Dáil Éireann - Volume 555 - 10 October, 2002

Ceisteanna – Questions. Priority Questions. - Nuclear Safety.

  5. Mr. Allen asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the steps he is proposing to take to force the United Kingdom to close down the nuclear plant at Sellafield. [17312/02]

  Mr. Cullen: The Government has taken, and will continue to take, a proactive role in campaigning against reprocessing operations at Sellafield. The programme for Government states [108] clearly that we regard the continued existence of Sellafield as an unacceptable threat to Ireland, that it should be closed and that we will use every diplomatic and legal route available to us to work towards the removal of this threat.

  The Government has taken an unprecedented initiative in pursuit of this policy objective through its separate legal actions under the OSPAR and UNCLOS Conventions in relation to the Sellafield MOX plant. These actions are proceeding on schedule and are challenging operations at the Sellafield MOX plant on economic, legal, environmental and safety grounds. The Government has not ruled out taking further legal action as appropriate.

  In addition, the Government has developed a strong constructive campaign against nuclear energy in general, and against activities at Sellafield in particular, that focuses clearly on the threat to Ireland from these activities based on genuine concerns regarding safety, security and sustainability. It is for this reason that, in international institutions and other multi-lateral fora, Ireland is actively advocating the highest possible standards of safety as well as health and environmental protection.

  Ireland has also responded critically to various UK public consultation processes concerning the regulation of the UK nuclear industry covering such matters as the management of radioactive waste in the UK, a review of UK energy policy and the UK strategy for discharges from nuclear installations. The Government has repeatedly pointed out 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 financial losses of British Nuclear Fuels and the financial situation at British Energy further underscore our position that nuclear energy is not economically viable.

  I assure the Deputy that the approach outlined will be pursued vigorously and that any further opportunities to press our case will be exercised in full.

  Mr. Allen: What new initiatives have taken place since the postcard campaign prior to the general election? Will he also inform me if the invitation extended to the Radiological Protection Institute earlier this year has been honoured by British Nuclear Fuels?

  Mr. Cullen: To bring the Deputy up to date, a very substantive legal case will open in The Hague on Monday week, 21 October, and we look forward to the outcome of that. In my view, part of the process in terms of our approach to the nuclear question is to build international alliances, which is important. As the Deputy will [109] be aware, I recently attended the world summit in Johannesburg when we got together with six other countries. This interesting group included Germany, Austria, Belgium, Sweden and Greece. We wanted to ensure that, going forward, nuclear energy would not be included under any heading regarding sustainable or renewable energy. Ireland played a central role in putting together this formidable alliance.

  In terms of winning cases, I have had bilateral meetings with the Norwegian Minister and the Icelandic Minister, who have equal concerns to Ireland, particularly in regard to Sellafield. We have had further discussions in this regard and have worked with them in supporting the various cases. We recently brought forward initiatives in regard to the shipment of nuclear fuels at one of the atomic energy commissions.

  There is much activity on this issue. The Deputy will recognise that the new Department of the Environment and Local Government has been substantially reshaped to fit into the whole environmental area. This issue is being handled directly by me at Cabinet level, which is important and gives it a further impetus. It is appreciated by my colleagues internationally that the Irish Government's approach to the issue has certainly not lessened – if anything, it has been further emphasised. Much will depend on the case that will open on Monday week as to where we go from there.

  Mr. Allen: Will the Minister assure me that the invitation extended by British Nuclear Fuels has been honoured? Have our nuclear experts been able to go into Sellafield to examine the defensive and safety systems to reassure us as a nation that our future existence is not at risk? To my knowledge, it extended the invitation but did not honour it. I would be amazed if our experts have not been admitted up to now.

  Mr. Cullen: The short answer to the Deputy's question is that I do not have a note in front of me, therefore I do not know whether they honoured it. I recall looking at something recently and I know that contact was made. However, I am not sure whether there was a high level investigation by the Radiological Protection Institute From my perspective of working with the institute, which is now within the ambit of my Department, we are engaged in a number of different strategies which may involve such an approach. I want to see at first hand exactly what is going on in these plants. I will get back to the Deputy on the specific point he made.

  Mr. Allen: I find it incredible—

  An Ceann Comhairle: Sorry, Deputy. We have already used the six minutes and, as the Deputy will know, it is a confined Question Time.

[110]   Mr. Allen: I would think that I used about one minute of those six minutes.

  An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair has no control over that. Unfortunately, we have gone over time and we must move on to Question No. 6 in the name of Deputy Gilmore.