matter — that there is deep anxiety widespread throughout the country about the implications of a Chernobyl-type disaster for this country. People have seen pictures of what has been happening in Poland — children queueing up at hospitals to get some form of antidote. They now learn that health warnings have been issued in Scotland nearby. They know that radioactivity from Chernobyl has reached this country. Indeed, this afternoon we learned that a researcher in UCD has discovered in a sample of milk that there is a level of radiation which is dangerous and represents a serious threat to health if it is repeated in other samples. People know that Sellafield represents a serious risk to their health and safety.

I believe they are looking to Dáil Eireann this evening, and we must respond. It is our responsibility to take action of a positive nature which will help allay their fears and anxieties. If Dáil Éireann were to pass this motion and the Government, armed with that declaration of national support, were to raise this matter to inter-governmental level, as a matter of national security, then I believe the British Government would have no alternative but to respond.

We are urging the Government and the Minister for Energy, in the best interests of our people, to take action now, [2865] not to delay any longer. As I have said, perhaps it is not five minutes to midnight but it is getting very near it. First, we want the Government to directly confront the British Government on Sellafield and to demand its closure. Second, to take a number of initiatives in the international area which would be directed toward dealing with the growing global menace of nuclear power, opposing any further expansion and the imposition of mandatory international safety controls and inspection. Third, we want the Government to abolish this useless Nuclear Energy Board, replacing it with a new radiological protection institution with greatly revised powers and functions. Fourth, and very urgently, we ask the Government to put in place a comprehensive system involving all the appropriate agencies and Departments which would be designed to protect our population to the greatest possible extent from the effects of a nuclear fall-out.

The recent disaster has shown a very serious gap in our affairs in that regard. The Government must now move very quickly to put that new type of system in place. What we are seeking from the Government at this time we are seeking for the vital best interests of the Irish people. We see these things as necessary to protect the safety and welfare of our people at this stage. Above all, we want positive action on Sellafield. That is the most important thing that the Government can and should do immediately to protect the Irish people from this nuclear menace which is now threatening the population in so many parts of the world.

I am very disappointed that the Government once again have put down a sidetracking amendment to our motion. Their amendment agrees with practically everything we are saying in our motion, with the exception of the closure of Sellafield. I ask again for support for our motion from all sides of the House. It is necessary in the public interest and I particularly emphasise the crucial central signifance of the closure of Sellafield in [2866] the interests of the future health and safety of the Irish people.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Minister for Energy (Mr. Spring): Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after “that” and substitute the following:

Dáil Éireann having regard to the recent accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Reprocessing Plant, supports the Government in the action they have already taken and continue to take concerning the safety of the Irish population by:

(1) Conveying to the UK Government the Irish public's concern that the number of accidents at Sellafield has caused a loss of confidence in the safety of the operation of the plant;

(2) Calling on the British Prime Minister to ensure a thorough review of safety at the Sellafield Plant;

(3) Calling on the EC Commission to set up a Community inspection process to determine independently whether Sellafield can operate safely or whether its operations should cease or be suspended until safe standards of operation are achieved;

(4) Reviewing and making arrangements to ensure the maximum protection of the population in the event of a serious incident at a nuclear facility.

In immediate response to the Leader of the Opposition, I welcome his conversion and his now anti-nuclear stance. Obviously, that is the position of his party. It is quite different from and totally inconsistent with the position which he and his party took in the late seventies. Certainly during the period of Fianna Fáil Government between 1977 and 1981, during which time Deputy Haughey was both Minister and for certain period of time Taoiseach, I cannot find any record of any statement of dissent by him in either of those roles in relation to the course of action which the then Minister, [2867] Deputy O'Malley, was proposing in relation to a nuclear power station at Carnsore Point in County Wexford. I accept the conversion and certainly welcome it. It is a position which all of us in this country should have in relation to our supply of energy. We have many alternatives to nuclear energy and should develop them and strive to ensure that we will be able to have sufficient energy without nuclear power stations.

Deputy Haughey may have been verging somewhat on the alarmist in his remarks recollecting his childhood days and the advice he received to get out and get fresh air, go swimming — I presume on the north side — and enjoy the fresh vegetables. I am not sure why this advice cannot be given in the environment of Kinsealy at this time, but I can assure the Leader of the Opposition that that advice is still being given in County Kerry and in many parts.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  I said certain parts of Europe.

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  This was in the context of the Irish situation. I am glad to be able to say that that advice can be given to young children these days. Certainly nothing has changed in that regard. A great deal has been done to preserve the environment in the last number of years with regard to pollution and other areas relating to the environment.

I welcome the opportunity to address the House about the accident at the nuclear power station at Chernobyl near Kiev in the USSR. It also give me the opportunity to reiterate the concerns the Government have been constantly expressing about the safety of the Sellafield operation, I want to assure the House that we are steadfast in our resolution to pursue unrelentingly our request for the establishment of a European inspection force. The accident at Chernobyl has brought home to the entire world the nightmare and appalling long term consequences which can result from an accident at a nuclear establishment. If any good can come out of an incident like [2868] this, it ought to be that any complacency about safety in the nuclear industry will now be dissipated for ever. The consequences of such accidents have an appalling potential for disaster. The people of the world have a right to vigilance of the highest degree, constant inspection of facilities, constant review of safety procedures and standards, and complete openness about what is going on in the nuclear industry.

I have already expressed concern in a recent address to the Seanad about the lack of information supplied by the Soviet Union on the Chernobyl accident. The Soviet accident was not disclosed until some days after it happened and then only after high levels of radioactivity had been detected in Scandinavia. The amount of information disclosed by the USSR was simply not acceptable. They have an obligation to fully disclose what has happened. The Irish Government have requested our Embassy in Moscow to get the fullest information possible about the accident and its effects. I am happy to learn that, probably due to world outrage, the Soviet Union now appear more prepared to disclose to the world what actually happened. I understand that the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Hans Blix, and two others are proceeding to the USSR on the invitation of the Russian authorities. Our Counsellor in Vienna, who deals with International Atomic Energy Agency maters, will brief us on the outcome of the visit as soon as details become available.

The International Atomic Energy Agency in fact learned of the incident in a casual manner and it was not until 28 April that the Soviet Permanent Representative confirmed that there had been an accident. The Soviets have told Mr. Blix that the levels of radiation are decreasing but have not said from what level. I understand that Mr. Blix has also told the Soviets that the function of the IAEA is to act as an instrument of collaboration between member states, and he referred the Soviets to the guidelines agreed by member states in the wake of Three Mile Island, and that only full and [2869] adequate information can stop the flood of speculation. He has suggested a meeting within the agency where Soviet experts would inform other experts of the nature of the accident and discuss the lessons to be learned.

As I said yesterday, the Nuclear Energy Board have advised me that radioactivity levels detected in air samples taken between Friday, 2 May and Sunday, 4 May are less than 10 per cent of the levels reported in the United Kingdom and are about double the levels of naturally occuring radioactivity. The board have advised that these levels are not significant from a health point of view. I am glad to be able to tell the House now that I have been advised by the Nuclear Energy Board that these air levels have dramatically declined since Sunday last.

Levels of radioactivity have been detected in milk from the Leinster area. One sample tested showed a somewhat higher level than others which, if continued, would have been a cause of concern. However, analysis of later samples indicates that the levels are decreasing. The Nuclear Energy Board have advised that there should be no concern about drinking milk. This situation is being kept under review, and the testing of milk samples is being extended to the rest of the country.

Airborne radioactive contamination is routinely measured by the Nuclear Energy Board on a daily basis in collaboration with the Meteorological Service at two monitoring stations situated in Dublin and Valentia. In normal times air and rain water samples are measured on a monthly basis at Dublin, Rosslare, Valentia, Belmullet and Mullingar.

But since Tuesday, 29 April, when first reports of the Chernobyl incident reached Ireland, air and rain water samples have been taken on a daily basis. In the samples taken up to Friday, 2 May there was no detection of radioactivity arising from Chernobyl. However, radioactivity was detected in air samples taken in Dublin between Friday, 2 May and Sunday, 4 May. The Nuclear Energy [2870] Board have advised that in relation to iodine 131 these levels are about one-tenth of the level reported in the UK and only about twice the levels that occur naturally. This is significantly less than in other European countries.

Imports of foodstuffs coming from countries seriously affected by the Chernobyl accident will be checked at points of entry to ensure that no contaminated foods are imported. These will be continuously reviewed, and if necessary such importations will be prohibited. This would be by Government order under the Restriction of Imports Act, 1962. The European Commission have submitted a proposal to the Council of Ministers for an EC regulation banning the importation of cattle and certain foodstuffs from east European countries and a recommendation to prohibit trade within the Community of dairy produce, fresh vegetables and fruit exceeding specified levels of radioactivity. It is expected that a decision of the Council of Ministers will be announced tomorrow. The customs authorities have been requested to have arrangements in train to implement the expected EC regulation as soon as it is announced.

The customs authorities have been requested to put procedures in train immediately whereby the Nuclear Energy Board would be informed of vessels visiting Irish ports carrying cargo originating from contaminated countries.

Screening procedures to assess contamination levels are available for persons arriving from countries which were seriously affected. Notices about these facilities will be displayed at ports and airports.

The monitoring system operated by the Nuclear Energy Board has been adequate to determine the level of radioactivity which has occurred to date. However, in the light of these recent incidents, I propose to have these procedures reviewed in consultation with the Nuclear Energy Board. I will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that we will continue to be in a position to accurately measure future radioactivity, and I have [2871] already instructed the board to recruit some additional staff.

The interdepartmental committee established following the Chernobyl accident will continue to monitor the situation and advise if future action is necessary. The purpose of this committee is to ensure that there would be coordinated action in the event of a serious nuclear accident affecting this country. The committee consists of representatives from the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Energy Board and the Departments of Defence, Agriculture, Communications, Industry and Commerce and Environment. Other Departments or agencies would be called upon, if necessary.

I should not allow this occasion to pass without making some reference to the number of quite misleading assertions made about Civil Defence, some very prominently featured, and I would be failing in my responsibility to those who serve Civil Defence if I did not correct any suggestion that Civil Defence is not prepared to fulfil its responsibilities. It is important to bear in mind that, as part of the national defence structure, Civil Defence is established principally to provide for the protection of the civil population in wartime. In relation to any possible risk from the peacetime use of nuclear energy, responsibility in the first instance rests with the Nuclear Energy Board operating under the aegis of my Department. In so far as Civil Defence is concerned, the first requirement is regular close liaison with the Nuclear Energy Board, which does occur, and an appropriate contributions from the Civil Defence organisation should the board and the occasion so demand. Civil Defence does have the capacity and is making trained personnel available to assist the Nuclear Energy Board where such assistance is necessary. A Civil Defence national, regional and county warning and monitoring network has been established, intensive training has been carried out in the detection, measurement and prediction of radioactivity and the Civil Defence radiac instruments, [2872] to which I have already made reference, are capable of detecting levels of radiation over a range from very high — such as might be expected to result from a nuclear war — right down to levels far below those which would be regarded as hazardous.

I wish to take the opportunity to once again state the policy of the Government with regard to Sellafield. The Government's position is that radioactive discharges from Sellafield should be minimised and eliminated as soon as possible through the use of the best available technology. This position has been stated at every opportunity in contact with the British authorities and at all appropriate international fora.

As this House is aware, British Nuclear Fuels Limited, the operators of the Sellafield plant, have commenced a programme which includes measures designed to effect significant reductions in radio active discharges at Sellafield involving total expenditure of almost £900 million on additional safety measures. Notwithstanding this programme, recent incidents at Sellafield have given rise to major concern about the operation of the plant. At a meeting of the Ireland UK Contact Group on 14 February last officials of my Department conveyed our grave anxiety at the recent incidents at Sellafield and our annoyance at the inadequate notification procedures. The earliest of these incidents involved the discharge of 458 kilograms of uranium into the Irish Sea on 24 January 1986. This was followed by a plutonium gas leak on 5 February and on 13 February 1986 a fire occurred at the Drigg low level radioactive waste dump near Sellafield. All three incidents were discussed at the meeting on 14 February. The British authorities assured my officials in the course of that meeting that the radiological emissions to the environment resulting from these incidents were insignificant.

Nevertheless, a prompt notification procedure was agreed at the meeting and notification of more recent incidents at Sellafield has been practically immediate. [2873] There were two such incidents at Sellafield, one at Trawsfynydd and one at Capenhurst.

At Sellafield there was a leak of 250 gallons of low level radioactive water from a pipe into a containment trench on 19 February 1986. We were informed that two workers were slightly contaminated on that occasion. The incident at Trawsfynydd involved the discharge of 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide contaminated with radioactive elements and we were informed that no raised levels of radioactivity were detected off site. This incident occurred on 21 February. On 1 March there was a leak of plutonium inside the Sellafield plant and two workers were contaminated. Finally, on 2 March one worker was slightly contaminated at Capenhurst nuclear power station during the course of carrying out routine maintenance.

More recently two minor incidents at UK power stations took place. At Dungeness there was a small explosion during the commissioning of a new piece of equipment. This occurred on 31 March. At Heysham in Lancashire there was a shut down yesterday of a nuclear reactor after a fire in a part of the plant away from the nuclear installation.

Mr. R. Burke: Information on Ray Burke  Zoom on Ray Burke  Does the Tánaiste think we are safe sitting here at all with this sort of record? Should we be having this debate?

Mr. Spring: Information on Dick Spring  Zoom on Dick Spring  There was no release of radioactivity arising from this incident. The Nuclear Energy Board have assured us that neither of these incidents has any significance for the Irish people.

The Government recognise that these incidents are, in themselves, of little radiological significance to Ireland. Clearly, a balanced view of the situation must be maintained. However, the frequency of these incidents has caused the Government and the Irish people to lose confidence in the safety of the plant. The safety record at Sellafield has been less than satisfactory and the frequency of recent accidents poses the possibility of the occurrence of an accident in the future [2874] which could have serious consequences for this country. This concern is heightened by the recent revelation regarding the errors in the information on radioactive discharges supplied to the Black Inquiry. I am very much aware of the increasing public concern at the continued operation of the plant — a concern which is increasingly shared by the British public. For this reason the Taoiseach, at his meeting with the British Prime Minister on 19 February 1986, urged that there be a review of safety procedures at the plant. The further incidents which followed that meeting underlined the necessity, as we see it, for such a review.

I have said that monitoring indicates that the radiation exposure of the Irish public from Sellafield is negligible. But, as I already said in this House, we are being exposed to a potential hazard from an operation outside our jurisdiction. This makes the problem an international one. The view of the Irish Government is that this issue must be resolved by the European Commission under the provisions of the Euratom Treaty. The Government consider that a European inspection force is necessary to determine independently whether Sellafield can operate safely or whether operations should be suspended or cease until it is rendered safe.

The Minister for the Environment, the Minister of State at my Department, Deputy Collins, and I have had separate formal discussions with Commissioner Clinton-Davis about this matter. In various discussions we have had with the Commissioner it was stated that we were satisfied that the Commission has a central and vital role to play in the implementation of the Community's basic radiation safety standards under the Euratom Treaty. The Irish Government's call for a European inspection force was stressed. The Commissioner has confirmed that the question of a Community inspection force is one which is being examined under the terms of the Euratom Treaty, and I was glad to not his recent comment on television that the Chernobyl accident had strengthened our case for the question of a Community [2875] inspection force is one which is being examined under the terms of the Euratom Treaty, and I was glad to note his recent comment on television that the Chernobyl accident had strengthened our case for an independent inspection force.

On 11 April 1986 our Ambassador in Brussels, on behalf of the Government, formally requested the Commissioner to establish a Community Health and Safety (Nuclear Installation) Inspection Force to report to the Commission, and in turn to the member states, on existing or potential health or safety problems at individual nuclear installations in the community. We are awaiting a response from the Commission.

The Government have been called upon from time to time to demand the closure of the Sellafield plant. I have to say that the question of closure is not as simple as it seems. There is already a large quantity of spent fuel for reprocessing stored at Sellafield. This would continue to require attention and management even if further reprocessing is not carried out at Sellafield. The Government must be assured beyond doubt that the plant can and will be operated safely without danger to the Irish public and in conformity with the principles laid down by the Euratom Treaty. Let me assure the House that I will continue to give this matter my fullest attention and I will decide on what further steps are appropriate in the light of the response from the European Commission.

We need this assurance that the plant is being safely operated and we consider that the basis for any such assurance must be an investigation by a European inspection force such as we are proposing. The Irish Government are of the firm opinion that it is in the interest of all concerned to support this inspection force at European level and to support any measure that might be adjudged necessary by an inspection force to improve the safety of Sellafield, even if this transpires to mean suspension of operations or closure of the plant.

I must emphasise, of course, that the [2876] levels of radioactivity are carefully monitored by the Nuclear Energy Board which is engaged in a continuous monitoring programme which monitors radioactivity levels in fish, seawater, seaweed and sediment taken from the Irish Sea. Independent research programmes are also undertaken by the environmental radioactivity laboratories of University College, Dublin, and Trinity College, Dublin. The results of these monitoring programmes have clearly shown that contamination has occurred in the Irish sea as a result of discharges from Sellafield. However, the radiation dose to the Irish population resulting from Sellafield is very small and would be, on average, less than 1 per cent of the limits advised by the International Commission for Radiological Protection and by the European Community.

A joint Irish-Spanish research cruise is planned for this year to monitor levels and distribution of Caesium 134 and Caesium 137 in the area bounded by the north-east Atlantic dumpsite, the south-west coast of Ireland and the north-east coast of Spain. This will include an examination of the extent to which discharges from Sellafield and Cap de la Hague have now penetrated these more southerly waters.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate my assurances, based on the best possible advice, that the fall-out which has been detected should give rise to no concern. I will continue to ensure that the situation is fully monitored, and that Members of the House and the public are kept fully informed.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  This major environmental problem has received unprecedented attention in the House in recent times. About two years ago I tried to convince some of my colleagues on the opposite benches to go to Sellafield with me. I found it very hard to get anybody to go except Deputy Ahern from Cork.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  The Deputy voted against its closure the last time round.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  When the reactors exploded [2877] at Chernobyl in the Ukraine on 25 April and the news broke last Monday week the world was shaken by the disaster. That date, 25 April 1986, will go down in history as the day the impossible happened. It was an accident which made a mockery of the confident statements of the nuclear energy industry throughout the world. One of those statements said that plants such as Chernobyl, were ones of total safety where a serious loss-of-coolant accident was practically impossible.

In 1975 the United States Atomic Energy Commission report concluded that an accident big enough even to kill 70 people would only happen once in a million years in a plant such as the one at Chernobyl. Last week in Britain Lord Marshall, chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board, at a meeting held by the British Nuclear Forum said:

Radiation inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone would be no worse than smoking a couple of extra cigarettes a year.

How wrong they all have been. There are serious lessons for us in this country and let us not be fooled by the nuclear industry's own propaganda or by Britain's sweet talk. Accidents such as that which happened in the Ukraine could happen here and we must take the necessary steps to ensure that it does not. The British Energy Secretary, Peter Walker, last week said:

Russian reactors do not have total containment and would not be permitted in Britain.

That is a totally untrue statement because none of Britain's magnox reactors have containment zones. An accident such as that in the Ukraine could happen in Britain. Mr. Walker also claimed that no emergencies involving significant radiological hazards to the public had occurred in Britain. That is totally untrue. In October 1975 an accident at Windscale led to at least 30 deaths. To date we have heard half truths and lies from the nuclear industry.

The accident at Chernobyl presented [2878] President Regan with an opportunity to indulge cold war mongering against Soviet Russia. It also gave Deputy Haughey an opportunity to beat the Government and beat the Brits at the same time with the weapon of nuclear danger. While listening to the contribution tonight by the Leader of the Opposition I was quite taken aback by his change of mind in recent years.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  I never changed my mind. I have always opposed nuclear energy.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  The Tánaiste proposed an investigation of the setting up of a nuclear power station in Wexford.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  We turned down that proposal.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  It was considered by this Cabinet.

Acting Chairman (Mr. J. Doyle): Information on Joseph Doyle  Zoom on Joseph Doyle  I do not think the Tánaiste mentioned that power station.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  Deputy Haughey's public posturing has been hypocritical and opportunistic. He described the Government's stand as feeble and ambiguous. His own record while in Government has been less than impressive. Sellafield, formerly Windscale, has been in existence for 30 years. Deputy Haughey was Minister for Health and was also Taoiseach during that time and he never did anything about it.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  That is not true.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  The Deputy has the luxury of being in Opposition. The reality must be faced up to. Hot air and nice speeches will not solve the matter. We must take the initiative in Europe. This is now a trans-continental rather than a transnational problem, as described some weeks ago. Before we start preaching about other countries — I sat in silence listening to Deputy Haughey and he should at least extend the same courtesy [2879] to me — we should get our own house in order.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  The Deputy was telling lies about me and I am not prepared to sit here and listen to him telling lies about me.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  We must have a proper policy for the disposal of our toxic chemical waste. How can we put pressure on other countries to put their houses in order when we are depending on them to take some of our chemical toxic waste because we cannot get our own environmental house in order? It is only in the past two years that we got a semblance of an environmental policy. The Government must take this matter up at the highest level. They must take Britain to the European Court.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  It is too late.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  We must have an environment protection agency here so that we can get our whole protection act together. We must take a firm line. We do not derive any economic benefits nor do we have any military reasons to tolerate risks from the nuclear industry. I ask the Minister to ensure that there will be adequate monitoring or our foodstuffs, particularly our milk supplies. At a health board meeting in Kerry yesterday I was surprised to learn that iodine tablets are not readily available here in the event of a nuclear disaster in Europe or Britain. I applaud what has been done in the past two years to counter the nuclear threat. We have gone from not having any policy whatsoever to having some semblance of a policy now. We cannot tolerate the type of speeches we got tonight — full of hot air with no real argument.

Mr. Haughey: Information on Charles J. Haughey  Zoom on Charles J. Haughey  Get up and vote tomorrow night and do not be hypocritical.

Mr. Kirk: Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  I am glad of the opportunity to speak on the motion. After the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, and Ireland facing the risk of fall-out, we appreciate more [2880] readily the risk of higher radiation levels along the east coast. Radiation levels on the east coast of Sweden are 100 times normal. The Swedish Radiological Institute said it would be unsafe within 60 miles of the reactor in Chernobyl which, earlier this year, was hailed as a model of safety by nuclear experts.

Experts have said that that accident was very similar to the accident at Sellafield in 1957. Members of the House will know that at that time there were claims in regard to one of the two convents in Dundalk. Subsequently, we had an unduly high rate of Down's Syndrome babies. This was never adequately clarified but there was subsequent evidence that radiation levels were abnormally high after that accident. The fact that such evidence was suppressed indicates that the British had something to hide.

I represent an area in which the people have been increasingly apprehensive about the proximity of Sellafield to the Louth coast. Medical practitioners in north Louth and south Down have expressed alarm at the seemingly careless approach adopted by the Coalition Government and the Nuclear Energy Board. Speaking at a meeting in Rostrevor in March a Newry GP claimed that traces of radiation were found in extracts from a tree trunk cut in Dundalk some time ago. He pointed out that the ill, the elderly and the feeble were more susceptable to radiation than young people. A medical practice in Dundalk which has been monitoring the number of still births in the area discovered that the percentage of such births is much higher than in any other community care area in the country. It is more than significant that that practice is right along the Louth coast, particularly concentrating on the town of Dundalk and the Cooley Peninsula which is very exposed to any fall-out from Sellafield.

I ask the Dáil if we can continue to tolerate these statistics or to ignore them. Can we continue to pretend there is nothing wrong? Must we allow feelings of fear, worry and apprehension to grow among our population? Are we allowing our environment to be slowly and surely [2881] destroyed? Having regard to what has happened at Chernobyl can we continue to reassure ourselves that this cannot happen at Sellafield? Will we continue to overlook the leaks and emissions from a nuclear plant a mere 60 miles from our more densely populated areas around the east coast?

If an accident similar to that at Chernobyl were to happen at Sellafield what contingency plans have we to protect our people? What provisions have we made to save our food production? What future would face the people of Ireland in such an eventuality? Could our population not be decimated by such an accident? Would not half our countryside be laid waste and barren in a few hours? Sellafield has an appalling accident rate, yet we are being told that a Chernobyl type accident could not happen there. The British are treating us with disdain and contempt in this matter. They have plans to expand the nuclear industry and are clearly determined to continue with them. The time is long past for the Coalition Government to cry “stop” and immediately demand the closure of Sellafield. The Government owe it to the people to protect their health and their future.

Can we continue to tolerate the existence of an unpredictable monster on our doorstep, no more than a human error away from activation, a monster that knows no bounds in regard to destruction, a monster that could be as docile as a lamb at 12 midnight and viciously devastating and uncontrollable at 1 a.m.? Sellafield must be closed. The lesson of Chernobyl must be learned immediately. The Coalition must assert our rights as a sovereign State and member of the EC. They must continue with the demand for closure until Britain accedes to it.

The world will forever live with the memory of the human destruction in the wake of the Chernobyl accident. We believe the true statistics have been suppressed. The Russians obviously are not prepared to let the world know the dangers involved in tinkering with nuclear energy. The nuclear threat must be removed because it is dangerous and lethal. [2882] The future of humanity is at stake and Ireland must play its part in efforts to safeguard the future of mankind. Pretending that Britain has the know-how adequately to render Sellafield safe is not good enough. Our future cannot be left in the hands of the British Government or British Nuclear Fuels. Our medical practitioners along the east coast have told us something is wrong and this must be examined immediately.

Debate Adjourned.


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