I move: "That The Bill be now read a Second Time."
The purpose of this Bill is to establish a comprehensive framework for the radiological protection of the public in this State. The Bill provides for the establishment of a radiological protection institute, to be called the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, the dissolution of the Nuclear Energy Board and the transfer of the assets and liabilities of the board to the institute on the dissolution of the board. The Bill provides for a legal and regulatory framework for the radiological protection of the public both in normal circumstances and in emergencies. The enactment of this Bill will enable Ireland to ratify three important international conventions in the nuclear field. Some of the provisions of the Bill derive from the requirements of these conventions.
I will later outline in more detail the provisions of the Bill. I propose to move, at the end of this Stage, motions for the approval by this House, pursuant to Article 29.5.2 of the Constitution, of the terms of these three international conventions and of an agreement between Ireland and the International Atomic Energy Agency in relation to the provision by that agency of technical assistance. I will describe these conventions and the agreement later.
First, I would like to outline the necessity for radiological protection, the background to the Nuclear Energy Board and the institute and the Government's policy, objectives and strategy in relation to nuclear safety and radiological protection. While it has become an emotive subject in recent years, I am not sure if many people know very much about radiation and it might be useful to briefly run through some basic facts about this important subject.
Radioactivity and the radiation which it produces have always been present in the universe and on earth. However, we cannot see, smell or feel it and, in fact, its existence has been known for less than a century. It is now known that people constantly receive doses of radiation from natural sources. Radioactive materials contained in the earth's rocks, soil, air and water give rise to external radiation doses, that is, from a source outside the body, and internal doses, from radioactive substances in the food we eat and the air we breathe. Radiation is also constantly showered on the earth from outer space. In addition, following the discovery and invention of uses of radiation, people receive doses from man-made sources such as the various stages involved in the generation of electricity in nuclear power stations, the accidental release of radioactive meterials from nuclear facilities and equipment, the nuclear weapons tests of the fifties and sixties and the use of radiation in the medical field for diagnosing and treating diseases. The adverse effects of radiation on human tissue were noticed shortly after its discovery. There is still a lot which is unknown about the effects of radiation, particularly at low doses, but it is accepted that the damage which it causes to human cells depends on the level of radiation dose. High doses can kill cells and cause death within a short period of time. Low doses would not cause immediate death but may cause changes to human cells and lead in time to cancers or genetic damage. However, it appears that radiation damage is not uniform. Not everyone is similarly affected by the same dose, but what is clear is that a person receiving a dose has a greater risk of suffering adverse effects than if he did not. There is, of course, no difference between the effects of a given amount of natural radiation and the same amount of a man-made source of radiation.
It is not possible to completely eliminate doses of radiation. What can be done is to attempt to minimise the doses from both natural and artificial sources. General principles of radiation protection have been developed over the years and have been widely adopted. These principles are reviewed in the light of developments in relation to the understanding of the effects of radiation. They involve a system of control by a competent national authority whereby only those activities involving radiation doses which are justified by the benefits which they produce are permitted.
In addition, permitted exposures must be as low as reasonably achievable and doses received by individuals from the activity must be below specified dose limits. These principles have been applied in international standards of radiation protection for many years in a more systematic way to some man-made uses. These international standards have been adopted in European Community laws and have been implemented and supervised up to now by the Nuclear Energy Board in their licensing system for the use of radioactive substances. Increasingly, however, attention is being given to a more systematic application of the principles to exposure to natural sources and to other man-made uses such as medical doses and international standards may be extended in the future to these other sources of exposure.
I will turn now to the Nuclear Energy Board. The reason for the proposal to dissolve the Nuclear Energy Board and replace it with a Radiological Protection Institute is not because of any dissatisfaction with the board's ability to implement their functions, such as the licensing system or any of the board's other activities. On the contrary, the board's expertise and performance over the years have been quite satisfactory. The reasons for this Bill are more to do with the fact that the Nuclear Energy (An Bord Fuinnimh Nuicleigh) Act, 1971, and the organisation established under that Act is no longer appropriate or sufficiently comprehensive to deal with the radiological protection issues which we wish to confront today.
The main purpose of the 1971 Act was to establish a body to regulate a nuclear power programme. During the sixties a nuclear power station for Ireland was under consideration and Ireland's accession to the EURATOM Treaty along with the other European Community Treaties was anticipated. There was also a growing interest in the use of radioactive substances in industry and for research as well as in the medical field. With the rapid growth worldwide in the development of this new technology, the Government were acutely aware of the need for expert advice on the subject.
The Government established a committee in 1965 to advise on the composition and functions of the board and on the basis of recommendations of this committee, the Bill to establish the board was drafted. The functions of the board, as provided for in the 1971 Act, are to advise the Government and individual Ministers on all aspects of nuclear energy and to keep themselves informed of developments in nuclear energy with particular reference to the implications for the State of such developments. In particular they were to advise on all aspects of the acquisition, location, operation, etc. of research reactors or other nuclear devices for training or research purposes, to advise the Minister on proposals for nuclear power stations, to prepare safety codes for radioactive substances and devices, and to promote knowledge, proficiency and research in nuclear science and technology.
There was a clear link between the establishment of the board and the consideration of a nuclear power station for Ireland. This link is demonstrated in the fact that the announcement by the Government in 1973 of their approval in principle of the ESB's proposal for a nuclear power station accompanied the announcement of the coming into operation of the 1971 Act.
In order to fill in the historical background of the Nuclear Energy Board I will mention briefly the considerations which led to the abandonment of the nuclear power project. In February 1979 the Government authorised the ESB to complete the planning process for the project but not to enter into any commitments until the Government decided whether the project should go ahead. The Government also decided that a public inquiry would be held to deal with all the relevant issues. However, one month later, a very serious accident occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in the USA. This accident highlighted the safety risks that accompanied nuclear power and caused a much greater emphasis to be given everywhere to the safety issue in any decision on nuclear power. As well as the safety issue, the economic recession which followed the oil crisis of 1979 caused a downturn in electricity demand. By 1980 it was clear that an early decision on a nuclear power plant was not necessary from the point of view of meeting electricity demand and nuclear generation, in particular, was not appropriate until the safety implications of the Three Mile Island accident could be fully evaluated.
As the risks arising from nuclear power became clearer, successive Governments decided that nuclear power would not be used for the generation of electricity in Ireland. The ESB have expanded their natural gas and coal generation facilities and have no longer any plan for a nuclear station. The land that the ESB acquired at Carnsore Point, County Wexford, for the nuclear power station is to be put to agricultural use and, where applicable, a portion of this land is to be used for afforestation. The decision not to build a nuclear power station in Ireland means that a major part of the Nuclear Energy Board's original functions and the corresponding provisions in the 1971 Act are redundant. The board have, of course, continued to carry out their other functions. These are the provision of advice to the Government and Ministers on nuclear matters, the regulation by licence of activities involving radioactive substances, the monitoring of ionising radiation in the environment and of the exposure of persons employed on work with radiation and the provision of library and information services. It is now time to re-examine and refocus the functions of the board so as to express their main role as the centre for radiological protection of the public as clearly as possible.
The board were the object of criticism after the Chernobyl accident in 1986 in relation to Ireland's response to that accident. However, there were very few such bodies in the countries affected by the accident which did not escape criticism. The widespread contamination arising from that accident highlighted deficiencies in the preparedness of countries, particularly those without developed nuclear technology, to deal with major radiological emergencies. In Ireland the resources available to the board were inadequate at that time to enable them to satisfactorily provide the services required of them which were to monitor and determine the extent and location of contamination of the Irish environment, to assess the potential exposure to radiation of the Irish public and to identify the necessity for the introduction of measures to limit such exposures.
Furthermore, the roles of various other responsible bodies and the ability to quickly mobilise them in the event of the emergency had not been pre-planned in a systematic way. Additional resources were allocated to the board soon after the accident and co-ordinated procedures were quickly devised. Radiation monitoring showed that, fortunately, Ireland generally was not severely affected by the accident. An extensive programme of monitoring levels in foodstuffs at processing plants and livestock in certain mountain areas was introduced and is still continuing four years later. This programme shows that contamination levels monitored did not warrant the introduction of specific control measures, such as a ban on the movement of livestock or meat, and that radioactivity levels in food in Ireland are low and well within the levels determined for international trade.
However, it is clear that if a similar accident happens at a plant much closer to Ireland than the Chernobyl plant the effects could be severe. As Deputies will be aware, an emergency plan for nuclear accidents based on the lessons learned from the Chernobyl accident has been drawn up by an interdepartmental committee. The plan involves the deployment of a network of radiation monitoring devices around the country in order to detect any increases in radiation, and pinpoint the areas of the country seriously affected, a system to enable notification of an accident abroad to be received, the rapid calling together of a co-ordinating body, following a notification or a detection of raised radiation levels, to direct the response and the identification of the roles and functions of the various Government Departments and other bodies in response to an emergency. The plan is now in its third year of phasing in over four years. Much of the necessary equipment has been purchased and is operational. No legislative measures, other than those provided for in sections 31 to 33 of this Bill, are required for the implementation of the emergency plan.
The necessity for Ireland, as a non-nuclear country, to devote resources and effort to an emergency plan for nuclear accidents is regrettable but essential. However, the reality is that quite a number of countries around the world are operating nuclear power programmes involving the generation of electricity from nuclear energy and a number of others are in the process of developing nuclear power programmes. We might not like this but we must recognise that these countries have made a choice to use nuclear energy. However, what we can and must do is insist that those countries which have made that choice must use the best technical, regulatory and safety practices possible, must be fully open about their programmes, taking into account the concerns of other countries in relation to nuclear power, and must demonstrate to international satisfaction that they are operating these programmes according to the highest standards of safety.
It follows for a country's choice of the nuclear option that while it may feel it has the sovereign right to carry out activities such as nuclear power within its jurisdiction or control, it must recognise that it has the responsibility to ensure that such activities do not cause damage beyond the limits of its jurisdiction. It furthermore has the responsibility to ensure that, if damage results from those activities in another State, it must accept liability for such damage and make appropriate preparations such as compensation.
There are in existence certain international conventions implementing these principles on a limited way by providing for limited compensation of victims in member states of the convention of a nuclear accident occurring in another member state. The International Atomic Energy Agency are sponsoring work on the review of those conventions and Ireland, which is not party to these conventions, has been prominent in arguing for agreement on a comprehensive revision of those conventions along the lines of the polluter pays principle. There are expectations that substantial improvements will be made to the conventions over the next year or two and I will continue to keep the pressure on to ensure that there is no slippage on this.
We must not forget, of course, that prevention is better than cure. As I said earlier, it is vitally important that those countries which have chosen the nuclear option must put safety before any other considerations.
I believe that the best way to ensure that the highest standards of safety are being achieved and maintained is to have an independent, international inspectorate established to verify the application of such standards. Within the European Community, we have proposed that the Commission establish such an inspectorate for the Community. We have pointed out that the Commission has sufficient power to do this under the EURATOM Treaty and that it must remember it has a duty to protect all of the peoples of the Community. I look to the Commission to bring forward a realistic proposal, and to nuclear member states to accept that they must be seen to be safe. Some months ago in response to repeated requests from Ireland, the Commission announced a modest proposal to reintroduce inspection and verification of member states monitoring facilities for discharges of radiation. While this is welcome there is a need to go much further.
The nearest nuclear installations to Ireland are, of course, those on the west coast of the United Kingdom. Successive Irish Ministers for Energy have conveyed to the UK authorities Ireland's concerns in relation to the UK nuclear industry. These concerns have focused on Sellafield, as Deputies will be aware, but we should not forget the risks associated with the operation of the old magnox reactors, with their outdated technology and inadequate standards that would not meet current day requirements. The UK authorities themselves admit that the magnox reactors cannot meet todays safety standards. I am arranging to meet with Mr. John Wakeham, the UK Secretary of State for Energy, in the near future, and I will be putting the Irish case about aspects of the nuclear industry strongly to him.
There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that the Government policy of direct contact with the UK authorities has had some success. The significant decrease in discharges from Sellafield, the closure of two older magnox reactors, the decision not to go ahead with the proposal to store radioactive waste in caverns under the Irish sea, the cancelling of the Dounreay reprocessing plant project are all due largely to consistent opposition from Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Scandinavian countries as well as groups within the UK and public opinion generally becoming more aware of the risks to which they are exposed. I am comitted to the continuation of this policy to achieve our aims.
Ireland takes a lead role in international fora in which nuclear safety is discussed. At the EC the International Atomic Energy Agency and International Energy Agency Ireland have consistently supported the greatest emphasis being placed on safety related actions whenever nuclear energy is raised. At the London Dumping Convention, the international organisation which deals with dumping at sea, Ireland has promoted the continuation of the existing moratorium on the dumping of radioactive waste at sea. In the context of the Paris Commission for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Land-Based Sources, in the north-east Atlantic region, Ireland has twice called for the closure of Sellafield, and has got considerable sympathy for our concerns. Ireland has played a major part at recent meetings of the Paris Commission in reaching agreement on the elimination of radioactive discharges and the use of best available technology. These are practical, worthwhile achievements which will contribute to the highest standards of nuclear safety.
While we must give attention to the existence of nuclear risks arising from installations abroad, it is also necessary to devote energy to radiation problems occurring at home. I referred earlier to the fact that people constantly receive doses of radiation from radioactive materials contained in the earth's rocks, soil, air and water. One of the major natural radiation sources is radon gas which is released from radioactive materials in the earth.
The concentration of the radioactive materials in the regions of the earth varies according to the geology of the region. Radon, as a gas, can accumulate in buildings and in certain regions of the world with a high incidence of radon. This can cause high radiation doses to the occupants. Studies carried out in Ireland by UCD indicate that approximately 2 per cent of Irish dwellings — concentrated in certain regions of the country — may have indoor radon accumulations giving rise to about eight times the average natural background radiation dose in Ireland. The Nuclear Energy Board are carrying out further studies on the question.
I am pleased to note that the EC has recently approved a grant worth 100,000 ECUs for a research programme co-ordinated by the Geological Survey of Ireland and involving the NEB, Irish universities and German interests, on the geological factors contributing to the incidence of radon. The results of this programme should help to make it easier to predict radon hazard areas.
Radon in houses is a relatively recently identified problem. There is, as yet, no international consensus on the levels at which action by householders should be considered to reduce the radon concentration. However, on the advice of the NEB and based on the most recent research into the problem, the Government decided to adopt a specific reference level — 200 becquerels per cubic metre — which we regard as very low but also achievable. Our commitment to radiation safety is reflected in the adoption of a low reference level, and also in the fact that, even in constrained budgetary circumstances, the NEB were allocated an extra £38,000 in 1990 to enable them to carry out radon surveys. The institute will continue this research and develop it as necessary.
I will now turn to the international conventions in the nuclear field we wish to ratify and which are dealt with in the Bill.
The Conventions on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and on Assistance in the case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency were drawn up after the Chernobyl accident in 1986. One of the major issues hindering an effective response to the Chernobyl accident in all countries was the lack of information on the occurrence of the accident and its nature. This issue was quickly recognised by the international community. The International Atomic Energy Agency convened a meeting after the accident to draw up international conventions to ensure the early notification of nuclear accidents and also to facilitate the provision of assistance to States affected by a radiological emergency. The result was that in September 1986 the two conventions were adopted and opened for signature. The conventions have each been signed by over 70 countries, including Ireland, and have each been so far ratified by over 40 countries.
The Notification Convention puts in place a formal regime for the notification of nuclear accidents. It requires a State which is party to it in which a nuclear accident covered by the convention occurs, to notify other States which are or may be physically affected by the accident, of its nature, the time of its occurrence and its location.
The convention applies in the event of an accident involving civil nuclear facilities, radioisotopes used for civil purposes or for power generation in space objects. I regard the existence of this convention and its ratification by Ireland as a very positive development in relation to our emergency preparedness. Obviously, the earlier we are notified of an accident the better we can prepare to deal with its consequences.
The measures required to implement the Notification Convention include the notification of a competent authority and a point of contact. The Bill provides that the institute will be the competent authority. Under the emergency plan, the Garda Sióchána Communications Centre is the point of contact for receiving notifications of an accident. The International Atomic Energy Agency have arranged for the use of the World Meteorological Organisation's Global Telecommunications System — GTS — and the emergency plan provides that the Meteorological Service will immediately contact the Garda Síochána Communications Centre on receipt of a notification through the GTS. Following notification of an accident to the Garda Síochána Communications Centre by any route, the centre will contact the institute, and the emergency plan will, if necessary, be brought into play.
In order to implement the convention it is also required that Ireland be in a position to notify other countries, despite the fact that the likelihood that the use of radioisotopes in Ireland could give rise to a notifiable incident is remote. It is also required that confidentiality of confidential information received as a result of a notification be protected. The Bill makes provision for these requirements.
The Assistance Convention provides for States parties to co-operate between themselves and with the IAEA to facilitate prompt assistance in the event of an accident or radiological emergency. This convention has special importance for a small non-nuclear country like Ireland because, in the event of an emergency we would be able to call on assistance from other States party to the convention. In the event of radiological emergency a State party may request assistance in the form of personnel, equipment or materials from another State party or an international organisation. The convention provides that the assisting party may offer assistance without costs but that, if it is provided on a reimbursement basis, the requesting State must reimburse the assisting party. There are certain optional provisions relating to the granting to the assisting party by the requesting State of certain privileges, immunities and rights to compensation for death, injury or losses in relation to the assistance duties.
Certain provisions of the Bill enable Ireland to ratify this convention. The institute is to be the Irish competent authority for making and receiving requests for assistance although the making of requests for or offers of assistance is subject to the consent of the Minister because of the need for co-ordination with the nuclear accident committee established under the emergency plan. This committee is chaired by an officer of the Minister.
In order not to inhibit the availability of assistance under the convention to Ireland I propose to adopt the optional provisions of the convention in relation to the privileges and immunities to be afforded to personnel providing assistance in Ireland. The Government will make an order — under the Diplomatic Relations and Immunities Acts, 1967 and 1976 — to provide for the granting of privileges and immunities. The Bill before the House covers other privileges, immunities and compensation provisions which are referred to in the convention but which are not covered by the Diplomatic Relations and Immunities Acts. The Bill also makes provision for the necessary confidentiality requirements of the convention.
The Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material was drawn up in 1979 following concern on the part of governments about the possibility of terrorism involving uranium and plutonium, which are materials used in the nuclear power industry but also capable of being used in nuclear weapons. The convention lays down standard protection measures for these nuclear materials while in international transport, involving notification of shipments, security escorts and surveillance. The convention also requires states parties to make certain acts such as robbery, embezzlement, extortion or sabotage serious criminal offences and to subject offenders to prosecution or extradition.
In order to implement the convention, it will be necessary to ensure that any shipments of the relevant nuclear materials to or from Ireland are protected in accordance with the requirements of the convention. The institute will be in a position to do this under the Nuclear Energy (General Control of Fissile Fuels, Radioactive Substances and Irradiating Apparatus) Order, 1977, which will be kept in force under the Bill, when enacted. Under this order the custody, use, manufacture, importation, distribution, transportation, exportation or other disposal of radioactive substances is prohibited except under licence from the board. Conditions may be attached to such licences. The institute, which will take over the operation of this licensing system, will impose licence conditions on importers, exporters or transporters as the case may be, of the nuclear materials covered by the convention obliging them to protect those materials in accordance with the requirements of the convention. In practice the transport to or from Ireland of these materials is rare.
The Bill makes acts of robbery, embezzlement, etc. involving nuclear materials, as described by the convention, offences and lays down severe penalties. The Bill also establishes the necessary extra territorial jurisdiction to prosecute offenders in relation to offences committed abroad, where the offender is not extradited to the relevant State. In order to ensure that extradition may take place to another State party to the convention with which we do not already have an extradition agreement, it would be necessary for the Government to make an order under section 8 of the Extradition Act, 1965, enabling extradition to that State to take place subject to the provisions of the Extradition Act. This will be done, if necessary, before we ratify the convention.
I am taking this opportunity, while the House is debating this Bill, and being asked to approve the terms of the three conventions referred to, to seek the approval by the House, pursuant to Article 29.5.2º of the Constitution, of the terms of an agreement between Ireland and the International Atomic Energy Agency in relation to the provision by that agency of technical assistance to Ireland. This agreement does not require any legislation to enable Ireland to sign it but because it technically may give rise to a charge on public funds the approval by Dáil Éireann of its terms is necessary.
I referred earlier to the International Atomic Energy Agency which is an autonomous intergovernmental organisation under the aegis of the United Nations established to promote the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, to ensure that nuclear materials intended for peaceful uses are not diverted for military purposes, and to establish standards of safety in this field. Ireland became a member of the agency in 1970. Under its technical assistance programme the agency makes available the services of experts and provides scientific training and equipment to member states in the nuclear and radiation protection fields. This assistance is not the same as the emergency assistance covered by the assistance convention but relates to the development of member states' capacity and resources in the nuclear and radiation protection fields. This technical assistance is made available on the basis of the agreement before the House which is a standard agreement made between the agency and member states wishing to obtain technical assistance. The agreement provides that the agency's safety standards are to be applied to the operations making use of the technical assistance, that the assistance is to be applied for peaceful purposes only, that the Government of the member state is responsible for the protection of any materials or equipment provided, that title to equipment is vested in the Government and that any dispute concerning the agreement that cannot be settled by negotiation is to be submitted to arbitration. The reason for the charge on public funds is that 8 per cent of the value of training and equipment grants provided is to be refunded to cover the agency's administrative costs. In practice this is payable by the recipient of the assistance. In the case of assistance to the institute, which is mainly funded by the Exchequer through the Vote of my Department, there will therefore be a charge on public funds. However, it is clear that the benefits to be derived by the State from this arrangement far outweigh the cost to be paid.
I will now outline the main features of the Bill. Part I contains preliminary and general sections setting out the short title, definitions, provisions relating to the laying of orders and regulations before the Houses of the Oireachtas and provisions relating to expenses. Part II deals with the establishment of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, the dissolution of the Nuclear Energy Board and the transfer of the assets and liabilities of the board to the institute. I will appoint by order a day to be the establishment day for the establishment of the institute, the dissolution of the board and the transfer of assets and liabilities. The main functions of the institute, as set out in section 7, are to carry out monitoring of radiation in the environment, to advise the Government on radiological safety matters, to assist in emergency planning and response, to monitor developments on radiation matters in order to keep the Government informed, and to carry out research. Section 8 outlines a range of particular functions and section 9 enables me to confer by order additional functions on the institute.
These functions constitute a comprehensive charter for an effective radiological protection body capable of confronting and dealing with all the radiological problems facing the State and its citizens.
The Bill contains certain provisions to ensure that the normal and proper controls which are exercised over noncommercial State-sponsored bodies are available in relation to the institute. These controls relate to financial, budgetary and staffing matters as well as to the provision of information to the Minister on its activities. It is reasonable, given that most of the institute's budget will be provided from the Exchequer, that the Minister of the day should have the right to check on the expenditure of this money. The main control provision in the Bill on this issue is section 20. Similar provisions were included in the legislation establishing FÁS and Teagasc to take two examples. There is no intention of applying these provisions to limit the professional freedom of the institute in the exercise of its functions and they will not be used unless it is absolutely necessary in the public interest.
It is my intention that the institute will have full professional freedom to carry out these important functions and that on the basis of its scientific knowledge it will be able to freely express the facts as it sees them in the advice which it will give to the Minister and in the information which it will give to the public.
While one of the main purposes of the institute will be to advise the Government and Ministers on the radiological protection of the population, the institute will be free to disseminate factual information to the public on radiation matters. This is expressly provided for in section 8 (1). There is no question of prohibiting the institute from making available the facts on radiation matters as it sees them. I envisage a good working relationship between the Minister of the day and the institute and I certainly will do my best to foster such a relationship.
On the basis of these considerations I have reviewed certain provisions in the Bill in relation to ministerial controls and directions and I shall move certain amendments on Committee Stage designed to more fully reflect these intentions.
The institute will consist of a chairman and between six and 11 members and will be able to form committees to advise it on various issues. The staff of the institute will be headed by a chief executive officer who, apart from the first chief executive officer will be appointed by the institute with my consent. In order to ensure the effective operation of the institute as and from the establishment day, the first chief executive officer will be appointed by me. The other staff of the institute will be transferred from the board on the establishment day. The institute will be fortunate to have available to it the considerable expertise and experience of a highly qualified staff.
Part III of the Bill outlines a range of powers and controls to ensure the effective protection of the public from radiation hazards. Section 30 empowers me to make orders regulating activities involving radioactive substances by establishing a licensing system operated by me or by the institute. In practice, the Nuclear Energy (General Control of Fissile Fuels, Radioactive Substances and Irradiating Apparatus) Order, 1977, which was made under corresponding provisions of the 1971 Act and which will be continued in force under this Act will be the basis of the licensing system and will be operated by the institute. This part also contains new provisions relating to the protection of the public from the effects of radiological emergencies.
An important feature of the response to a radiological emergency is the ability to impose control measures to ensure that food with unacceptable levels of contamination do not reach the public or that contaminated food ingredients do not enter the food chain. The legislative base to enable such measures to be implemented was not very satisfactory at the time of the Chernobyl accident. While certain measures could have been implemented if it was necessary to do so, an accident with more severe consequences could have required the urgent enactment of additional legislation. Part III contains sections which provide for comprehensive powers to enable the various Ministers who have responsibilities in relation to the food chain to ensure that radiation doses to the public from food in a radiological emergency are minimised. There is also provision for the obligatory immediate notification to the institute of any theft, threat of theft, accident or loss of radioactive substances or devices so that any response measures required can be put in place as soon as possible.
Part IV includes certain provisions which are required in order that Ireland can ratify the Notification, Assistance and Protection Conventions. There is provision for the designation by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the countries which are parties to the Protection Convention so that importers and exporters will be aware of the physical protection requirements for imports from and exports to countries which are not parties to the convention. There is provision for the protection of the confidentiality of confidential information received pursuant to the operation of the conventions. There is provision to ensure the immunity from customs charges or seizure of equipment sent to, from or through the State for the purposes of the Assistance Convention and also for the payment of compensation for death, injury or losses arising out of that convention.
In relation to the Protection Convention, the Bill creates offences in relation to the commission of certain acts involving nuclear material and establishes jurisdiction over these offences not only when they are committed in the State but also when they are committed in a convention country and when they are committed elsewhere by an Irish citizen or by a national of a convention country. This is to ensure that offenders who are present in the State can be extradited to the relevant convention country or be prosectued in the State if extradition does not take place. In view of their seriousness, severe penalties are laid down for the offences involving these specified nuclear materials which, as I said earlier, are capable of being used in nuclear weapons and are capable of causing widespread damage.
I am confident that this Bill will provide a solid and wide ranging framework for the protection of the people of Ireland from the dangers of ionising radiation and I commend this Bill to the House.