Seanad Éireann - Volume 128 - 25 April, 1991

Radiological Protection Bill, 1990: Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Professor Conroy: Yesterday evening I welcomed the Minister to the House. This is a very important Bill because its main purpose is the protection of the public. The necessity for and the seriousness of that arose from the appalling accident at Chernobyl. That was the first time people appreciated the international nature of radiological dangers and, to some extent, the gravity of such dangers.

Last Sunday in a city called Minsk — I have never been there so I am not very familiar with it but I gather it is the largest city between Warsaw and Moscow — there was a huge demonstration. More than 100,000 people were protesting partly in relation to prices, partly in relation to jobs, partly in relation to democracy but most of all they were protesting about the after effects of Chernobyl. Chernobyl is in the Ukraine, and is quite a distance away from the city of Minsk, which is, in fact, in another part of the Soviet Union, in another State, Byelorussia or White Russia. This State is renowned for its quietness and tranquility and has never previously been involved in the protests we have reading about and hearing about for the past two years. It has been very solid, very quiet, with no [1079] protests until last week. The protest last week arose because so many people in that State are now begining to suffer from the effects of the radiological disaster at Chernobyl.

Mr. Gorbachev, for whom we have great admiration for the many things he has done as regards perestroika and freedom in Eastern Europe, is, as we all know, in a lot of difficulty at home, primarily it would seem to us because of the economic chaos in the Soviet Union, with the prices of basic necessities doubling, trebling and quadrupling in a matter of days. One of the main causes of intense dissatisfaction with Gorbachev — something we find so difficult to understand because we see the great things he has done and wonder why in the Soviet Union he apparently now ranks in popularity only with Stalin — is that in a large part of the Ukraine and in this State I have mentioned, White Russia, he has failed to give any reassurances in relation to the cancer and other diseases which are now becoming rampant. Mr. Gorbachev expressed his sympathy but he also indicated that he could do nothing about it. That was one of the main reasons for this huge unprecedented demonstration by the general public in Minsk.

Others viewed it, I know from looking at one of the evening papers yesterday evening in a totally different sense. Dr. Chernoussenko, a Soviet nuclear scientist, has been explaining to the West, and elsewhere, the problems they faced at Chernobyl. Because of the intense degree of radiation there, the various robot machines and so on which in theory should and could be used to clear up contaminated soil would not work. What they did, and this may seem incredible, was that they employed vast numbers of civilians and soldiers who were virtually unprotected from radiology — indeed because of the vast numbers concerned it would have been very difficult to do so in practice — and sent them in with shovels under an instruction to spend a maximum of three minutes in the severely contaminated zone shoveling [1080] out what soil they could in that time. Many of those people are begining to show the effects of contamination. Sixty thousand workers have been affected in that manner and yet it was the only way the Soviet authorities could see to attempt to deal with the contamination. They could not just leave it there as it would keep affecting more and more people in the general area, contaminating the air and the dust. The machinery would not work so they sent in these unfortunate soldiers and civilians, who probably did not fully realise the seriousness of what was happening to them. Very large numbers of these people are now going to die. I might mention that the scientist who has been telling colleagues and other people in nuclear medicine and nuclear protection in the West is doing so in a very unemotional and very factual manner. He is a very brave man, because he himself is now very severely affected and will probably not live more than a matter of months. Therefore, it is something very real and very specific. This Bill is very serious and I am glad the Minister and the Government have brought it in. It is absolutely essential.

There have been other accidents. There was possibly an even worse one in the Soviet Union about 15 years ago, close to Central Asia; the Chernobyl accident is perhaps in a sense better known. Let us be clear about why it is better known. It is better known because a radioactive dust cloud was blown across north-western Europe and was detected by the Swedish nuclear monitoring services, but it still had not been announced by the Soviet authorities. Indeed, were it not perhaps for the changes which have taken place in the Soviet Union, they might well have continued to deny it. Indeed, for a very long time they tried to downplay it to the gross ill-effects of, most of all, their own citizens, the men, women and children for many miles around this area who could have been saved from the effects of nuclear contamination and who now, unfortunately, will begin to suffer those effects.

These effects last quite a long time. [1081] Last week I was in Japan and, nearly 50 years later, one can still meet people who are suffering from the radiological effects of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, individuals who were in the area and survived but have been affected either at the time or many years later. I might mention an incidental point, which many people may not realise, Nagasaki was the main area in Japan for Catholics and many Irish priests were among those who had been responsible for the development of Catholicism in Nagasaki. Not only the people who were there at the time were affected. One of the dreadful things is that children and unborn children, were affected, as will subsequent generations. This is appalling.

This Bill is giving protection to the public and it is one which the public perhaps will hear little or nothing about, and I hope that remains the case. It is a very essential Bill. It is particularly essential to us, because there is a very understandable argument, indeed a very understandable logic, in relation to energy. The Minister rightly mentioned the balance between environmental aspects and the provision of energy. A few years ago we were all talking about the necessity for alternative sources of energy. Oil was going to run out, coal was too expensive, hydro-electricity insufficient and the obvious answer was nuclear power and certain countries have gone ahead with this programme—France and the United Kingdom are the obvious countries in this part of the globe.

There are those environmentalists who would argue, with a certain amount of truth, that for the provision of energy nuclear power is far more environmentally friendly than using either oil or coal. This may seem strange, but there is a very strong argument for this form of energy. Coal, of course, is extremely contaminating from an environmental point of view and oil also has its grave defects environmentally. It also may be associated with the sort of things that occurred in the Mediterranean recently, with severe oil spills in the Gulf, and of course, the Alaska oil spill, which can be very contaminating. There are many other [1082] examples. We have had them off our own coast also. I think France particularly from an environmental point of view would argue that nuclear power is far preferable and in many ways, if it is controlled, it is cleaner and you do not have the emissions you have from coal fire stations or from the use of oil. Unfortunately, one does have the other side of the coin in that nuclear power is excellent so long as it can be kept safely under control and you can protect the public, as this Bill is intended to do.

The question is whether technology is sufficiently advanced for one to be certain that one can protect the public. Unfortunately, the answer seems to be no, we do not have sufficient knowledge, as yet at any rate, for nuclear power stations to be safe. This in turn raises a very grave difficulty for us in that our next door neighbours have been involved for many years in nuclear power stations many of which, as the Minister pointed out, are now outdated, unsafe and would not be tolerated today by those in the nuclear industry. Yet they are literally within a few miles from us, and radiation is no respecter of territorial waters or national boundaries.

Yet we cannot do very much about it. We have protested. We have done what we can in relation to the convention. A very important part of this Bill, of course, is in relation to the nuclear conventions, the exchange of information for protection and so on. I know the Minister has strongly supported these and argued our case and will continue to do so. It is absolutely vital that he should. At least, if we had some early warning, because of the provisions of this Bill we would be able to give a very considerable degree of protection to the public and we would be able to have some influence in trying to see that the nuclear power industry in the United Kingdom and other areas close to us will be given the maximum protection. It is really very unsatisfactory. If there were a serious nuclear leak, we unfortunately would almost certainly be considerably affected by it. Let us hope it never happens.

This Bill is very essential and I hope [1083] that when it goes through there will be at least some practice exercises on a fairly wide scale. For very different reasons, in Israel they have had some of these exercises which proved very effective and could have been of considerable value in the recent war had such weapons been used in the war. Now it is not a question of weapons, but in some ways it is almost as bad if you have a nuclear cloud or nuclear dust. One or two practice exercises for hospitals, Garda and various other groups who would be involved would be enormously helpful. Hopefully, they will never ever be needed; but it would be far better to have a few training exercises to see how it all works out in practice rather than to leave it until the day that something happened.

I would like to join in paying tribute to the staff members and other people asociated with the Nuclear Energy Board over the last 20 years. Although they were set up for a very different purpose — and it is very necessary that a new board be established — they gave a very valuable service. Some outstanding scientists and other people were associated with the Nuclear Energy Board and have provided a very good service in a totally different capacity from that originally envisaged. It is very easy at this stage to look at things very differently. It is not all that many years ago since such was our naivety that children going in to be measured for shoes in this city would have an X-ray taken of their foot. This was thought to be a great idea; you could see exactly where the bones were and so on. We have come a long way from there and it is just as well perhaps that we have.

I would also like to follow up the question of openness and disclosure. As I indicated, one of the main reasons for the number who either have died or who, unfortunately, will die because of Chernobyl was because of the reluctance of the authorities to give any information. This had serious effects outside the Soviet Union; but, of course, the worst effects of all were for the unfortunate citizens living in the locality who were reassured that everything was all right and are now [1084] in a very horrific manner discovering little by little that things were by no means all right. There should be openness and spread of information.

One of the most damning things — and there was some slight discussion incidentally yesterday of various systems and so on — of the bureaucratic state socialist system is that it is very reluctant to give information, very reluctant to admit any fault or failure. This can have disastrous effects not only economically but in such serious circumstances as this, where the bureaucracy refuses to admit that an accident has occured. When it does admit it, it refuses to accept that the accident is as serious as it is, as in this appalling attitude towards the unfortunate people who are sent in uninstructed, unprotected, literally to give their bodies and their lives in an attempt to rectify something which the State had wrought.

Thank goodness, we live in a part of the world where there is democracy and some degree of freedom of information. We may find it difficult and tedious at times, but at the end of the day it makes a great difference. Certainly, the people who were protesting in their thousands in Minsk last Sunday would have dearly loved to have had the information we got within a few days of the Swedes detecting the nuclear disaster rather than to discover many months later that many of their children were going to die of leukaemia, that others would be stillborn and that still others would be born with gross birth defects.

I might add that it is not entirely the bureaucracies in the Soviet Union who can be slow. In our neighbouring country there was also a certain reluctance, until the Press sniffed it out, to give adequate information regarding Windscale and Seascale.

As the Minister indicated, we have a problem with nuclear waste in the Irish Sea. I know the Minister has made representations about this and it is very important that he should continue to do so. It is a disgraceful situation that the sea off our coast should be one of the most contaminated seas, from a nuclear point of view, in the world. We also heard [1085] quite a lot about nuclear powered vessels or nuclear armed vessels, overflights and so on. As the Minister rightly said, that is more a question of foreign affairs and military matters and can be grossly exaggerated. It is matter of regret, not that these very occasional visits take place — it is perfectly reasonable that they should take place — but what I find very unreasonable is that you have nuclear submarines, not simply of the United States but of the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, using the Irish Sea as a sort of freeway to travel up and down. We come across it in a very different sense when the occasional unfortunate fishing trawler and its crew are pulled down. But much more serious is the fact that these submarines are geared for nuclear onslaughts. If we are going to talk about nuclear free zones, a nuclear free Irish Sea would be more useful rather than complaining about the occasional visit once a year or so of some ship from a friendly state.

I would like again to welcome the Bill. It is well organised and very necessary. At the end of the day the matter that we as legislators should be most concerned with is the well-being and protection of the general public. I support the Bill.

Mrs. Doyle: I welcome the Minister to the House for this important legislation. In discussing an issue such as this we need, above all, balance in our approach to the topic because all of us have strong views in different aspects both at home and internationally in this field. I opened a book last night when I was looking up some of my files in relation to this subject and the page fell open at the statement that until recently mankind has taken energy for granted. In this country for the last few days we have not taken it for granted. Perhaps, if nothing else has come out of the appalling difficulties being experienced by the ESB staff and management, it is that we no longer take energy for granted, given our individual experiences in different parts of the country. It is a truism, but it says a lot when we state that we take energy for granted. We assume there will be an unlimited [1086] supply of fossil fuels and that somebody — bureaucracy, Government, someone else — will keep an unending source of supply to us so we can get on with our daily lives, increasing the technology we use but not having to worry about the sourcing of the energy supply.

There are many options and over the years the nuclear option looked the most promising, particularly in the western world generally. I am afraid the public generally are unhappy. Their perception of the nuclear industry is that it is unsafe and that they do not want it to grow. All the comments so far, I assume, have referred to nuclear fission. When we are talking about the nuclear industry we are talking in the context of nuclear fission. It is nearly seven or eight years since I spoke in the Dáil on this subject first. I remember asking at that time for some indication from the Minister as to what progress, if any, there was in the whole area of nuclear fusion. I would not get in a lather, but it is reasonably justified, given our experiences of Chernobyl — to take perhaps one of the worst instances any of us can recall — but also our ongoing difficulties and fears with the Sellafield operation just across the water. Some people get very exercised about it, others just moderately, and more controlled but concerned nonetheless.

We hear very little nowadays of the progress, if any, being made in the whole area of fusion, I would love to hear from the Minister what the state of play is with developments in this area. I understood — the situation is probably still the same — that it was the containment of the experiment that was the difficulty in moving from, if you like, the desk top model or the laboratory top model stage in terms of the development of fusion to the commercial reality of developing fusion as an energy source. It is an exciting possibility if the difficulties could be overcome, because we do not have the same difficulties with the disposal of radioactive waste; and it is the disposal of radioactive waste and the decommissioning of the plant in terms of the fission industry that causes concern. People are concerned, they are not often sure why [1087] they are concerned, but it is those two areas, when you boil it down, which would appear to be the main areas causing difficulty generally. In the context of what we are talking about I would be very interested to hear from the Minister what progress is being made in the whole area of nuclear fusion. Having said that, I will confine the rest of my remarks to nuclear fission because that, effectively, is what the nuclear industry is all about to date.

I noted carefully the Minister's speech last night in this area. Indeed, I welcome the main purposes of the Bill to establish the Radiological Protection Institute, to ratify three very important conventions — I fully support the Minister's view on that area — and to enable a range of radiation protection measures to be taken by various Ministers in ordinary and emergency situations. I have one main problem with the legislation and it is a big question mark in my mind. With respect, the big problem is that it should not be the Minister present who is presenting the Bill to the House. For me to have complete confidence in the Radiological Protection Institute I believe that it is the Minister for the Environment who should be proposing this legislation.

This agency we are setting up and the role we are giving it to do must be seen to be totally independent of the Department of Energy. It must be free to be critical of the Department of Energy if that needs be in the future. If it is an arm or a leg or just one step removed from the Department of Energy or under the auspices of the Department of Energy, which it is, with the Minister pushing the Bill through here this morning — he is very welcome in a personal capacity but I am talking about his official capacity when I might appear to be critical — it undermines the main function of the Bill.

If the agency is to perform the duties we would like it to perform, first of all it must be independent, without any question at all. I welcome the changes in section 20 which certainly help in that regard. It must be independent. It must be a body of unquestionable scientific [1088] integrity — I have no difficulty with that, given what I know about the agency to date — and it must have public credibility. Independence and public credibility are two very important criteria for this agency to be successful. I wonder can it be credible or independent if it is an agency under the auspices of the Department of Energy? It is there to monitor, to protect the public, to advise Ministers; but, above all, it must be seen to stand away from and be totally apart from the Department of Energy. That is a huge question mark about what we are doing here today. Perhaps that was dealt with in the Dáil. I did not read the records, but I would be delighted with the Minister's views on that. Quite bluntly, I think the Department of the Environment should be the sponsoring body for this legislation, not the Department of Energy.

We have been discussing in this House over the last few weeks the Environmental Protection Agency Bill and there are many similarities in the issues before us in relation to those two measures. Indeed, in relation to the Environmental Protection Agency, its independence, the scientific integrity of the body, the public credibility, these are the three main issues we are all looking at; and exactly the same can be applied to the Radiological Protection Institute which is under discussion. In all of these areas where the public are afraid or nervous or suspicious of officialdom and of bodies of one kind or another — their fears may be real or perceived; that is almost irrelevant at this stage — we need a body that can assuage the fears, such as they are, of the public generally, of institutions and of individuals. Above all else, my appeal to the Minister is to ensure that the institute we are now establishing through this legislation will be able to do that. If it does not, it is but another unnecessary layer of the State armoury of bureaucracy. There has been a relatively healthy attitude in recent years of getting rid of unnecessary quangos — I hate that word but it is being used freely and I think we all know what we are talking about when we use it. We must ensure that we are not just heaping another layer on what is left. What we [1089] establish today should meet the needs of the people in this day and age and be seen to be independent, credible and, above all, beyond reproach.

The Minister in his speech referred to the need for nuclear countries to recognise increasingly the legitimate concerns of their non-nuclear neighbours. In 1986 I was honoured to represent Ireland at a Council of Environment Ministers — it was a Council of Environment Ministers, I emphasise — and at the time we were discussing difficulties in relation to Sellafield and with great concern, too, I might add. I was not expecting much support from my colleagues of the other Community countries around the table, but I got support from what to me at the time was a surprising quarter. Having said my piece on behalf of the country in relation to our concerns about Sellafield at the time, November 1986, the Portuguese Environment Minister leaped to the defence of the Irish, because Portugal is a non-nuclear country and is experiencing exactly the same concerns about the nuclear power stations of Spain dotted along its border as we do with the stations all along the west coast of the UK. It was amazing to hear the comments of the Portuguese Environment Minister at the time. You would almost think he had been listening to the briefings I had had with the Department of the Environment here.

Apart from Portugal, we were alone in our protestations and I did not notice too many of the major EC countries leaping to the defence of Ireland or any other non-nuclear nation for that matter. I think matters have progressed somewhat since then and greater sympathy appears to abound in official circles for non-nuclear countries and greater note is being taken of the concerns we express. Tragically, it took a disaster of the scale of Chernobyl, which Senator Conroy so eloquently put on the record a few moments ago, to really bring it home to the doubting Thomases, both in the scientific world and in officialdom, that there were real concerns worth investigating and not just perceived problems [1090] by cranks in different corners or by various environmental groups that were way out at either side of the spectrum, to be tolerated rather than to be taken very seriously.

Last night a Senator — I do not recall who it was — made the point that, effectively, the Department of Energy, through the Radiological Protection Institute, was, being judge and jury in its own area — and I borrow the words “judge and jury” from the Senator. I fully support that fear as well. It really adds to the point I have been making that I am not satisfied with the Department of Energy as the sponsoring Department in relation to this Bill; the responsibility should be removed entirely from them.

I was a member of Wexford County Council from 1974 on. I never fail to be surprised when I recall how the whole nuclear debate in Ireland started with a simple planning application to Wexford County Council to erect a nuclear power station at Carnsore. We all looked at this and had a double take. Phone calls were made to the Minister saying: “You hardly expect us to decide for the nation whether the ESB will erect a nuclear power plant at Carnsore”. But apparently the ESB were following the procedures such as they were at the time. The Minister had not enacted the Act under which the Nuclear Energy Board had been established three or four years earlier. That was hastily done. The planning application hopped from desk to desk, most people looking at it rather gingerly and then the public took over and serious consideration was not given to it except that the site was looked at to see if a traffic hazard would be created by constructing such a building at that particular location and whether water services could be supplied satisfactorily by the county council. I still recoil when I think of the procedure. If the council had not been as responsible as it was we could have granted permission and let the debate run from there.

Nowadays we talk about a bottom-up approach to community issues. If there was ever an example of the need for a top-down approach to an issue it is this [1091] one. Ironically it started bottom-up in the seventies when we as councillors were asked to make the initial decisions in this area. The rest is history.

Last night Senator Brendan Ryan talked about the reasons why Ireland did not proceed with becoming nuclear at the time. He was giving a lot of credit to the various environmental groups and lobbyists who strenuously objected. Carnsore became a rallying point for years, long after the likelihood of a power station being built there had passed.

Those lobbies certainly played a part but I am convinced that the only reason it was not proceeded with then was because we could not afford it. An oil crisis at the time and increased energy costs reduced the demand for electricity and the ESB reviewed their needs and projections for some years to come at the time, but it was the prevailing financial implications that really determined the outcome of the debate.

The Minister in his speech states that the ESB no longer consider Carnsore for a nuclear power station and that they are going to use the land for agriculture and will afforest part of it. I was interested in that because three years ago that was not the plan of the ESB. Granted a nuclear power plant did not appear a likelihood at the time. In 1987 the ESB intended to hold on to the land at Carnsore and their view was that if an inter-connection with the UK electricity grid became a consideration, the site at Carnsore would be suitable for the erection of the necessary facilities. One wonders what the “necessary facilities” meant.

An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has moved away from the Second Stage speech in relation to her specifics on Carnsore.

Mrs. Doyle: If you mention nuclear power in this country the first place that comes to mind is Carnsore.

An Cathaoirleach: I feel I should remind the Senator about this.

[1092] Mrs. Doyle: I have a particular interest in Carnsore.

An Cathaoirleach: I appreciate that, but I would remind the Senator that Second Stage might be better addressed——

Mrs. Doyle: I note the point, but we can talk about that another time. I have not strayed from the whole area of nuclear power. I am still talking about the ESB and the provision of energy. It is with interest that I noted that present intentions of the ESB for their use of the site at Carnsore. The Minister referred to this without wandering too far from the point. He even mentioned afforestation.

My interest in this was that they were not the views of the ESB a few years ago in relation to the necessity for this site. The ESB's views then, apart from the possibility of the erection of the necessary facilities if we could connect into the UK grid, was that should additional natural gas be discovered or become available at some time in the future the provision of a conventional power station at the site might be a consideration. Live consideration of the site has waned somewhat and now we are talking in terms of afforestation and agricultural land, which I welcome. It is a question of “watch this space” rather than any definite line from the ESB in relation to the use of Carnsore.

Various matters were raised yesterday and there is one point I would appreciate the Minister's guidance on. I would like to know what the relationship will be between functioning of the Nuclear Energy (General Control of Fissile Fuels, Radioactive Substances and Irradiating Apparatus) Order, 1977, and the new Institute we are establishing. Some matters have been raised and the Minister said they would be more appropriately dealt with by the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Department of Defence or wherever. I speak from a position of ignorance because I do not know what that Order covers and how it will relate to the new agency.

Some years ago there was a lot of [1093] debate about a Community inspectorate for ongoing monitoring of nuclear power plants, both within Europe and I presume further afield, because radiation respects no boundaries, as we all know to our cost. What is the stage of development of that concept in Europe at the moment? Are the Government still actively supporting the establishment of such a body and do we feel that it is in our interests that such a body be up and running as soon as possible, given our stance as a non-nuclear nation when we have a limited function in telling other sovereign governments what they can or cannot do in terms of their own energy provision? I strongly support the concept, because I believe we need a Community rather than an individual approach when there are issues like this to be dealt with. As a non-nuclear nation we do not benefit economically from any nuclear power generation, so it is unacceptable that we should be asked to take the enormous risks that are being asked of the nation now by our nuclear neighbours.

Will the new institute be handling our dealings with the Paris Convention and the Oslo and London Conventions which were ratified back in the eighties? How do they interconnect with the three conventions we are ratifying this morning? Again, I ask that question from a position of ignorance. I could have gone away and studied or asked the relevant bodies, but it is very important that the complete picture be put on record here today.

In 1986-87 a safety audit was done in Sellafield. That was quite alarming at the time. BNFL were given 12 months to put their house in order. On the particular points that were requested, from management down to the basic safety procedures in the plants, I would like the Minister to put on record whether he is satisfied that BNFL have complied with the requirements of the Health and Safety Executive in the UK. I would also like to know what the situation is in relation to the radioactive discharges off the west coast of the UK, specifically [1094] from Sellafield, because with the prevailing winds Sellafield causes the greatest concern in this country, whether rightly or wrongly.

The subject of radioactive discharges into the Irish Sea has been under scrutiny for a long time. Technology has been available for years to retrofit even these relatively older plants in such a way as to reduce the radioactive discharges to zero. Has that been done? If not, why not? What level of discharges are being emitted at the moment into the Irish Sea? We know the position of the Irish Sea in terms of radioactivity and the difficulties there. I would like to compliment the Nuclear Energy Board for their ongoing monitoring, even though certain sectors chose not to pay attention to the results of the monitoring. We can take a lot of assurance from the fact that on the west coast as we go up or on the east coast there is no contamination that is of any concern. Various monitoring stations from Dundalk to Cork have monitored seaweed, seafoods and shellfish regularly and there has been no cause for concern. That does not allow us to be complacent because the discharges across the sea have been continuing over the years albeit reduced. I would like the Minister to quantify the situation a little more for us so we know what level we are at and when we can expect them to reach zero radioactive discharges because technology is available to achieve that. I welcome the Minister's reference to the Magnox reactors which are well over their life expectancy at this stage. There are inherent dangers there of quite a serious magnitude that get little publicity. What is the present position in relation to decommissioning in the UK? What is the present position in relation to the proposed new power plant on the Sellafield site? That was headlined some months ago. Apparently it is only at the research stage but BNFL intend to build a new plant on the Sellafield site as the existing plants reach the end of their useful life. All of these areas are of intense concern to the general public. While we have the opportunity of a broad discussion on Second Stage on this area, I [1095] would welcome an update in the different areas from the Minister.

I welcome the Bill before us. I had some concerns with the Bill as originally published and introduced to the Dáil, but the Minister pointed out the changes in the Bill introduced into this House particularly in section 20. The changes are very welcome. When one considers what section 20 contained when it was introduced into the Dáil there could have been no question of the independence of the institute. The arguments advanced in the other Chamber were taken on board by the Minister and I hope that when it comes to Committee Stage in this House the Minister will be as forthcoming and as welcoming of changes that may be proposed here.

The Minister has not changed his intended procedure for the appointment of the first chief executive. I cannot accept his thinking in this area. I know it is only the first one but could the Minister perhaps develop a little further why he intends to appoint the chief executive? I see from the shake of the Minister's head that there are changes in this area which I welcome. I await the Minister's response to that at the end of Second Stage.

Mrs. Honan: It is in the speech.

Mrs. Doyle: I have it here before me but I do not want to go through it all in absolute detail this morning. I would like clarification in that area since there were major concerns on Second Stage in relation to it. Why it was necessary to depart at all from practice procedures in this area I am not quite sure. I welcome the Minister's assurances that that matter has been resolved.

Apart from nuclear energy the new institute will have a very important role in the areas of medicine and research and in various other areas. Even though they only get a passing mention they are worth putting on the record lest we take only one aspect of the important job this institute will do. None of us would be as healthy and have such a comfortable life [1096] but for the use of radiation and radioactivity in these other areas which is worth commenting on.

In relation to the three conventions perhaps the Minister could explain to us — I welcome their ratification and I understand the thrust of what the conventions attempt to do — whether they will meet yearly, monthly or what the structure will be behind them. From the Irish point of view will the Department of Energy or the new institute we are now setting up represent us at the meetings that are obviously designated in the future in this area?

I welcome the Minister and the legislation but I am concerned that it is being sponsored by the Department of Energy because I think it takes from the independence of an agency that will have to assuage growing public fears, both real and perceived. We must compliment the environmental groups around the country who in different ways — and perhaps we did not support all of their activities — heightened awareness and brought the impact of the problems and difficulties in this area home to people who otherwise would not realise what was happening. Protest groups — if I can use that word without being disparaging — sometimes have to be extreme in order to drag the public to somewhere centre of spectrum to get people to realise that there is a problem that needs tackling. I would also like to thank and compliment the Nuclear Energy Board for a job well done. Their job was limited; they laboured under a dreadful title because they have had little to do with nuclear energy since they were established but that was the intention when the Act establishing them was set up and their greatest handicap was their title because they had least of all to do with nuclear energy.

They did excellent work in other fields in relation to radiation and establishing acceptable standards, monitoring developments internationally in this area and ensuring the health and safety of the Irish public in this regard. I compliment them and those who have served the board since their establishment in the mid-seventies. I look forward with [1097] interest to the composition of the new institute and to monitoring the independence of their action and their ability to assuage the fears of the public in this most difficult area.

Mrs. Honan: I welcome this Bill. This Bill commenced Second Stage in the Dáil on 10 May 1990 and it is of great importance that it has come here today. I often wonder why legislation takes so long to be put into place, particularly a Bill of such extraordinary importance. Nobody will understand my remark more than the Minister because as a former Minister for Local Government he knows we repeatedly put in place legislation we never seemed to be able to implement. We, all elected people in local government, are well aware of the Bills I am referring to. I will depend on the Minister for Energy that this will not be so with this important legislation.

Last year I recall the Minister, as a member of Government, found a strong pro-nuclear lobby in the EC when he tried to get this matter placed on agendas during our Presidency. I am not sure whether the Minister was totally successful or not. When he did get the opportunity he probably did quite well. I am anxious to see this Radiological Protection Bill put in place and a body set up to monitor, control, advise, educate and to speak out at times.

Senator Doyle was concerned about this legislation being handled by the Minister for Energy rather than by the Minister for the Environment. With this Bill following so closely on the Environmental Protection Agency Bill, and with virtually the same Senators speaking on both Bills, there seems to be duplication. I would hope not. There are common points in both Bills. I understand that the question of radiological protection and certain related items have been placed at European level with the Ministers for Energy. If they are successful why should we change to bring energy or allied problems to the Minister for the Environment?

Last week in my long contribution on the Second Stage of the Environmental [1098] Protection Agency Bill I worried about duplication. I listened with great care to the Minister's opening address to this House yesterday. I am not satisfied that there is quite a difference between the Environmental Protection Agency Bill and the Radiological Protection Bill. It shows that we, as elected legislators, should at all times stay close to the Bills going through because comments have been made that both issues could have been dealt with in the same Bill. That would not appear to be so from the Minister's speech.

I turn now to the proposal of the Bill to dissolve the Nuclear Energy Board and replace it with the institute. I would like to pay tribute to the Nuclear Energy Board and the persons thereon for the service they gave down through the years. I accept that we need to move on and that this Radiological Protection Bill is being put in place because the Government wish to provide for the 1990s and thereafter.

I appeal to the Minister to endeavour to continue with all his power to advocate a cutback on nuclear power worldwide, if possible. At times as a neutral State, we are afraid to go out front and take the attitudes we should take on various issues. We should as a nation be seen to set high standards. We appear to be able to set up monitoring measures, bodies and so on to ascertain the level of radiation and the main question that arises then is how we will deal with problems if they arise. Indeed, we have had the Chernobyl disaster quoted here throughout this debate. Its effects on meat have never been explained.

I understand the Bill contains provision to ensure that the normal and proper controls which are exercised over noncommercial State-sponsored bodies are available in relation to this institute. These controls relate to financial, budgetary and staffing matters as well as to the provision of information to the Minister on its activities. The main control provision in the Bill on this issue is section 20 and I will refer to that again.

Some provisions included in this legislation relate to FAS and Teagasc. Parts [1099] of this Bill may be copies of previous legislation relating to these two bodies. I presume the Minister is sufficiently happy with the results from those bodies to include that type of exercise in this legislation.

The institute will consist of a chairman and between six to 11 members and will be able to form committees to advise on various issues. The staff of the institute will be headed by a chief executive officer. I want to pay tribute to the Minister's address yesterday regarding section 20 where he said:

Perhaps the most important change has been made in the whole area of ministerial control, in particular the provision as originally set out in section 20. Senators will see that section 20 is now a very short section merely providing that the Minister may give general directives to the institute. Originally this section was much more detailed but in my view now it places too great an administrative burden on the institute but, more importantly, it creates the possibility of undermining the independence of the institute.

I welcome his attitude here. Senator Doyle seems to be confused and wants further explanation of it. I understand what the Minister intends to do from that statement and I welcome that attitude and thank him for it.

I have a concern in that general area. He stated:

In section 17 there was a genuine worry that it was unnecessary and too cumbersome for the institute to have to seek the approval of the Minister for Finance as well as of the Minister for Energy when, for example, any changes to its own programme during the course of the year were considered. Accordingly, on Committee Stage in the Dáil I received the support of the House for the removal of this requirement in section 17 and in other appropriate clauses in the Bill.

I welcome this more than anything else in the Bill. I have been a Member since [1100] 1977 and I have the greatest respect for the Minister holding the Finance portfolio at the moment, Deputy Reynolds, but I have often been baffled as to why the Minister for Finance has to have the final clout in so much legislation. I welcome this Bill and I hope other Ministers will copy what the Minister has done. I know the Minister for Finance, Deputy Reynolds, will understand that my criticism was not a personal thing. It is the idea of the Minister for Finance having a say over too many decisions that upsets me.

Yesterday evening we had an address from this side of the House by Senator Ormonde, a Waterford doctor and one of the best radiologists not alone in this country but in Europe. A quiet man in his way, he does not do as much pushing and shoving around as I do.

Dr. Upton: Nobody does.

Mrs. Honan: That is how the Senator survives. When debating legislation here at all times we knock Senators, MEPs, TDs or anybody who, even in an advisory capacity, may have anything to do with a body that is being set up, the crime being that we are the elected people. I listened with care to Senator Ormonde yesterday speaking about how our people will have to be protected from radiation and I ask why should he not be some place? I do not plug for people to be put on bodies. I say this because I know the man and his record in this specific field. I am sure that if I read the Bill through in some section it knocks the idea of anybody with any trace of a political background being appointed a member of the body.

As I said, I welcome the Bill and I hope it goes far enough. I do not think it deals with the question of information for public consumption or the passing on of information between states. I ask the Minister to take another look at that. There should be more information available. Senator Conroy this morning made reference to that. It is crucial that we get this information.

Section 32 provides for the making of [1101] regulations. We had this discussion yesterday on the Environmental Protection Agency Bill. Why must we wait for regulations? Why not put everything in place now when it is such an excellent Bill? Maybe regulations will be needed when an accident occurs but I would rather see regulations being put in place when the legislation is going through. That is the way it should be done. Section 32 provides that where specific levels are likely to be exceeded the Minister for Agriculture and Food, the Minister for the Marine or the Minister for Health may make regulations. Section 33 empowers the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Minister for the Marine and the Minister for Finance to slaughter and destroy animals. I want the Minister, who is the expert, to clear my mind as to why we need a plethora of Ministers, four of them. If they are necessary, that is fine.

Senator Ryan yesterday made reference to innocent passage through the territorial waters of another State. I accept that that statement seemed to be for another Minister. I am aware that it is the responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Collins but the Minister for Energy in his address to the Seanad on the Bill referred to innocent passage through the territorial waters of another State. We know quite well that those ships are by no means innocent and that some military aircraft are carrying nuclear power. It is important to remember that that is our remit as legislators to protect our people from nuclear radiation at all times. Whether this is the responsibility of the Minister for Foreign Affairs or the Minister for Energy I ask them not to let offenders off lightly. I understand that using a code, a ship approaching our territorial waters should confirm or deny that they are carrying nuclear equipment of any kind. If they do not do so we should not ignore them.

I was lucky. Telling this story might make me old but I do not mind admitting my age. I remember the late Frank Aiken for whom I had high regard. He was ahead of his time in his policies as Foreign Minister. Deputy Molloy and the others are [1102] in the Cabinet and it is their responsibility to protect the people from radiation. Frank Aiken stated in 1967 that authorisation is normally granted by the Department of Foreign Affairs for visits to Irish ports by foreign naval vessels provided such vessels are not carrying nuclear weapons and do not form part of a naval exercise. One of my colleagues here said that there were not many overflights that would have such weaponry but I understand there could have been as many as 7,000 in a year. I am not concerned about which Minister is responsible for it. If we are putting through a Radiological Protection Bill to protect our people and the people who will come after us from radiation and if there are Cabinet members sitting around when this is going through, what I said there should certainly be talked about.

The extraordinary thing is that sometimes politicians think the general public are not watching what we are doing in this area and they do not appreciate the fear of the public. When we were dealing with the customs clearance Bill for Shannon, I remember clearly the volume of representation I got from people who were genuinely worried about the implications. It just proves how worried people are about nuclear matters. When one saw the families of the children in the Louth area and down the east coast and the results of that awful disaster they have good reason to be worried. From now on it is our responsibility to see that everything is put in place to ensure that this country is protected from the effects of a nuclear plant in another country. I am sure the board will put in place more people in every area, Civil Defence and Army personnel. I have more confidence in people serving down the line than some of my colleagues.

The Minister has taken a leading role in international fora on nuclear energy since he has been appointed. It is right and proper that he should bring this Bill in here having successfully put it through the Dáil. I thank him for his openness and the amendments he has put in place. The Minister's address here yesterday [1103] evening was first class. I ask him even though he has removed himself somewhat from the body concerned, to remember my remark about people with first-hand experience. I referred earlier to the contribution of another Member; it was a very simple and clear speech from a man who is an expert in this field. I have confidence we are doing the right thing. Maybe it has taken too long for such an important Bill to come to us but it is here now and I welcome it. I thank the Minister for his attitude towards it and I hope the Bill protects the people of this nation.

Dr. Upton: We are debating this Bill this morning on the fifth anniversary almost to the day, of the Chernobyl accident. The effects of that accident are still very much with us all. It is estimated that three million people live in contaminated areas and many of the effects of the accident have not yet manifested themselves. However, we can be quite sure in the fullness of time they will work their way through and many people, particularly in the area around Chernobyl, can expect to suffer terrible diseases and disorders as a consequence of that tragic mistake. The effects of the accident are also evident nearer home at present of the order of 700 United Kingdom farmers in hilly areas are finding themselves subjected to stringent anti-nuclear regulations as a result of what has happened.

Nuclear energy and nuclear accidents are terrible in their effects on human beings. They are terrible in the immediate effects and they are even more awesome in the long term effects which, to be fair about it, I think even the best scientists in this area do not fully understand and cannot yet fully anticipate. That is a reality we must live with. The response to Chernobyl in this country left a good deal to be desired. I think it showed fairly clearly that the resources the country devoted to nuclear protection and dealing with nuclear accidents were very deficient. There are also, of course, the problems I have alluded to already in relation to the changing knowledge of [1104] radiation and its effects. It was Professor Conroy who spoke this morning about the tendency that existed once in this country to X-ray children's feet by way of making it easy to fit them with proper footwear. The knowledge has moved on and it is now widely recognised that this was a very dangerous and foolish thing to do because of the hazards of unnecessary exposure to radiation.

As far as the Bill is concerned, one of the major deficiencies, as I see it, is that it fails to tackle head-on the problem of nuclear weapons being transported into Irish ports and being carried in planes flying over Irish air space. Radiation and its effects are indiscriminate. They do not discriminate between the source of the radiation, whether it arises from an accident, a ship which carries a nuclear weapon in an Irish port or some other source. It is a matter of great disappointment to me that this Bill does not address this question. We have every reason to be very concerned about this matter. Senator Honan referred to the fact that something like 7,000 flights of military aircraft go through Irish air space each year. That is approximately 20 per day. Since 1980 13 US warships have docked in Irish ports and it is estimated reliably that six of those carried nuclear weapons. If ships have taken all the precautions and incurred all the expense involved in being capable of carrying nuclear weapons, it is pretty conclusive evidence that they would have nuclear weapons.

Senator Honan also referred to the position taken by the late Mr. Frank Aiken when he was Minister back in the 1960s, particularly in 1967 when he brought in regulations which prohibited ships carrying nuclear weapons entering this country. It is a matter of great regret to me that such regulations and such provisions are not contained in this Bill. I know the Minister in the other House advanced a whole series of reasons this should not be done but I certainly do not accept that they are valid and I ask him to reconsider his position on this matter. I cannot understand why there is such a great problem with an amendment to this [1105] Bill which would allow for a clear statement in law that planes or ships carrying nuclear weapons would be explicity prohibited from entering Irish territory unless a certificate was provided that they did not carry those weapons. It is also a pity that nuclear explosive devices are not defined in the Bill and that there are no references to them.

I am concerned that the Bill is located in the Department of Energy. I do not think the Department of Energy is the most appropriate place to locate this Bill. The culture of the Department of Energy in this country and, indeed, worldwide, relates to matters such as providing sources of energy which are cheap and efficient rather than being concerned primarily with matters relating to human health. I am also concerned that this proposed institute is to be located in the Department of Energy because there will be a fair degree of duplication and waste in doing so rather than including this institute with the Environmental Protection Agency. The primary function of this institute and the provisions of this Bill are to protect people from radiation. That would be done far more effectively under a global set of provisions which would be covered by the Environmental Protection Agency. Even if it is not best suited in the Environmental Protection Agency there is a very strong case to be made for including it under the Department of Health. I cannot see any reason it should be included in the remit of the Department of Energy.

I fully realise that the Minister extensively amended this Bill during the debate in the other House. I am still somewhat disappointed, despite the great progress he made in relation to the independence of the institute in the other House, that he did not go the whole way and remove the provisions whereby he still has power to direct the policy of the institute generally. That is a matter of concern to me because in a situation two or three moves down the line the Minister can quite simply make a directive which will prevent the institute concerning itself with matters which may be of great public [1106] concern and importance but which conflict with some of the other objectives of the Department of Energy, particularly objectives which may relate to immediate short term economic concerns.

I am also disappointed that the Bill does not spell out in detail what our response would be in the event of a nuclear accident outside this country which would affect us. I realise that there is a serious of provisions in the Bill which, to some extent, get around that point but I would like to see the details of how we would respond in an emergency spelled out. I would like that to happen so that there could be a full debate on the matter. During the Chernobyl accident there were a great number of deficiencies in our response illustrated.

The Bill is also very vague in relation to the details of how waste material used in this country will be disposed of. I can see very many good political reasons that would be so, but the public have a right to know about these matters. I would like a good deal more detail on how nuclear waste generated in various hospitals, third level colleges and so on, is disposed of. I would also like to see provision for the public to be informed of where this material goes and what its effect are. In this country we have an uphill battle to fight in relation to the capacity of the European and American lobbies on behalf of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy and the nuclear industry in Europe and America are very important. We do not have a nuclear energy industry here and for that reason we should be very conscious of the differences which exist between ourselves and our European and American neighbours. It is very important that we lay emphasis on that difference and that we set for ourselves the very highest standards in relation to protecting our environment and our people from the effects of ionising radiation.

The penalties in this Bill are fairly severe. There is provision for a fine of £1 million in some circumstances but we have also to realise that the effects of nuclear accidents and to breaking the law [1107] in relation to the provisions of this legislation can have absolutely horrific consequences. While the provision for a fine of £1 million seems very large, it is still considerably less than the provision of a fine of £10 million which is provided for in the Environmental Protection Agency Bill.

I am disappointed that there is no direct reference to food irradiation in the Bill. I accept that it has been covered in the broad provisions of the Bill but I would like to see some provision either in this or some other other legislation so that the public could be informed that food which they are provided with has been irradiated. The public have a right to know whether that is the case and that question has not been addressed in the Bill.

The problem of radon gas and its effects on people particularly in the west of Ireland has not been addressed in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister would respond to that question and let us know how this Bill will more effectively deal with this problem, which I accept is quite difficult.

Some of our colleagues in the other House spoke about the fact that much of the provisions of this Bill were modelled on the provisions of the legislation which set up FÁS and Teagasc. I certainly think that is a pity because the role of FÁS and Teagasc are completely different from the role of the Institute. FÁS and Teagasc essentially have a development role whereas the role of this Institute is essentially protective. On that note, I will conclude.

Professor Raftery: Like the previous speakers, I too am amazed that this institute will be under the aegis of the Department of Energy rather than the Department of the Environment or the Department of Health, which seems to be a more appropriate place to have it located than in the Department of Energy, with all due respect to the Minister here.

People are concerned about radiation for very good reasons. It is something you cannot see and propably cannot feel, [1108] but it has an immediate effect and an effect for generations to come. The genetic mutations that can be caused by radiation can have consequences for many generations to come and this is the frightening aspect of it. We should also remind ourselves that irradiation was always with us and that 85 per cent of the radiation we have is naturally occurring. The type of radiation which we are all obsessed about is from nuclear power or nuclear weapons. I am glad to tell you that that contributes only 0.1 per cent of all the radiation we are exposed to. I am sorry to tell you that the medical profession contributes 12 per cent of all the radiation we are exposed to and more serious is the fact that 50 per cent of all the naturally occurring radiation that we are exposed to is radon gas.

We have got to put these things into perspective if we are serious about protecting the people, but we are totally and absolutely obsessed with nuclear radiation. This is the flavour of the time. Of course, there is always the risk of a nuclear accident and that is why there is such a question mark over nuclear power stations. It has to be said, however, that in the free world the record with nuclear power stations has been good. It has also got to be said that every aspect of the economy, the environment and so on in the socialist countries has been bad and we have to face the facts that there are many power stations still operating in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe which are of a design which was never acceptable to the West and, of course, we could have another accident.

It would be unrealistic of us to believe that we can shut down all the nuclear power stations in Europe. Let us just refer to Europe. Almost 40 per cent of our energy comes from nuclear power stations and in a country like France it is roughly 70 per cent and in Belgium it is almost 70 per cent. So we are stuck with the situation for some time to come. Even those countries which made decisions to phase out nuclear power, such as Sweden, are having a change of mind — they now do not think it is feasible and will have to look at the situation again.

[1109] As I have said in this House in the past, the solution of the energy problem will go a long way towards the solution of our environmental problems. I have to say that I do not see any easy solution and I can see bigger problems arising. By the year 2020 we will probably have eight billion people and, even at the present rate of consumption of energy, that is going to put a huge extra burden on the environment. If you combine that with the economic growth we are likely to get and the consequent growth in the consumption of energy, I am afraid we are going to have a very big problem indeed.

The world, and Ireland, is not doing enough to find alternative sources of energy. Senator Doyle mentioned already this morning the possibility of nuclear fusion. It would, of course, be a great answer. It has the advantages that you do not have any nuclear waste; but above all it has the advantage that you are not likely to have an accident of the Chernobyl type for the simple reason that the fuel is drip fed into the process and not all loaded in one go as it is in the nuclear fission type plants we have. The prospect of nuclear fusion, unfortunately, is quite a long way away yet.

We are not putting enough research into alternative energy sources — wave power, wind power, solar power and geothermal power — and we are as a consequence leaving ourselves open to being too dependent on nuclear fission and we will be stuck with it for a while.

I know the Minister mentioned radon gas in his paper. I was glad to see he did but I am greatly afraid that we are not showing enough commitment. I believe he mentioned that the sum of £150,000 was being devoted to research into the problem. From the information I can gather, we know there is a significant problem there, that probably between 100 and 160 deaths per year are being caused directly by radon gas exposure, usually in the home but also in places of work, in offices, and, indeed, even in buildings like this we might be subjected to it. We do not know.

I am glad to note that the Nuclear [1110] Energy Board initiated the possibility of people having their homes tested for the presence of radon gas. I understand the Minister himself had it done, and very rightly so because the problem seems to be greater in the west. It is also a problem where I live indeed, or near enough to where I live, in Douglas, Cork city. I believe our credibility as a nation in talking about nuclear matters and complaining about Sellafield and so on would be greatly enhanced if we made a greater commitment to get rid of or do something about solving the problem of radon gas which we have and, indeed, doing more about finding out the extent of the problem. However, it is a lot easier for us to kick up a row about Sellafield — we are right to criticise Sellafield — but we would be far more effective in criticising it if we were seen to be doing something effective about solving a problem that is killing probably between 100 and 150 or 160 people per year and possibly a greater number than that.

With regard to the Bill itself, I have no great complaints about it. I am pleased to see that the Minister has at least expressed his commitment to the independence of this institute. To what extent it will be independent, of course, is another matter. While the Minister is now allowing the board to appoint the chief executive, it is still subject to his sanction and I suppose that is the normal way in these matters. However, in a matter like the radiological institute it is very important that there is public confidence in it. The changes I have seen taking place in semi-Government bodies during the life of this and the previous Government do not give me cause for confidence in that respect. We have had a history of changes. An Foras Forbartha was abolished and their staff and responsibilities were subsumed into the Department of the Environment. ACOT and An Foras Talúntais were abolished and merged into a body called Teagasc, which has a totally different board structure, with a very reliable spokesman for the Department of Agriculture and Food appointed as chairman and not nearly as much representation from farming [1111] bodies, the universities and elsewhere as we used to have in the past. AnCO became part of FÁS, for what reason I do not know. What I know, is that all of these bodies have less independence now than they had in the past. The decision-making process has passed back to the civil servants and to the Minister. I do not believe that that is the case in this new institute. The Minister has at least assured us of that and it would appear to be that way. I sincerely hope that he will ensure that this institute are as open and as objective as possible, otherwise they will lose credibility with the public. Indeed the Nuclear Energy Board, through no fault of their own, lost credibility with the public. A former Minister forced them to put out their statements through his office — in other words it was being gagged by a Minister. Therefore you could not expect the public to have great confidence in that sort of situation.

I am pleased also to note that the Minister is committed to having an independent international inspectorate established to ensure that the standards we would like are being enforced or implemented in nuclear power stations in our neighbouring countries. That had always been my stand in the European Parliament. It is far more objective and realistic than calling for the closure of Sellafield, which was never on. That was not going to happen and we could not force it to happen. But what we could realistically hope to bring about is a situation where you would have an independent international inspectorate.

I gave other Senators a commitment that I would not be long — I know Senator Norris is anxious to get in before lunch — and I will conclude on that. I wish the Bill well and I sincerely hope that this institute will play an important and very effective role in protecting the health and welfare of the citizens of this country in the years ahead.

Mr. Mooney: I will take my cue from Senator Raftery. I am aware of Senator Norris's anxiety to contribute to this debate and I intend not to delay the [1112] House too long. It is important that as many contributions as possible should be made on the introduction of this Bill because it affects all of us. Radiation, as the Minister pointed out, is something one cannot see, smell or feel; it is insidious. It is remarkable there has not been a greater social revolution across Europe at the creeping danger radiation poses in this nuclear age. However, I commend the Government and the Minister for the introduction of this Bill and I will take this opportunity to commend successive Irish Governments for the stand they have taken on the proliferation of nuclear activity in this country. On the downside, it is rather unfortunate that our nearest neighbour, the United Kingdom, has continued to adopt a cheap fuel policy in relation to the expansion of its nuclear facilities, but even in that country the growing anti-nuclear lobby has proven to be extremely effective.

I share Senator Raftery's view that it was an unrealistic aim of the anti-nuclear lobby to attempt to have Sellafield closed. I have never seen that as being a realistic option. Certainly, in the context of the Bill, Ireland's role in leading the move towards a more effective monitoring of nuclear operations across Europe and in the European Community is to be commended. I cannot but take the opportunity while the Minister for Energy is in the House to refer to some points he has made on the energy situation in this country. In the context of the Bill he says:

I am still firmly of the view that large scale and widespread recourse to nuclear energy is not an acceptable solution to our energy problems,. . .

In another part of his speech, he comments on the background as to why the ESB originally initiated plans for a nuclear plant at Carnsore Point which the Government subsequently directed them not to proceed with. The Minister says:

As well as the safety issue, the economic recession which followed the oil crisis of 1979 caused a downturn in electricity demand and by 1980 it was [1113] clear that an early decision on a nuclear power plant was not necessary. . . .

The Minister also said: “The ESB has expanded its natural gas and coal generation facilities and has no longer any plans for a nuclear station”.

I hope the Minister will allow me to indulge myself with a brief comment. I hope that he and his Department would take on board the sentiments behind those statements and ensure that the existing generating stations are kept on line, specifically the one in my home area, the Lough Allen power station. This station admittedly contributes a small amount to the national grid of between 1 and 6 per cent, depending on demand, but if it is allowed to be run down and closed, as the ESB propose, the result will be the loss of some 80 jobs, 50-odd in the plant itself and some 30 in the immediate mining area. I accept that it is not relevant to the Bill before the House but I would be remiss in my obligations to the people that I represent and to the area in which I live and in whose future I have a stake, if I were not to take every opportunity to impress upon the Minister the serious economic and social implications of the ESB's decision, which I hope can be reversed. In that regard the Minister will be meeting with representatives from——

Acting Chairman (Mr. Hussey): I would remind the Senator that he is straying from the Bill.

Mr. Mooney: I appreciate that; I will move on but as I pointed out I would be remiss in my obligations if I were not to take each and every opportunity to highlight this important problem in my part of the country.

Like many Members in both Houses I am concerned about the disposal of nuclear waste. I hope the new board will ensure that the strictest possible safety measures are maintained and indeed expanded. The implications of a leakage of radiation from the many containers that are travelling across the country are appalling. Like most Members of the [1114] Oireachtas I have to spend some time in Dublin, and during that time I reside close to a railway track on the south side of the city. I have had occasion to see at least once or twice a day ammonia containers rumbling by on their way to or from Dún Laoghaire port. I have often wondered what would happen, despite the most stringent regulations, if any one of those tanks were to burst, or if the train were involved in an accident. I know that it is a concern which has been voiced by people on many occasions. Will the new board have any role in that area, short of stopping the actual transport of these containers?

Like Senator Upton, I, too, would like to express concern at the increasing levels of radon gas, which newspaper reports suggest are increasing rather than decreasing. In that context I welcome the comments of the Minister on Second Stage when he said that, despite the severe economic difficulties that we find ourselves in, he has authorised an allocation of £150,000 to the existing board to carry out surveys of houses, particularly in the west. I am particularly pleased that the Minister referred to the fact that this radon testing service is being advertised extensively in the local press. Sometimes Dublin does not acknowledge the impact the provincial press makes in rural communities. For that reason, I am glad the publicity surrounding the survey has been decentralised rather than appearing exclusively in the national papers. Perhaps the Minister might indicate the level of response from the general public to this campaign and whether there has been any perceptible reduction in the levels of radon gas. Has the scare, which is a very real scare that one reads about, been minimised to any great extent? Obviously, this is of particular concern to the people in the west. I am sure that the Minister's remarks were hardly coincidential, considering he comes from that part of the country. Obviously, it is a matter of concern. Radon is a relatively recently identified threat in this area of radiation. I would be interested in any further comments the Minister may wish to make on that.

[1115] I would like also to bring to the attention of the Minister — and I am sure it has been brought to his notice already — that according to Greenpeace, there are no provisions to monitor overflights of military aircraft which might carry nuclear weapons in Irish air space. The Minister did not address this issue in his Second Stage speech. Perhaps he may wish to respond to the intensive lobbying, which I am sure has reached his Department, on military overflights. I am not so sure I agree with Greenpeace lobbying in the context of visiting naval vessels, which may or may not have nuclear arms on board. The Minister quite correctly points out our international obligations in that area, and while perhaps I would sympathise with the lobby which suggests that the Irish Government should monitor and inspect visiting naval ships to ascertain whether they have nuclear capacity, in the real world, this is not a feasible option, and one can rely only on the goodwill of the international community to recognise Ireland's undoubted stand against the proliferation of nuclear activity and act accordingly when visiting this country.

I welcome also the amendment which the Minister introduced in the other House on the constitution of the new board. For a long time — and I remember my late father had a bee in his bonnet about this, and I used to agree with him that Governments of all hues tended to use semi-State bodies to pack them with party apparatchiks. While in principle I see nothing wrong with qualified people who happen to have a political affiliation being appointed to semi-State bodies, there has always been the sneaking suspicion among the general public that in some instances appointments to these boards have been at best questionable and at worst plain political. However, in relation to the new board that is being set up, the Minister has made it quite clear that it will be constituted by men and women who are qualified and have a particular expertise in this area. This is a [1116] courageous development by the Minister. I certainly support it and hope it will transfer to many other semi-State bodies. Bearing in mind that my colleague, Senator Norris, wishes to make a contribution on this debate, I will conclude. I welcome the introduction of this Bill, and the sentiments behind it. In the difficult environment in which we are geographically located the Minister will attempt to ensure by this measure and others flowing from this legislation that Ireland will at least minimise the risk of radiation to our people and our environment.

Mr. Norris: I would like to thank my colleagues, Professor Raftery and Senator Mooney, for allowing me the opportunity to speak this morning. I understand that if the Second Stage debate does not conclude this morning, it may continue later. Is that so?

Acting Chairman: If the Second Stage debate is not concluded at 1 p.m. it will resume after lunch.

Mr. Norris: There are a number of arguments I would like to take up in a fairly detailed way. First, the welcome I can give to this Bill is very lukewarm. I say that because I really think quite a lot of legislation we have been getting from the Government, not all, is minimalist. I think the intention is to allow us to accede to the international community in certain ways. We are giving in; we are being pushed. In order to be part of a certain framework, we have to sign something like this into law. I believe it is minimalist. I do not honestly think it addresses some of the most important questions.

I was most interested and heartened that Senator Mooney said he felt that the overflights of the country were something that, he felt, the Minister had omitted from the Bill. He seemed to feel it was an important omission and he hoped the Minister would address it. I was disappointed Senator Mooney could not extend this concern to the visits of nuclear powered and nuclear weapon carrying ships, because it is perfectly clear that the [1117] response of the Irish State in this matter is grossly inadequate. If the Minister wants to have facts and figures, signed and sealed, I commend to his scrutiny and that of his civil servants the report entitled US Navy War Ships in Irish Ports, 1980 to 1990: Their Nuclear Weapons and Naval Operations, a paper prepared for Greenpeace by Hans M. Christensen of Denmark. There are itemised detailed accounts here making it perfectly evident that ships of the United States Navy were very clearly in violation of our Government's position on the matter. I think it is rather amusing how the Government use the word “innocent” in their statements about this. They presume a kind of innocence. I would have to say that the Irish Government are very innocent if having read this, they were not aware that not only are nuclear powered vessels visiting these shores on a fairly routine basis but also ships that clearly carry nuclear weapons. The certification of the American Navy itself makes this clear.

I understand that our policy is to inform the Government controlling the visiting ship of what the Irish policy is. Here is the real innocence, our Government then assume that the Government whose ships are visiting our shores are going to comply, they are going to show goodwill, but the evidence demonstrates quite clearly that this does not happen. The American Government have a policy which they have enunciated that they will neither confirm nor deny. I would have to ask the Minister if he is satisfied that this is an appropriate response in a country whose people certainly, regardless of what the Government have to say, do not wish even the possibility of a nuclear accident in one of their ports.

May I take head-on the assertion of the Minister where he partially addresses this problem in the course of his Second Stage speech, which states:

Finally, I wish to turn to an issue which was raised extensively at both Committee and Report Stage in the Dáil, by way of a number of Opposition amendments to the Bill, which effectively meant that Ireland would be [1118] declared a nuclear free zone. I do not want to go into all the details surrounding those amendments, suffice to say that the proposals in relation to visits of naval vessels and overflights of military aircraft which might carry nuclear weapons are not feasible. The question is of a military nature and more appropriate to the responsibilities of the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

I do not accept that argument. Even if I did, the more logical Ministry to try to shuffle his responsibility on to would surely be the Minister for Defence. If it is a military matter, surely it is for the Minister for Defence. In any case, I do not care where they are trying to shift the burden of responsibility to. Let me put it this way. We were discussing the Environmental Protection Agency Bill earlier last week and this week and the argument here is parallel to an attempt to sustain under that Bill that if you were transporting dangerous chemicals through the roads of Ireland the Environmental Protection Agency should not be involved at all, it should be the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Communications.

An Cathaoirleach: As it is now 1 o'clock, and in accordance with the agreement on the Order of Business, I would ask the Senator to move the Adjournment of this debate to allow for statements on the ESB dispute.

Mr. Norris: I so move.

Debate adjourned.