Ceisteanna—Questions. Written Answers. - Dumping of Nuclear Waste.

141.

asked the Minister for Industry and Energy the plans, if any, there are in his Department to deal with an emergency situation of radioactive contamination of our shores should this occur.

142.

asked the Minister for Industry and Energy the steps he has taken to ascertain the dangers of radiation from nuclear waste materials dumped off our coast, and the likely effect on fish life and consequently on people as a result of radioactive contamination.

143.

asked the Minister for Industry and Energy if his Department has information regarding the intention of any companies or governments to dump nuclear waste materials off our coast in the future, and, if so, if he will give particulars.

144.

asked the Minister for Industry and Energy if he will specify and give details of any nuclear waste materials that have been dumped off our coast.

145.

asked the Minister for Industry and Energy if he is aware that a considerable volume of nuclear waste has been dumped 380 miles off the south west coast of Ireland; the action taken by his Department to ensure that no damage is done to Irish interests as a result of this dumping; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

146.

asked the Minister for Industry and Energy if he will indicate for each year since 1975 the number of tonnes of nuclear waste and related industrial toxic waste which has been dumped on the European Atlantic dump site; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

147.

asked the Minister for Industry and Energy if the Irish Government has taken any action in relation to the International Atomic Energy Authority in order to ensure that the recommendations of the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution are complied with in relation to the activities of the United Kingdom Government and other European States who have been using the European Atlantic dump site.

148.

asked the Minister for Industry and Energy if he is aware that Belgium, Britain, Holland and Switzerland are dumping nuclear waste in the Atlantic Ocean; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

149.

asked the Minister for Industry and Energy the action he proposes to take in relation to the site known as the European Atlantic dump site; if he has had discussions with the United Kingdom Government in relation to its continued use for nuclear dumping; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

150.

asked the Minister for Industry and Energy the measures taken by his Department to monitor the dumping of nuclear waste off the south west coast; and the measures his Department are taking to analyse the sea-water and sea-life in the area where dumping is taking place.

151.

(Cavan-Monaghan) asked the Minister for Industry and Energy if he is aware that there is widespread concern regarding the ability of barrels which are used for dumping nuclear waste off the south-west coast to withstand Atlantic storms; if he will have the matter investigated with a view to remedying the position; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

154.

asked the Minister for Industry and Energy the discussions which have taken place between the Government and our partners in the EEC about the dumping of nuclear waste off the Irish coast.

I am taking Questions Nos. 141 to 151, inclusive, and Question No. 154 together.

The disposal of all types of waste in international waters is governed by the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, drawn up at a conference in London 1972. The convention was ratified by this country in February 1982 following the enactment by the Oireachtas of the Dumping at Sea Act, 1981. The convention prohibits, inter alia, the dumping of high level radioactive wastes but permits the dumping of low level radioactive waste on stringent conditions based on recommendations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and subject to licensing by the competent authority of the country undertaking the dumping.

The dumping of low radioactive wastes in the Atlantic Ocean is subject to further control by the provisions of a multilateral consultation and surveillance mechanism established in 1977 and operated through the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Some 18 countries, including Ireland, are participating in the mechanism to ensure that any dumping is done in a safe manner and is subject to international control and inspection. An officer of the Irish Nuclear Energy Board acted as inspector at the dumpings in 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1982.

The Government have not engaged in any recent discussions under the auspices of the EEC about the dumping of nuclear waste but the other nine member states of the EEC are signatories to the London Convention.

It is most misleading to suggest that radioactive material is being dumped off our coast. In fact the dumping site is 740 kilometres south-west of Mizen Head, County Cork, and is approximately equi-distant from Ireland, Spain, France and Britain. It has an average depth of 4,400 metres and is well clear of shipping lanes, undersea cables, fishing grounds and known currents which approach our coasts. Details of the total quantities dumped since 1975 are as follows:—

Year

Gross Weight (tonnes)

1975

4,460

1976

6,770

1977

5,600

1978

8,040

1979

5,415

1980

8,391

1981

9,435

1982

11,693

The material being dumped contains contaminated materials like plastic gloves, overalls and tubing from laboratories in which radioactive substances have been used in scientific and medical research, hospital work, reactor operations and industrial uses of radioisotopes. This material is embedded in concrete in steel drums which are designed to resist damage during dumping and in their descent to the seabed. It should be noted that approximately 90 per cent of the total weights given represents concrete and steel. The remaining 10 per cent comprises contaminated material and less than 0.01 per cent of this comprises the contaminating radioisotopes. The material does not contain high level radioactive nuclear waste the dumping of which is prohibited by the control arrangements.

My Department have no information at present regarding the intention of any companies or Governments to dump nuclear waste in future but under the surveillance mechanism already referred to, participating countries are obliged to notify this country of their proposals. As regards the dangers of radiation from the dumping in the Atlantic the Nuclear Energy Board have participated in a detailed international study of the likely effects. The study which has been published by the Nuclear Energy Agency of OECD concluded that the dose received by members of the most exposed group in a year, due to recent average rates of dumping, is no more than 0.1 per cent on the relevant international dose limit. The Nuclear Energy Board are satisfied that the dumping does not and will not constitute a hazard to health.

The board have also advised the Minister that the possibility of an emergency situation of radioactive contamination off our shores is extremely remote but that in the event of such a development the board with the aid of Civil Defence would be in a position to take precautionary steps necessary to safeguard the public.

Dumping by Belgium, Britain, Holland and Switzerland has been carried out in accordance with the provisions of the surveillance mechanism and in the circumstances it has not been necessary to enter into discussions with the United Kingdom Government in relation to its use of the dumping site.

Finally, I would like to point out that under the present arrangement the Government are aware of what is being dumped and where it is being dumped and are in a position to ensure that proper standards are maintained. The alternative is that each country would be free to dump its waste indiscriminately and this country would be in no position to prevent such activities except within the territorial seas of the State.