Wednesday, 9 October 2002
Dáil Eireann Debate
1470. Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government his views on whether Government policy regarding Sellafield is contradictory in light of the support with public taxpayers' money for the nuclear industry in the EU; and his further views on the increase in the nuclear lobby when other nuclear states become members of the EU. [15780/02]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Cullen): Successive Irish Governments have been firmly opposed to nuclear energy because of the safety and environmental risks which it poses. This Government's nuclear policy places a heavy emphasis on nuclear safety and radiological protection. While recognising that certain European countries, including Britain, have retained nuclear energy as an option for power generation, and while one of the tasks of Euratom is to promote the establishment and growth of nuclear industries in the Union, Ireland has remained strongly opposed to nuclear energy.
I do not accept that Ireland's membership of EURATOM is contrary to the Government's position regarding Sellafield. The Government's concerns about Sellafield have informed Ireland's priorities within EURATOM. Working within the EURATOM structures, Ireland's primary emphasis has always been to steer the EURATOM programme of activities towards nuclear safety and radiological protection rather than the expansion of the nuclear energy sector. Ireland is concerned to ensure the highest standards of nuclear safety are in place in the EU now and as enlarged.
1471. Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the near miss of a nuclear accident at Torness Power Station in East Lothian, after problems in the cooling system of one of its two reactors; and if he will seriously challenge the British Government on this issue, particularly when the commercial future of nuclear power in Britain is in danger when shares in the main power company fell by almost 70%. [15781/02]
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Cullen): I am aware of the incident referred to, which occurred in May 2002. I understand from the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII), which was informed at the time by the UK Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), that the incident involved mechanical vibration of a gas circulator that circulates the reactor coolant. This resulted in major damage to the circulator and in one reactor being shut down. The other reactor was also shut down before any major damage occurred.
According to the RPII, the NII is satisfied that there are adequate back-up systems to ensure reactor cooling. The RPII has also advised me that, with regard to this type of reactor, which is of the advanced gas cooled variety, even if a loss of cooling were to occur, there would be more time available to restore cooling before reactor core overheating started, than in the case of a water cooled reactor. The RPII understanding from the NII is that at no time did the incident compromise safety. I understand from the RPII that the reactors at the facility in question remain shut down and will not be allowed to reopen until the NII is satisfied that it is safe to do so. The RPII will be maintaining close contact with the NII in this matter.
Incidents such as that at Torness underline the risks and dangers associated with nuclear energy. The UK Government is fully aware of the concerns of the Irish Government about the UK nuclear energy industry, including the operations at Sellafield. We have pointed out regularly that the risks and unresolved problems associated with the nuclear energy industry, when added to the high research and capital costs, including decommissioning costs, as well as continued additional safety and security costs, mean that nuclear energy is not sustainable. The significant recorded losses of British Nuclear Fuels and the financial situation at British Energy underscore the Irish Government's position in this regard.
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