We are being afforded an opportunity in this debate to protest against the direct contamination of our environment by British Nuclear Fuels. I welcome the Bill which proposes to establish an agency to monitor radiation. They will be available to deal with the consequences of any serious accident at the British Nuclear Fuels plant and will ratify certain international conventions. Our ecologically delicate environment is in a fragile state. We are engaged in a race against time but time is not on our side. I should like to take the opportunity to refer to a television programme I watched on BBC last night called, "The Earth Imbalance." The narrator, presenter and script writer of that programme was none other than the Prince of Wales. It was an excellent programme which took an overview of the state of the environment in the context of pollution, safety and the health of future generations. It dealt with issues in areas as far apart as Scotland, Hong Kong and Indonesia. As the programme dealt with the importance of environmental protection and what the future holds for the planet nothing but good can come from it. I am pleased to be able to compliment the presenters of the programme. However, I must register the strongest possible protest against any attempt by any authority, from the British monarchy to the profit-making concern that British Nuclear Fuels is, to engage in a public relations exercise to whitewash what is happening on our doorstep. There was no reference in that programme to the appalling risk we are under as a result of the Sellafield plant.
I referred to that programme to indicate the strong forces we must face on the international scene to register our protest against Britain over Sellafield. The need for British Nuclear Fuels to close down their ageing and positively dangerous plant at Sellafield becomes more obvious each day. It is frightening to hear that young men who work at Sellafield are being recommended not to father children because of the possible genetic defects that can be passed on to their offspring as a result of them being exposed to radiation while working in the proximity of nuclear reactors. The key question in the debate on Sellafield is the risk to health. It should not be necessary for any industry to remove young men from their working environment because of the danger of genetic defects. What about those who remain in the area? The need to close that plant is self evident. Ireland has protested against that plantad nauseam but with little success.
I have not changed my view about that plant over the years and I have consistently called for its closure. The Government should take British Nuclear Fuels to the European Court on this issue. Anything short of that will be seen to be pandering to them or compromising with the activities that are taking place at the Sellafield plant. About five years ago I referred to what I consider to be the most significant development to take place in that area for many years. I was referring to the development of the THORP, the thermal oxide reprocessing plant which is nearing completion. That represents an expansion of the Sellafield plant and if it commences operations as planned in 1992 there will be a greater risk of radioactive discharges. Many communities will be affected by that nuclear cesspit or dustbin. It will affect Britain and, to a great extent, Ireland and European countries. The expansion plant will prove to be far more hazardous than British Nuclear Fuels past reprocessing experience at Sellafield, which is a lamentable record of accidents and dangerous cover-ups starting with Sir Douglas Black's repeated assurances in 1984 that there could be no link with the high incidence of cancer in Cumbria. However, this report was heavily criticised later as being a complete whitewash and has been totally discredited.
The marine discharge of plutonium and other nuclear waste in the Irish Sea will increase to a very high level. What we have had to endure since 1947, when the plant was initially opened to produce materials for Britain's atomic bombs, was bad enough but the future is quite frightening. The aerial releases of nuclear waste are set to increase tenfold and the transboundary nature of these discharges will continue to expose many communities — I do not apologise for being parochial in referring principally to this country — to increased levels of radioactivity. I have a litany running to ten pages of accidents chronicled in relation to Sellafield. Indeed, I prefer to refer to it as Windscale because the name was changed in 1981 as part of a public relations exercise as it had such a bad name.
Seventy per cent or 80 per cent of the THORP plant will be foreign, which is amazing. We are not talking about reprocessing for the British need, this is a money making industry where they put profits before people and there is no attempt to consider future generations whose parents will have been exposed to low dosage radiation.
The most hazardous waste will continue to be transported across the world by ships, air and different rail routes. Considering the rail network, whole communities will be at risk as a result of carrying spent fuel from nuclear reactors and ports of entry for foreign waste. Once separated from the spent fuel, many tons of plutonium will be returned to foreign customers. With transportation of plutonium by air and sea, the risk of terrorist sabotage and hijack is very real. Unprecedented security arrangements in Britain — which will also affect Ireland — will be required. It is common knowledge, for example, that Japan plans to send warships to the Irish Sea to escort some of the ships which will be carrying waste from their country to be reprocessed at Sellafield.
Our civil rights as a democracy in Europe are at risk as a result of this appalling future plan by British Nuclear Fuels. THORP is not needed for any future energy requirements, strategic needs, military considerations or technical reasons. The plant is being expanded in the guise of providing future employment to unfortunate people working at the plant — and their families — and people in the Cumbria region, but it is for one reason: to make money for British Nuclear Fuels. The time has come for this nation to join people within Britain — this is where the Minister could have a very strong input — to unite against this future expansion.
It is only a matter of time before the ageing plant at Sellafield and other places will be forced to close down because they are unsafe and would not pass a European inspection, if one is organised. However, the real threat is future expansion and that is where vast sums of money are being spent at present. It is a huge investment in a unique industry. For example the facility will not be available in Germany, Japan, America or France. Where will reprocessing be done? At Sellafield. It will be a buyers' market for British Nuclear Fuels and they have no regard for the safety of this country.
The Minister should consider sending an observer or two to a proposed conference which will take place on 17-18 July next organised by Cumbrians who are opposed to a radioactive environment. The organisation — CORE — is strong and has the support of the Greenpeace Organisation. There is a huge resident Irish population in the whole catchment area of Cumbria and Liverpool who are very sympathetic to our point of view. There is no point in just taking a "close Sellafield" approach. We know that such a call falls on deaf ears and although the Minister may, with the best will in the world, make our feelings known to her counterpart in Britain the response is usually that they appreciate our problem but that Sellafield will never close. There is also secrecy about the future expansion of the plant. However, we can tap the goodwill of our British counterparts who live daily in fear of Sellafield. They know of the risks to their children and of the carcinogenic effects on babies born in the catchment area. They are now aware of medical opinion which is quite unanimous in its view, that the long term effect of low dosage radiation is very harmful.
We must ask ourselves what level of radiation, in medical terms, is acceptable? We are afforded an opportunity of keying into this huge groundswell of opinion developing in England. It is not realistic merely to call blindly for the closure of Sellafield. Of course we can do so, but what might be described as the public relations experts working for British Nuclear Fuels, with a huge budget, on a day-to-day basis will counteract any attempt made for its closure. They will whip up the fears of 11,000 people working directly at the Sellafield plant or in the catchment area.
Through the EC we should be supporting ways and means of finding alternative employment for such people, if you like, converting it into a ghost industry in which people are not prepared to run the risk of working, supported by medical evidence and by the many reports I have in front of me showing that it is an unsafe environment in which to work. We must assist such people in finding alternative sources of employment. There should be no fear or doubt about our need to take Britain to the European Court. We must do this for the benefit of future generations who will inhabit this planet.
On a timescale we are drawing very close to a point at which it will be almost incumbent on us to take this type of action; we will not have an alternative. There are things happening at present. I remember talking in this House on the subject of nuclear energy — going back perhaps seven years — and I am not for a moment saying it was regarded as a trite subject or one that people felt was peripheral to their every day duties or lives, but nonetheless it appeared then to be a very remote subject. As the planet geographically grows smaller, as our ecological environment comes more and more into focus — because, with the aid of satellite technology, we can look in on the planet and realise that its resources are finite — and we realise that the destruction of rain forests is causing appalling acid rain damage, the overall effect of global warming and so on, people are beginning to realise — and it is fantastic that they are — that we must protect our environment.
As a nuclear-free nation, Ireland can stand proud. We do not need to be apologetic to anybody about the stand we will take if Britian is not prepared to listen to us. Our Ministers have made very many protests at the highest level. The EC passed resolutions opposing the Sellafield reprocessing facility a few years ago. My remarks are focused on what is to come. It is not at all unreasonable to assume that there will be a very serious accident or incident at Sellafield as that plant expands. It is important that that possibility be realised and recognised. Bearing that possibility in mind — indeed for that reason alone — our Government are afforded an opportunity of taking Britain to the European Court. Why not? If we feel we might not succeed because of particular regulations, so be it; that is my view. But we must very rapidly focus world opinion on what Britain is doing.
What I dislike about the entire exercise taking place at present in Sellafield — and this is common knowledge — is the public relations exercise. Many people say that one can convince people if one tells them often enough that a product is safe and they will believe it. There is a great deal of money being spent in an endeavour to gloss over the seriousness of this proposed new expansion. For example, they talk in terms of increasing profits for Britain, contending that it is a new, clean industry, a whole new technology being put in place, not like that of the old days. In fact they even bring tourists into the Sellafield region, showing the plant against the backdrop of greenery, showing them this new huge industry that will contribute so much to the British economy. It is absolutely appalling.
Let us hope we are close to a breakthrough in techniques that will involve the safe reprocessing of waste. I am speaking now more in terms of the fusion technology for creating nuclear energy rather than the present system which creates awful waste which will remain on this planet for thousands of years. It is interesting to note that some of the nuclear waste will be on this planet for the next half a million years or some 16,000 generations. That is the legacy we are leaving behind. We inhabit this planet for a short number of years only; we are its temporary custodians. Why should we apologise to Britain? Why not just take a strong stand on this issue? Every Irish citizen will stand strongly by our Government. I am sure every British citizen will stand by the Irish Government if they take that strong lead in bringing Britian to the European Court.
There is also the necessity for education in the area of nuclear energy, its development and consequential damage and danger to our environment. That is indeed necessary at present. I might refer briefly to the new technology that will provide clean, nuclear energy. I am very conscious of the damage to our environment that can be caused by other techniques in producing such energy. I have heard that argument advanced repeatedly, such as the burning of coal and so on which can be ecologically very damaging; of course it can be, but, on balance, we must ascertain how energy can be generated in the cleanest possible way. Perhaps in the future nuclear energy can be created by way of fusion when there will be no wastage. I am speaking about the type of energy created in the stars, in the sun, where there is no wastage whatsoever. Regrettably there have been some research failures in this area. For example, some research was conducted recently in Trinity College Dublin, when they were very close to a breakthrough in simulating the production of nuclear energy by fusion techniques.
It is only a matter of time before technology will bring us this new source of energy by a much cleaner method, but at present the nuclear industry are endeavouring in the most destructive possible way to store and dump nuclear waste. Again, I must revert parochially to the Irish Sea and refer to the 2.2 million gallons of wastage dumped there every day over such a long period. Who is even to believe those statistics? Who is to believe the litany of false information that has emanated from the British nuclear industry, which give us no reason to have any semblance of confidence whatsoever in anything they say or contend?
The impact of nuclear power and energy and its potential hazards on mankind has been immense. Even in countries, including our own, where there are no nuclear installations there is a growing consciousness of the awesome strength of nuclear energy and the danger that it could get out of control, heightened, I suppose, by the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. As I said, there are positive and negative sides to nuclear power. I would not dare for one moment condemn the positive sides of nuclear power or some of the medical research being conducted in this area which I hope will lead to safe techniques.
Young people in particular, as they are going to represent those who will be primarily concerned with this problem, should know what the risks are. There should be a mandatory requirement that such education be provided, with all schoolgoers being made aware of nuclear power and the rudiments of nuclear fission and ingredients. They should also be made aware of the dangers posed by radiation and contamination and the advantages or disadvantages nuclear power may bring to their lives. If industry is given a free hand without people being involved, all sorts of dangers can ensue. One would not be unreasonable if one took Romania as an example in highlighting the uncontrolled bureaucratic attitude towards unsafe nuclear installations. That country is now practically a wasteland. The same is true of southern Russia and those countries where people do not play a part in controlling the expansion of these industries.
When we consider the question of the expansion of Sellafield it is very important and I say this in the very best spirit — I also said this when in Opposition — that there should be no point scoring by those who are genuinely concerned about this matter. I listened very attentively to the contributions of the Minister, the shadow spokesperson and other speakers and there is no doubt in my mind that we are united and committed in our attempt to focus attention on the dangers posed by Sellafield and its future development and also by the nuclear industry as it develops on this planet.
We should not get caught in the trap that perhaps Britain would wish us to be caught in and that is to be found arguing among ourselves. We are united on this issue. Nuclear devastation and the potential holocaust which has been referred to by many speakers will know no boundaries. The damage will be immense. What we need is a united political voice. It is very important that we focus in on this issue and support each other. We are talking about the world's most dangerous nuclear plant on our doorstep and we cannot let Britain off the hook. It would be most shameful if we were to find that some of our MEPs in the European Parliament were criticising the action the Government were taking or criticising them for failing to take action.
About five or six years ago I sat in on a television debate with a member of British Nuclear Fuels who was well versed and armed by his public relations people. He started by saying that some of our people felt that it was perfectly safe and inquired why I felt it was not. Such division will place us in a very serious position. Therefore, there should be no point scoring and we should be united in our condemnation. Perhaps the Minister would consider taking out, at the highest possible level, an injunction against the expansion of this plant. What may happen is that this will occur without anyone objecting to it. Parties on all sides of the House, local authorities, medical opinion and interested organisations such as Greenpeace, CORE and Friends of the Earth and young people in schools should unite and make public our view that we intend to follow through on this matter and bring Britain to the European Court. Such action — and there has to be action at this stage — would force the hand of a very uncaring neighbour in this regard.
During the past ten years, since I first became interested in this issue, I have never come across an official statement from British Nuclear Fuels indicating that they would be prepared to have discussions with the Government, to speak with interested people in Ireland, or engage in dialogue which would be of help to them in shutting down their ageing plants. We are prepared to offer help and assistance through the EC and support the view that the employees of any plant shut down should be assisted and alternative employment sought for them.
It is important that we adopt such a view but we should not be afraid. There should be no fear. We will only live for a short number of years on this planet and we owe it to future generations to do something. Normally one speaks in terms of one's own lifetime but never in terms of what planet Earth will be like in 1,000 years from now for the simple reason that we feel this is way beyond the imagination of human beings, but it is not. If people focused their minds on just how old our planet is and on how fragile it has become in recent years due to our own selfishness and unbridled profiteering at the expense of people through activities such as the cutting down of our forests, to the pollution of our rivers, to destroying the quality of air they would soon realise that 1,000 years is a very short number of years.
We have now reached a crossroads for civilisation. The red flag is up. We know that the planet is becoming warmer. We know that serious problems are afoot. Equally we know that if we are prepared to stand up and be counted, no matter what the cost, we can at least be seen to be addressing the problems. At least we could do that for future generations. It is bad enough living under the threat of some nuclear accident at Sellafield with the increased THORP expansion but it would be shameful and horrendous if we were not concerned enough about future generations to take action. If taking a stronger line could mean a resolution at the United Nations for a condemnation of this plant, let us do it because there is no way Britain will move on this issue unless people get behind the cause and start to become concerned, British people as well as Irish people.
In conclusion let me refer briefly to a few other matters which will come within this Bill. I welcome the fact that we are now setting in place proper facilities for monitoring the awful possibility of a nuclear accident and the safety of food because the irradiation of food is of very serious concern. We will also be monitoring leakage of radiation from waste that has been illegally dumped. All of these moves are very welcome. I think the Bill could best be referred to as a serious attempt to focus on coping with an accident and monitoring nuclear levels within our country. I would like the Minister to give consideration to including greater powers for the Minister to take action against offending countries directly, rather than having to go through a very lengthy process, if they endanger our country.
I find the thought of what is going on at the moment quite depressing. I feel that perhaps we are living in the eleventh hour of our planet. I would urge the Minister to make his view known direct to Cabinet, to inform them that the nation is entirely behind the Government, along with many spokespeople on the Opposition benches, in taking Britain right on to centre stage, from its monarchy right down to its local authorities, to the highest level of court action and to the UN to make them accountable for the potential destruction of our environment and the risk to our nation. Our first duty is to those we represent in this land.