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

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".
Debate resumed on the following amendment:
To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:
"Dáil Éireann declines to give the Bill a Second Reading on grounds that the independence of the proposed Radiological Protection Institute is undermined by the overbearing power over its affairs given to the Minister for Energy."
—(Deputy R. Bruton)

Before the Adjournment I covered a number of aspects of the Bill before us. One must recognise the Minister's endeavours in the various provisions of the Bill. Most of the previous speakers have spoken, perhaps rightly, about the effects of radioactive fall-out on Ireland through forces outside our control. We are aware of the horrible effects of nuclear fall-out at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Later there was the Three Mile Island accident and more recently we have experienced the consequences of Chernobyl.

Let us consider what happened at Chernobyl. Careless manoeuvres carried out at reactor number four contrary to safety regulations caused sudden and uncontrollable increases in power which caused the destruction and fire at the plant. Prior to that accident I doubt if anybody had any great interest in or knowledge of what happened in the Ukraine, particularly at this plant. Could many people in Europe ever have envisaged that an accident of this nature could cause such widespread devastation and concern throughout Europe? We were lucky in the geographic location of Ireland and in the winds then prevailing since the clouds carrying the radioactive fall-out did not cause more problems here.

Is this the way forward? Are we to continue on a wing and a prayer? Chernobyl demonstrates that there are no national boundaries in terms of radio-active fall-out. Nuclear accidents can easily happen which can have consequences not only for neighbouring countries but throughout Europe. There are obvious lessons to be learned from Chernobyl.

I have read some of the reports which have been published since the Chernobyl incident. One of these is theEuropean File: Nuclear Safety — The European Community Following the Chernobyl Accident. Hanchner and Cameron published an interesting report entitled Nuclear Energy Law After Chernobyl— chapter 12 of which asks if anything had really changed after Chernobyl? The last sentence of the summary of that report is interesting, and I quote “The events at Chernobyl in May 1986 have done little to change the state of affairs, indeed if a similar accident were to occur today the international and European regimes would be found wanting in almost every aspect”. We are four years down the road since that accident occurred.

Ireland, on its own, has been to the forefront in calling for the introduction of safety standards and regulations and the setting up of a European Community inspectorate who would have the right to oversee the implementation of safety programmes and standards for equipment, etc., by the various nations which have nuclear plants. Of course, one could argue that no amount of legal regulation, inspections or safety programmes will eliminate every risk. I understand that argument to a certain extent but surely one must recognise that if there were standard safety procedures, programmes and inspections in place, they could at best only minimise the risk of accidents.

Previous speakers have referred to our experiences with our friends across the water and British Nuclear Fuels Limited about various accidents, leaks, etc., from the most widely known plant, Windscale, or as it is now known, Sellafield. I have no hesitation in saying that I hope Ireland will pursue its endeavours in regard to Sellafield and all the other plants in the UK to ensure that some kind of European Community inspectorate is set up. I would welcome the regular inspection of the activities of British Nuclear Fuels Limited, whose record in this area speaks for itself. I know that like me many members of the general public have no faith in British Nuclear Fuels Limited and their activities because they have been seen to blatantly mislead in the past and to give out incorrect information.

Sellafield is a poisonous injection to the Irish nation and we continue to get their radioactive waste and effluent. Regardless of the representations made to them by this Government, local authorities, individuals, Greenpeace and so on, British Nuclear Fuels Limited continue to carry out their activities. A number of local authorities along the east coast have expressed concern about Sellafield to the British Government and British Nuclear Fuels Limited. I believe the file is now spilling over with requests and recommendations from various authorities to close Sellafield, to introduce safety measures and to do something about the discharges rather than continue to dispose of radioactive waste and effluent into the Irish Sea in a careless manner.

I suppose one could ask what effect effluents, materials, substances, radons and their half life will have and the answer is, God only knows. We are learning as time goes on, but this is the wrong way to learn. Hopefully at some stage we will recognise that we are going down the wrong road and that we will take the necessary steps to rectify this without further delay.

In reply to a parliamentary question earlier today the Minister for Energy said that as late as last Friday he had been in contact with the British authorities and his counterpart in the UK expressing his and the Irish Government's concern about the activities of Sellafield and the expansion of the THORP plant. The Minister said that the Nuclear Energy Board have advised him that there may be no health hazard to marine life or the Irish Sea from the expansion and development of the THORP plant. I do not understand this because the literature available to us from the experts — including I am sure some Nuclear Energy Board reports — say that radiation, the radon ion, has a devastating effect on marine life and the human body. It is known that it can cause cancerous growths in human cells. Great concern has been expressed at the number of cancer and leukaemia cases which have been diagnosed, especially among young children. These can be linked directly to fall-outs or leaks from nuclear plants.

I had the opportunity some time ago to read an interesting study carried out by a general practitioner in the Dundalk area on a number of married girls who had been in the same class at school and their children. This study showed that a disturbing number of deformed children had been born to the girls in that class and that these were linked to a particular leak at Sellafield. This is only one example of the many available. I believe most people now recognise that there is a link between the leaks of radioactive substances or nuclear fall-outs and the incidence of cancer and leukaemia. This is why I was surprised that the Nuclear Energy Board said the THORP plant may not be a health hazard.

I want to refer to the location of the THORP plant, which will only be a few miles from the Irish coast. Because of the location of the Chernobyl plant thousands of people were affected by the fall-out when the accident occurred there; 135,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes and rehoused. The reports and surveys on that accident highlight the importance of the location of nuclear plants and the effects a nuclear accident can have on the people who live near them.

The Trawsfynydd plant in Wales, the magnox plant, is only 54 miles from Dublin. The British Central Electricity Board carried out an experiment in 1988 on their magnox reactor. At that time the Irish Government contended that Article 34 of the EURATOM Treaty should be tested but, unfortunately, the Commission did not agree. As I said that plant is 54 miles from Ireland and Sellafield is close by. The proposed expansion and the various treatment works in the new plant will pose risks for us.

I suggest that the Minister impress upon the Commission the importance of activating the provisions of the EURATOM Treaty. If necessary, the Minister should bring British Nuclear Fuels to the European or international courts to test the Articles in that Treaty. During Question Time today the Minister referred to the EURATOM Treaty and suggested that the time may have come to review that treaty as it seems adequate to our needs. If that is so let us start the process immediately. We must bear in mind that British Nuclear Fuels have started their expansion work and that they hope to have it completed and in operation by 1992. The professionals have told us that the new development will prove more hazardous than any of the other activities at Sellafield.

It is well known that West Germany signed a contract with British Nuclear Fuels worth £225 million to reprocess their nuclear waste. I understand that that contract will provide British Nuclear Fuels with sufficient work to carry them into the 21st century at Sellafield. I understand that 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the planned work at THORP will be on foreign spent oxide fuels. If we cannot get through to British Nuclear Fuels about the dangers facing us we should make representations to West Germany and Japan on the issue. Those countries have indicated that they intend using the plant.

Another matter of great concern is that the nuclear waste will be transported across the world from Japan, and I am sure from other countries, through the Irish Sea to Sellafield and if that cargo is transported by air it must cross Ireland. This exposes the Irish people to greater risk. Any major radioactivity releases will have a devastating effect on us. It is time that we impressed upon the Commission the importance of making use of the Articles in the Treaty or, alternatively, press to have the Treaty revised or rewritten to ensure that its provisions meet the needs of the Irish people.

All Members will be aware of the incidents and accidents in the Irish Sea involving submarines. Submarines have pulled fishing trawlers backwards and damaged nets and the culprits do not own up for weeks. If the THORP goes ahead — the UK authorities are canvassing for business around the world — the plutonium will be transported on the Irish Sea. We must remember that many countries do not wish to reprocess their nuclear wastes and are anxious to dump it on whatever nation is prepared to take it. The transporting of plutonium by sea or air will focus attention on the danger of sabotage by terrorists or hijackers. Japan indicated that in order to prevent sabotage they will send their warships to the Irish Sea as an escort for the cargo ships carrying their plutonium. Is that what we want to see the Irish Sea used for? Do we want our fishing harbours, our ports and the people who live along the east coast put at risk by the presence of such cargo? Are we asking our people to get accustomed to the movement of warships and nuclear submarines in the Irish Sea?

Are we to stand back while this activity takes place on our doorstep? The Government in 1988 contended that under the EURATOM Treaty we should have been advised of experiments by the British Central Electricity Board at Trawsfynydd nuclear plant in Wales. We should use the EURATOM Treaty to protest at all work at Sellafield. I understand that there is provision in the EURATOM Treaty to enable neighbouring States protest at the siting of nuclear power stations.

The Hanchner and Cameron paper indicates that the European Commission were reluctant to use their powers under that Treaty. The Minister has told us that the Commission have not pushed those powers. There is widespread concern about this and it has been expressed by legislators and environmental groups. Are we content to make protests in the House or at Council meetings about the use of the Irish Sea by nuclear submarines, about the reprocessing of nuclear waste at Sellafield and about burying radioactive materials in caverns in the Irish Sea? In my view we should pursue British Nuclear Fuels through the European Court, or international courts. We should test the Articles in the EURATOM Treaty to ensure that they are adequate to meet the needs of a country such as Ireland which is not using nuclear energy, but which has felt the devastating effects of its neighbouring country using the power and having nuclear plants.

I earnestly ask the Minister, before there is an accident which causes a public outcry, to take the necessary steps in this regard. If we can do anything to prevent the development and expansion of the Sellafield plant, especially in relation to the THORP development, it would be a step in the right direction.

I am calling Deputy Browne and I wish to remind him that we must call the Minister at 4.45 p.m. I am sure Deputy Browne is aware that there are three other Deputies waiting to speak, all of whom feel they have something special to offer on Second Stage.

(Carlow-Kilkenny): Cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille seo, cé go bhfuair mo pháirtí féin locht leis. Os rud é nár ghlac an Rialtas leis an mBille iontach a chuir Páirtí Fhine Gael os a gcomhair, is dócha go gcaithfimid bheith sásta leis an reachtaíocht seo, pé olc nó maith é, ach tá súil agam go ndéanfaidh sé maitheas faoi chúram an Aire atá in a mbun.

I welcome the Bill because something has to be done about this terrible time-bomb and I hope it will turn out better than my party expected. I wish to draw attention to a few faults in the Bill although I will not take long because other Members wish to speak. I always seem to be in this position — I was given three minutes recently to make a speech — and I am sure there is a lesson to be learned.

Section 71 (a) of the Bill says that the institute will "monitor activity or ionising radiation levels in any thing in the State and in any waters, including international waters". etc. It also covers soil, minerals, rocks of all descriptions, air and water. The inclusion of minerals and rocks of all descriptions is very appropriate because, as the Minister knows, mining is a problem. We are all concerned about the environment and opening up any mine is hazardous. Quite clearly, it adds nothing to the beauty of the countryside. Will the Minister indicate what information people can get from this new institute because mining groups in different parts of the country are very worried about the effect which mining can have on the air?

The Minister referred to the dangers of radon gas and the Nuclear Energy Board also issued a leaflet on it. It is a naturally occuring radio-active gas and, when it comes to the surface, it is dispersed in the atmosphere. How will mining compound this in different areas? I should also like the Minister to tell the House the effect which mining could have on the emission of radon gas from the rock formation in Mount Leinster. I know the biggest worry is in relation to houses because this gas can come through foundations. Indeed, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I am sure you share my concern that radon gas does not escape because if it mixed with the hot air in the House there could be a major explosion which even the Minister could not contain.

The effect of radon gas is obviously very serious in housing where it is confined. Some of my colleagues have outlined the danger of contracting lung cancer from it. However, my chief concern is in regard to open mining.

The Minister said that one of the main purposes of the institute will be to advise the Government on the radiological protection of the population and that the institute will be free to disseminate factual information to the public on radiation matters. This is expressly provided for in section 8 (1). I was taken aback by the fact that the major objective of the institute is to advise the Government and Ministers on various issues, because I would hate to think that the Government had information which they considered so dangerous they could not tell the public about it. When it comes to mining, for example, experts on one side can produce figures to show that mining does not have any ill effects but the people who object to it call in other experts who can prove the contrary. It is very important that this new board should be willing to give information to any group or individual looking for it. I hope the public will have access to such information because there is no point in feeding them information which is not the full story. I accept that you can scare people but we must be fair to the public.

A figure of between 80 and 160 per year has been given in relation to deaths from radon gas. We do not want to encourage anything which would cause further deaths. Some years ago I took a more casual approach to the whole question of nuclear power and nuclear disasters. However, about two years ago many of our cars were covered with sand which we discovered had been borne on the wind from the Sahara. That set me thinking and I realised if sand could be borne on the wind from the Sahara the same would apply to radioactivity. We are like a balloon dangling close to a whitethorn bush and ready to be burst at any time. We are the little minnows surrounded by sharks. Of course we are assured that nuclear power works perfectly but we must take a serious look at it. We should not just be paper tigers, and I could refer to some members of the Government in that way who made very strong speeches in Opposition. If we are to believe the British Minister for Energy, he said that he was never asked to close Sellafield in his meetings with our Minister.

We really do not know what effect Sellafield has on us. The Minister said that compensation was paid to victims in other countries where there had been nuclear disasters. How, in international law, can you prove that anybody is guilty? There were medical problems in Dundalk some time ago in this regard, but how do you prove that they were caused by Sellafield. Chernobyl or further afield? There is a mine field of legal terms involved and it is very difficult to prove any such association.

I would appeal to the Minister to endeavour continuously to cut back on nuclear power — if possible, worldwide — because we must remember we will be the victims of any disaster or mishap.

In the course of his introductory remarks, the Minister had this to say:

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....

We appear to be able to set up monitoring measures, bodies and the like to ascertain the level of radiation prevailing. The main question that arises is what we will do to deal with the problems arising therefrom. On the occasion of the Chernobyl disaster there was their irradiation of meat, beef, cattle, sheep and so on. We appear always to be caught in the difficulty of having somebody tell us that we are all right.

Again, in his introductory remarks, the Minister told the House that the Nuclear Energy Board had advised that the acceptable level of radon in houses is 200 becquerels per cubic metre. Could we discover in ten years time that that recommended level is highly dangerous, that we cannot accept it? We appear to be dealing with experts who tell us continuously that a certain level is all right or acceptable. In fairness to the present Minister I hope his information is more accurate than that of one of his colleagues when the Carnsore Point nuclear power station was being talked about and planned and his then definition of what was regarded as safe. Thankfully we do not have to contend with such a project so close to our shores.

In the interests of allowing other speakers some time I shall conclude by hoping that in practice the provisions of this Bill will prove effective. I would appeal to the Minister to make every endeavour to minimise the dangers to us, as a small nation, of being the victims of some major disaster. I have absolutely no faith in the standards being set generally, the pretence that nothing goes wrong. I warn the House that we will not know there has been a mishap until it is too late.

May I finish on a somewhat lighter note than this topic may deserve? The Nuclear Energy Board, Information Sheet No. 5, has this to say:

When radon decays, it forms tiny radioactive particles of other substances. These are called radon daughter products or radon daughters. Some of these may be breathed in and deposited on the lungs....

Generally most households are happy to welcome the arrival of daughters but it would be my hope that such daughters would not visit any of our households within the next 100 years. Certainly they would be enormously detrimental to our health.

I am sure the House is appreciative of Deputy Browne recognising that there can be other views on this matter. I thank him and, in so doing, I look to Deputy Dempsey to perhaps follow the good headline set by him.

Always I have been somebody to follow good example. I am appreciative of the fact that Deputy Browne was so brief in his contribution. I shall not detain the House long because I note his colleague, Deputy Durkan, is waiting.

I welcome the Bill in so far as its provisions go. In particular I welcome the element of international co-operation brought about by the ratification of the Assistance, Notification and Protection Conventions mentioned in the explanatory memorandum. That type of co-operation between States and agencies is absolutely vital. None of us could over-emphasise that fact. We saw what happened when the disaster occurred at Chernobyl when there was a distinct lack of co-operation and information, causing enormous problems worldwide and not just where the accident had occurred.

The provisions of this Bill, incorporating as they do, the ratification of these three conventions, is very welcome. I might go somewhat further and suggest that I welcome the abolition of the Nuclear Energy Board proposed in this Bill. I say so because the Nuclear Energy Board have lost any credibility they had up to the time of the Chernobyl disaster. Perhaps it was not the fault of the board. But the public perception of their response to that crisis was that it was totally inadequate, that the board had no idea of what they were doing, that they did not know what was taking place around them. I would criticise them very strongly for having starved the public of information. There was no impression conveyed to the public that anybody knew precisely what was going on. At a time of crisis it was a classic example of the general public being kept in the dark. I do not think anybody will mourn their departure. No doubt some people will say this lack of information has been caused through lack of resources or money. Nonetheless they were in existence and, if the funds or resources were not available, they should have made that fact known and endeavoured to have it rectified before the occurrence of that disaster. Obviously, at the time of the disaster, somebody must have decided that the best policy was to keep the public in ignorance; perhaps that decision was not taken by the Nuclear Energy Board at the time, perhaps it was a Government decision. Nonetheless it was not good policy. Simple precautions — without causing public panic — should have been taken, even something as simple as advising people not to go outdoors over that weekend when the winds were blowing from an easterly direction.

For example, they could have said: "If you do not have to go outdoors over this weekend, then we advise you not to". No such information was available. Rather everybody kept assuring us that everything was all right when, clearly, everything was not.

The Nuclear Energy Board was established around the time that the Carnsore Point nuclear station was proposed so that, from its inception, everybody had the feeling that they were pro-nuclear energy. Indeed, that view was confirmed at the time of the Chernobyl disaster.

It is as well to discuss the provisions of this Bill within the European context. Deputy Browne referred to the vested European interests in this regard. Their existence leads me to wonder how effective the provisions of this Bill can be in preventing a proliferation of nuclear power. There are at present EC Governments arguing in favour of nuclear power as an energy source, using precisely the same argument as are people who are against it. They use the environmental argument that we should have nuclear power, because of the usage of fossil fuels and the gas emissions emanating therefrom lead to the greenhouse effect which will cause more serious problems than the possibility of a nuclear accident. I might add that these are some of the strongest members of the EC, economically and otherwise, who contend that nuclear power must remain an option. When one bears in mind that one in every four light bulbs in the OECD area is lighted by means of nuclear energy then one clearly sees the vested interest with which one has to contend. For example, 90 per cent of all nuclear power is produced by seven of the most powerful OECD countries. Therefore, it will clearly be seen there are powerful vested interests involved in this whole issue. There are also estimates being produced in Europe that, with the projected economic growth up to the year 2000, demand for electricity will increase by 23 per cent per annum, all of which will not be produced by means other than nuclear plants.

I have endeavoured to discuss the provisions of the Bill, within the context of the OECD countries where there is a very strong pro-nuclear lobby, which the Government and Minister discovered when they endeavoured to have the matter of nuclear energy placed on a recent EC meeting agenda.

Having regard to the limited amount of time available I will refer to only two aspects of the question. Living as I do on the east cost I hope, following the passage of this Bill that we will be able to invoke some of the agreements and conventions being ratified in an effort to make British Nuclear Fuels and the British Government more responsive to our representations and concerns about Sellafield. I wonder if we will be able to use the protection convention to force British Nuclear Fuels to keep us fully informed of all their activities and give us the right to monitor on an ongoing basis their operations at Sellafield. The memorandum states that state parties must give advance notification of the states into which material is expected to enter. I am aware that it relates to transportation but it should be borne in mind that they are pumping nuclear waste into the Irish sea which certainly has consequences for us. I hope the Minister and the Government will continue the campaign to have Sellafield closed because that is the only solution to the problem.

As I said at the outset, I welcome the Bill so far as it goes. However it does not go far enough in one or two respects. First, I do not think it goes far enough in dealing with the question of information. In relation to information between states, most scenarios are dealt with but no provision seems to have been made for the speedy transmission of information to the public. It will be the function of the institute to inform the Minister who in turn will have to consult with other Ministers and eventually some Minister will decide whether it shoud be made available to the public. This process could slow down the flow of information to the public.

Section 32 of the Bill provides for the making of regulations if levels are likely to be exceeded. The question one must ask is why wait. Why do we not make the regulations now and have them in place in the event of an accident occurring? I am conscious of the need to maintain a balance and aware that we cannot afford to panic but I do not agree with the attitude that a benevolent despot should make up his mind as to whether one should get information, the matter is too serious for that. I ask the Minister to look closely at this question and try to ensure that as much information as possible is given to the public in the event of an accident occurring. For instance, it ought to be very easy to give the public information immediately in the event of an accident occurring on the meteorological factors, such as wind direction. The public should be given such information and allowed to decide for themselves the relevance of such information.

Under section 9 additional functions may be conferred on the institute to cover such matters pertaining to non-ionising radiation. I ask the Minister to do this once the institute is established to enable research be carried out on the effects of non-ionising radiation. Concern has been expressed about the effects of radiation caused by microwave ovens, high tension power lines, the MMDS system and long-wave radio transmitters. An attempt should be made to allay these fears as much as possible and if this cannot be done appropriate action should be taken. I am no expert and therefore I do not know what the effects of non-ionising radiation are but there is definitely a conflict of opinion as to whether it is harmful or otherwise. Research should be carried out immediately to put people's minds at rest.

Earlier Deputy Bruton referred to the Radio Tara transmitter, now known as Atlantic 252, in my constituency. When planning permission was sought for this transmitter the concerns expressed centred mainly on what effect non-ionising radiation has on people's health. There is a glorious opportunity to undertake research on the effects of non-ionising radiation on those living in the area around the transmitter. I ask the Minister to consider requesting the institute to undertake a base line health study of those living in the area around the transmitter over a period of ten to 15 years. At the end of this period we will have the answers as to whether non-ionising radiation is harmful. I hope this opportunity will not be missed.

On a lighter note, I note that in the information issued on the conference to be held on 17 and 18 July THORP rather ominously indicate that amendments to the programme may be made to reflect changing circumstances. I hope they are not serious.

As enough has already been said in the House today about various problems caused by radiation, with particular reference to Sellafield, we can take that matter as read. We have to address ourselves to what is contained in the Bill. The question which needs to be asked is whether it is a good or bad Bill and will it be of help in improving the position which obtains. In my view this Bill will not improve the position one whit. I have come to the conclusion, reluctantly, that the Bill is a disgrace. The Minister can do much better. The shortcomings of this Bill are so serious that I cannot give my support to the Bill even at this stage. It is so fatally flawed that it is incapable of amendment on Committee Stage.

The reasons for this are three-fold: first, the new Radiological Protection Institute must be genuinely independent but I do not think the Bill is adequate in this regard. It is essential that lines of communications are open and that not alone should the institute be independent, it should be seen to be independent but this will not be the case. The Green Party insist that the composition of the institute should be as representative as possible so that the trust and respect of the people can be gained. This is something the Nuclear Energy Board failed to do.

Adequate funding must be made available to the institute but this Bill fails to assure us in this regard. Again, the Nuclear Energy Board have never been given sufficient funding and perhaps this is one of the reasons they have fallen down on the job so badly. The presence of the Nuclear Energy Board led people to a false sense of security but the major flaw in the Bill is that it fails to provide for freedom of information. The findings of the institute must be subject to public scrutiny. We are used to hearing reports about minor discharges, which are of no threat to human health, from organisations such as BNFL, and have come to taking such statements with a pinch of salt and a high degree of cynicism. The fears of people with regard to the nuclear industry largely arise out of the fact that they have been treated as if they have no right to know in the first place. If there is no threat why do you not show us the results? This must not happen with the new institute. To gain the trust and respect of the general public the findings of the institute must be accessible to the public.

The Green Party, Comhaontas Glas, regard these three principles, independence, adequate funding and public access to monitoring findings as essential if the new Radiological Protection Bill is to function properly. The Government have a serious responsibility in this regard. Correct structures must be put in place at the beginning. We must not lose sight of the real purpose of this Bill, the protection of the people and the environment of this island.

First I want to thank you and my colleagues for giving me the opportunity to say a few words on the Bill. One cannot very well deal with a Bill of this nature in a couple of minutes but it is important to have the opportunity to speak. I hope the salutary lessons that are to be learned from Chernobyl are well taken; if not, the experience will have been of no benefit at all. I hope this Bill is the result of learning those unfortunate lessons.

There are one or two points I would like to make. We now have a multiplicity of agencies in some cases duplicating or overlapping each other. There has been a lot of criticism of the Nuclear Energy Board but in fairness to that board it did not fail to do its job; it was just that, because of the lack of need for the board up to the time the emergency arose, there were not in place sufficient resources, trained personnel and monitoring equipment to quickly respond to the situation. The Radiological Protection Institute which is now proposed will be in the same position unless there is made available to that agency sufficient monitoring facilities to enable it to alert the Community very quickly. In that regard an early alert system is very important. I fully accept that the information that should have been available immediately following the Chernobyl incident was not made available to western Europe in particular. It was several days before the information became available and that caused serious problems. In fairness to the Nuclear Energy Board they and other similar boards throughout Europe, had they been given the information, would have been in a better position to respond.

To go back to my earlier remarks, if the Radiological Protection Institute were to include within its remit the monitoring of other types of pollution the expenditure would result in a two-fold benefit. There would be justification for the expenditure on the monitoring equipment and the employment of trained personnel because it is not possible to take on board at the drop of a hat a number of trained personnel to deal effectively with an emergency situation. It would be. If the institute had other responsibilities which would justify keeping on board at all times a team of experts who could do the job this Bill proposes and at the same time do other jobs such as monitoring air pollution and so on — I do not want to stray into the area of other Bills that are being discussed in this House — it would be a very important way of ensuring that we had available to us at all times a team of experts with sufficient equipment to respond instantly to emergencies.

The last point I want to make is in relation to information. There is no sense in having an institute in place which has the personnel, the expertise and the ability to produce reports unless those reports are made available because the public have a right to know if there is a threat of one kind or another. If they are informed they can take their own remedial action if necessary. It is important that the team of experts available to the institute should be broad enough and have sufficient personnel to be able to carry out spot checks at random quite often and very quickly in the area of atmosphere, foodstuffs and so on. Money would be well spent in this area if the Minister were so disposed.

That concludes what I have to say. I realise the Minister has to come in at 4.45 p.m. I would ask him to consider the points I have made, the most important being the availability of information and that there should be sufficient personnel to deal with any emergency as soon as it arises and not a week or ten days later.

I am grateful to the many Deputies who have expressed their views on this Bill. It would be fair to say that there is widespread agreement on the need to put in place a comprehensive framework for the radiological protection of the people in Ireland and that the best means of achieving that is by the establishment of an expert body with clearly set out functions and effective powers and measures to enable appropriate response to radiological hazards. This is the purpose of this Bill.

I have outlined the reasons the existing framework is inadequate. In summary these are the unsuitability of the terms of reference of the Nuclear Energy Board as laid down in the Nuclear Energy Act of 1971 and the patchy nature of existing legislation to enable measures to be taken to respond to and minimise the effects of a radiological emergency. The Bill corrects these deficiencies and makes a fresh start on radiation protection here. Having said that, the expertise and resources built up by the Nuclear Energy Board in this field will not be lost but will be transferred and be further enhanced by the Institute for the benefit of the people of this State.

Deputies raised a number of points in the course of the debate. I would like to refer to some of them in the short time available to me. A number of Deputies raised the question of whether it would be more appropriate that the institute be under the aegis of the Minister for the Environment rather than the Minister for Health. This point arose in the course of interdepartmental consideration of the Bill. After careful consideration the Government made a decision that the Minister for Energy should have responsibility for the institute. Relevant considerations were that it was deemed inappropriate that the Minister for Health, as a provider of health services, including services involving radioactive substances should also have responsibility for regulation of the supply of these substances to health institutions. Effectively he would be both the licenser and the user. There is also the consideration that at Community level the main interface on radiological matters is actually between Ministers for Energy. The suggestion made by a number of Deputies has been that there could be a conflict between the functions of the Minister for Energy to ensure the country's energy supplies and his radiological protection functions, that he may be moved to establish a nuclear power station in Ireland to satisfy future energy requirements and that he would let his energy supply concerns override his radiological protection concerns. That proposition is unrealistic. I do not know of any Member of this House on either the Government or the Opposition benches who would favour the construction of a nuclear power station now in Ireland or who could visualise that he would favour one in years to come. The overwhelming majority of the Irish people are strongly opposed to a nuclear power station here and I cannot see that that situation will change.

Against that background it is unrealistic to conceive of a Minister for Energy in Ireland moving against the tide of anti-nuclear opinion to build a power station here. At the present time we are able to satisfy our energy requirements without any nuclear dimension and, as Deputies are aware, steps are being taken for a gas interconnector with the United Kingdom which will greatly assist us to satisfy our future energy needs without reliance on nuclear power. Indeed I was surprised to hear Deputy Bruton suggest that this Government had even considered the establishment of a nuclear power station at Carnsore. I think he should get it into his head that we have a different Government here now from the one he is referring to.

The Minister was a member of that Government and his party Leader was a sponsor of it.

A number of Deputies have spoken on the extent of the controls to which the institute was subject in the conduct of its business and they have raised questions as to whether the controls envisaged are excessive to a degree that could inhibit the institute in the performance of its functions on the basis of scientific objectivity with an appropriate degree of independence. The provisions in the Bill to which the Deputies have referred aim at ensuring that the normal controls which are exercised over noncommercial State-sponsored bodies are available in relation to the institute. They mainly relate to financial, budgetary, board representation and staff matters and to the provision of information to the Minister. There is also a provision that the Minister may give directions on policy and other matters to the institute——

——which Mary Harney insisted would not be in her Bill.

I have noted the contributions of the various Deputies——

Gabh mo leithscéal, this is not a Committee Stage debate and I ask Deputy Bruton to listen to the Minister. Whether he agrees with him or not he will have to listen.

The Minister missed the opportunity——

The Minister and Deputy Bruton will have future opportunities, and I ask that I will not have to remind him, whether he is vexed or pleased, to listen to the Minister. The Deputy cannot give vent to his vexation here.

What about audience participation?

I will consider the contributions carefully. Obviously I will not have time to cover them all in the few minutes remaining. I will bring forward certain amendments to some of the control provisions on Committee Stage. I had already indicated this to Deputy Bruton privately before the Bill came into the House and also in my contribution in the House and it should not have come as any surprise to him, but he wants to continue in the vein that he employed today.

As I have already said I will consider all the contributions very carefully and then bring forward amendments. However, it would not be appropriate for me to give commitments at this juncture — when I have not had the opportunity, because of my absence at a Cabinet meeting this morning, to consider fully all the views that may have been expressed by Deputies. However I will consider everything very carefully prior to deciding on amendments in addition to the amendments I have already indicated that I will bring forward. As I have said already, there is scope for substantial amendment to section 20 and I repeat that I propose to bring in amendments to that section. I have dealt with the issue of Sellafield in the course of replies to parliamentary questions and I do not think the House wants me to go over the whole issue again. I have outlined the possibilities of taking legal action and my invitation to Greenpeace to join with us in seeking grounds for legal action, if they can be established, but I have grave doubts that we will succeed unless we achieve changes in the Euratom Treaty.

I have also responded to questions on the proposed new nuclear inspection force at European level during Question Time today. I understand that Deputy Kenny raised the matter of nuclear submarines but in my capacity as Minister for Energy, I would not be aware of the movement of nuclear submarines in the Irish Sea and in the Continental Shelf area. This is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In fact, during my time as Minister for Defence I would not have been aware either of the movements of these vessels, although it was often said to me they were there. As Minister for Energy I would have no information on this and it is a matter for another Minister.

The presence of these vessels is however considerable cause for concern should a collision or an accident occur. As they are military vessels these submarines are not covered by formal arrangements under relevant international conventions, but there is provision for countries to voluntarily apply the provisions of the early notification convention, and indications so far are that this is being done. In the event of an accident on the Irish Sea, detection equipment installed under the emergency plan for nuclear accidents would alert us quickly to rising radiation levels in the environment. Where I have been in a position to exert some influence recently is in the area of the dumping of decommissioned nuclear submarines at sea. This was under consideration by some countries in 1989 and as a result of strong opposition by Ireland and other countries it was accepted that these submarines are subject to the London Dumping Convention, which prohibits the dumping of any nuclear vessels, either commissioned or decommissioned, at sea. We considered that this was a major success by the Irish representatives at the Convention.

Deputy Bruton suggested it was senseless to have a separate agency dealing with radiation and with environmental protection. However, I want to point out that radiation is a specialised field which is dealt with separately the world over — either by a separate body or by separate entities within wider bodies. Very special expertise and training is required for this field. The institute will on the establishment day have inherited a well equipped laboratory and an expert staff and will be in a position to carry out their functions from day one. Therefore there is no advantage in amalgamating the institute into a wider body.

Deputies raised the issue of food irradiation but appeared to be confused about this issue. This process, since it involves the use of radioactive substances, would be subject to the institute's control. However, since this process does not make the food radioactive the wholesomeness of irradiated food is not a matter that would come within the competence of the institute. It is a separate question of food quality for which there are separate powers and expertise in other Government organisations.

Deputy Kenny referred to the recently identified problem of radon accumulation in homes and other buildings. Contrary to what was suggested by Deputy Bruton about the Department's response to a programme on television, the Book of Estimates will show the steps that I took after assuming office to ensure that funds were provided for a programme to deal with this problem.

Is the Minister referring to the survey?

The existence of a problem of high radon levels in parts of Ireland was brought to my Department's attention by the Nuclear Energy Board in 1988 following studies done by Dr. McLaughlin of UCD. Dr. McLaughlin's survey indicated that approximately 2 per cent of Irish homes may have excessive radon levels. It is only in recent years therefore that the problem of high radon in homes has been identified and research into the problem is at a very early stage. In order to decide on the approach to the problem in the Irish context, representatives of the Department of Energy, Health and the Environment me with the Nuclear Energy Board and Dr. McLaughlin on a number of occasions in 1988-89.

The first step in dealing with radon is the identification of the extent of the problem. As I have said the Government have allocated an extra £60,000 in the 1990 Estimates to the Nuclear Energy Board for this purpose. In 1989 the Nuclear Energy Board commenced surveys of 550 houses in Clare, Galway and Mayo. The preliminary results of these surveys confirmed Dr. McLaughlin's findings. Where houses are found to have higher than average radon levels, the Nuclear Energy Board, have recommended continued monitoring. I am informed by the board that the accurate measurement of the accumulation of radon is a lengthy process, and can take up to a year because of seasonal variations. The Nuclear Energy Board now propose to extend surveys to other areas which may be affected, and also to commence a survey of schools in consultation with the Department of Education.

I have monitoring equipment installed in my own home, and if any Deputy wishes to have his home monitored, I offer him the services of the Nuclear Energy Board to have it carried out. I think it would be a wise precaution. The board are offering this service to the community at a small fee.

The Nuclear Energy Board having examined all of the evidence available to them conveyed to my Department a recommendation of a reference level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre. The Government on my recommendation accepted this level on the basis that Ireland should adopt the highest possible radiation protection standards. The Government are satisfied that this level is an achievable target which will minimise risk.

In the small number of cases where levels of radon are confirmed to be in excess of 200 becquerels per cubic metre remedial action will be recommended. The Minister for the Environment will be responsible for preparing and disseminating technical guidance to householders and builders regarding the treatment of radon problems in affected areas in existing and new dwellings. Other Government Departments, notably Health, Education and Labour are to consult with the Nuclear Energy Board about buildings under their aegis and the drawing up of appropriate remedial measures.

Deputy John Browne referred to possible contamination of fish stocks in the Irish Sea. The Nuclear Energy Board and the institute, when it is set up, will monitor and will continue to monitor closely radiation concentrations in fish and shell fish around our coasts. The most recently published data indicate that for an individual consuming a daily quantity of 200 grams of the edible flesh of fish and 20 grams of shell fish — that is those eating large amounts — the does would be equivalent to just 0.6 per cent of the dose limit recommended by the International Commission for Radiological Protection. More importantly the does to the average fish consumer amounts to just 0.1 per cent of the International Commission Radiological Protection recommended does limit. It is clear then that the implications for eaters of large quantities of fish and shellfish are negligible and do not pose any threat to fish consumers.

Again I want to assure the Deputies that all the points raised will be carefully looked at. I am anxious to ensure that what we are establishing will be an independent institute comprising professionally qualified people who will have the expertise to give independent professional advice to the Minister and to the Government on this important matter.

Question put, and a division being demanded, it was postponed in accordance with Standing Order of the Dáil No. 123, as modified by order of the House, until 6.45 p.m. on Tuesday, 29 May 1990.