Dáil Éireann - Volume 446 - 02 November, 1994

Written Answers. - Transfer of Nuclear Fuel.

41. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for the Marine if he will make a statement on the recent British Nuclear Fuel disclosures to the effect that they intend to use the Irish Sea as a route to transfer nuclear fuel to and from Sellafield. [1372/94]

Minister for the Marine (Mr. Andrews): I fully share the Deputy's concerns in this matter.

The Irish Sea has been used for the shipment of spent nuclear fuel and plutonium to and from Sellafield for several years. Up to now the route for transporting materials from Europe for reprocessing at Sellafield has been by rail and ferry. While British Nuclear Fuel's transport arrangements are not subject to public consultation, they have disclosed their intention to use an irradiated fuel carrier to transport materials direct from European ports. It is claimed that the rerouted European business will not increase the throughput at Barrow because the bulk of spent fuel from Japan for reprocessing has already arrived at Sellafield.

I am somewhat, but not greatly, reassured by the fact that before direct shipments from European ports at Barrow-on-Furness can begin, the relevant requirements of the International Maritime Organisation Code on the Safe Carriage of Irradiated Nuclear Fuels (the INF Code) must be met and registerd as such with the United Kingdom's Marine Safety Agency. Advance notification of voyages through territorial waters of coastal states will also have to be given.

The Deputy will be aware of the Government's stated opposition to the [1494] reprocessing facility at Sellafield. Our concerns about the shipment of spent nuclear fuel and plutonium through the Irish Sea are fundamental ones. The implications of an accident or collision need no spelling out by me to this House.

At a very minimum, we want to have advance notification of the transiting of a ship carrying nuclear fuel through the Irish Sea. This is being pursued with the UK authorities. In ongoing discussions at international level on the INF Code the Department has consistently argued for the following additional requirements to be put in place

—decisive route planning and notification and consultation with coastal states while in transit

—the restriction and exclusion of certain routes

—an emergency response plan in the voyage plan in respect of the ship and cargo

—a compulsory requirement to salvage radioactive material and predetermination of responsibility for this in the voyage plan.

Our efforts in this respect, for which we have some support from other states, will continue.

We are also pushing to have the Irradiated Nuclear Fuels Code incorporated into two EU Directives dealing with reporting arrangements for ships visiting Community ports or transiting Community waters. This would at least ensure that all types of radioactive wastes being carried on ships would have to be notified in advance and would allow for “early warning” systems to be put in place. As I have said, these are our minimum requirements given the prospect of continuing traffic on the high seas of radioactive materials. Our overall concerns about the hazards arising from discharges and operations at Sellafield will continue to be articulated at the highest level.