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.