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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 1 Mar 1994

Vol. 439 No. 5

Private Members' Business. - Commissioning of THORP: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann calls on the Government to immediately initiate the necessary legal proceedings to prevent commissioning of the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) at Sellafield in view of the fact that the Government has cited at least three EU Directives which the plant will contravene and given that British Nuclear Fuels Limited has indicated that it will be ready to begin reprocessing at THORP from 7 March 1994.

Is oth liom nach bhfuil aon dul as agam ach an rún seo a mholadh don Teach seo anocht agus iarraim ar Theachtaí uilig macnamh a dhéanamh air agus gníomhú i bhfábhar an rúin dá réir. Cé go bhfuil obair mhaith déanta go dtí seo, tá gá le cás dlí ón Rialtas mar gheall or THORP ar go leor cúiseanna agus de bharr cúrsaí ama, tá práinn nach beag ag baint leis an gcás céanna.

Before and since my election I visited THORP at different stages of its construction. The product of operations at the plant, plutonium, will have a half life of about 0.25 million years as will the increased discharges to the Irish Sea and elsewhere.

The arrogance of those managing the project is incredible. They dismiss concern about the day-to-day discharges of 2.2 million gallons of contaminated water into the sea from Sellafield. In a written question to the British nuclear authorities I asked about the substantial and deliberate increase in authorised plutonium, 239 discharges between 1956 and 1958, into the Irish Sea at Sellafield. The answer I got from the director of the Nuclear Electricity Information Group was: "I do not think that anyone would do such an experiment now, valuable though the results may be, because of public perception".

Year by year plutonium and other radioactive by-products are accumulating at Sellafield, requiring constant security, monitoring, protecting, expense and risk for future millennia. The arrogance which allowed this nuclear time bomb to continue, and even expand, can best be understood by comparing Sellafield to the Egyptian Pyramids. If the Pyramids were stores for nuclear waste they would still need high security protection and round-the-clock guards on the door. However, the weather has taken its toll on these monuments, civilisations come and go and, if the economy of Egypt today is taken into account, it is most unlikely that this level of expenditure, security and monitoring could be afforded in today's North Africa. Such expenditure for future generations will provide no economic benefit or return. What right has this or any other generation to place this burden and risk on its children?

Future generations can do nothing about what is happening now. Those of us living on both sides of the Irish Sea in Dublin or Workington, in Belfast or Barrow-in-Furness are in the front line. Over our graves children will ask why. Bram Longstappe, a former mayor of Barrow where most of the nuclear waste shipments are, has a poignant epitaph which is relevant to this motion:

Mourn not the dead in the cool earth


Ashes to Ashes

Dust to Dust

Rather mourn the apathetic throng

The coward and the meek,

Who see the world's great wrong

And dare not speak.

In some cases it is enough to speak, but not in this case. All the pleas, appeals, diplomatic measures and resolutions have failed to stop THORP, although its start-up time has been delayed. We now face the eleventh hour in the sorry saga of Sellafield and Sellafield II, as THORP is also known. On 7 March 1994 British Nuclear Fuels plan to commission the THORP plant at Sellafield.

Much of the technology to be used in THORP has never been proven to be safe. Sellafield's previous experiment with oxide reprocessing, which will be carried out in THORP, ended in near disaster, a serious accident in the socalled Head End Plant in September 1973. There is no guarantee that a similar or worse accident will not occur if THORP is commissioned.

THORP will make West Cumbria into one of the world's main dumping grounds for nuclear waste. It is expected to account for about 34 per cent of the entire UK nuclear waste inventory from its operations between 1994 and 2030.

Existing facilities for the disposal of nuclear waste from Sellafield are likely to be full to capacity by the year 2005. The state-owned company, UK Nirex Limited, plans to build an undergrund waste repository beside Sellafield so that THORP's waste can be buried there. Serious doubts have been cast over the geological suitability of the area, with a senior nuclear scientist, Dr. Derek Ockenden, predicting recently that a nuclear chain reaction could be triggered off by the underground waste.

THORP will lead to further stockpiling of plutonium and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. President Bill Clinton is on record as being opposed to plutonium separation, one of THORP's main activities, as it will destabilise the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which is already under threat because of a resumption of nuclear testing by China.

The British Government has admitted that discharges from THORP could cause 16 cancer deaths every month in its first ten years of operation. I will spell out what the thermal oxide reprocessing plant proposes to do at Sellafield. Although Sellafield has been reprocessing nuclear material since it first developed weapons for Britain's nuclear bomb programme, the previously reprocessed magnox spent fuel is only one tenth as radioactive as the proposed oxide spent fuel which is the raw material required by THORP.

Sellafield's previous experience of oxide reprocessing was unsuccessful. In the late sixties the B204 military reprocessing plant was converted into the Head End Plant. This plant reprocessed 100 tonnes of thermal oxide fuel from Britain's advanced gas-cooled reactors. An unexpected chemical reaction in a process vessel in September 1973 caused a serious "blow back" accident that severely contaminated 35 workers, as well as the building, and no further reprocessing has been carried out in that plant since then.

Other countries' experiences with oxide reprocessing have been similarly troublesome. The world's only operational commercial-scale reprocessing plant UP2-HAO at La Hague, France, has had many setbacks and now operates at only 40 per cent of its capacity.

In August 1993 the UK Secretary of State for the Environment gave BNFL permission to undertake uranium testing at THORP. Shortly after the testing was due to commence a leak of nitrogen oxides occurred in the plant while testing equipment was being disconnected from the Head End areas and the main part of the plant; 280 people were evacuated as a precautionary measure. That an accident requiring plant evacuation should occur in the embryonic stages of THORP's operations does not augur well for its future. Oxide reprocessing involves complex processes during which the risk of a serious accident with far-reaching implications is always present.

The inherent problem with oxide reprocessing was spelt out by the 1986 House of Commons Environment Committee's Report: "The intense radiation of oxide spent fuel damages the solvents and attacks process plant; at the same time it makes direct maintenance extremely difficult, if not impossible". Successive British Governments have chosen to ignore these words of warning.

This brings me to the environmental consequences of THORP's discharges. British Nuclear Fuels Limited has said that it cannot guarantee that it can keep discharges within proposed limits. This is spelt out by British Nuclear Fuels in its application for an authorisation to dispose of low level waste from the marine pipeline at the Sellafield site submitted in 1992 which is as follows:

The realisation of lower future radioactive waste discharges to sea from the Sellafield site depends on the successful performance of several new plants, particularly those associated with effluent treatment. The design of some of these plants is unique and there is no previous experience to refer to in judging their likely performance.

A report from Time Out magazine carried in the Irish Independent on 24 May 1989 claimed that a major risk of radioactivity existed because storage ponds for THORP are not to be linked to a radioactivity extraction plant.

The level of discharges from THORP are supposed to adhere to a standard alara principle which is an acronym for as low as reasonably achievable. Many commentators have argued that the discharges from THORP will be much higher than those permitted from most other nuclear installations in the world. The discharge level of krypton 85 gas, for example, offers the most glaring illustrations of alara being flouted. BNFL plans to increase its current discharge level of krypton 85 gas tenfold. Two German scientists, Kollert and Reichelt, have estimated that a 50 per cent increase in global ionisation caused by the dispersal of krypton 85 would lead to a 10 per cent decrease in atmospheric resistance. The effects of the atmosphere's water vapours and the long term impact on the world's climate would be unpredictable.

The 1977 Windscale inquiry recommended that "BNFL should devote effort to the development of a plant for safe removal and retention of krypton 85 and if development proved successful, should incorporate it in the proposed plant". BNFL said it would be too costly to install krypton 85 filters in the THORP plant. Such short term expedience could prove disastrous in the long term. However, Her Majesty's Inspectorate and the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the United Kingdom have also expressed doubt about the technology for filtering krypton 85 stating that "it has significant risk potential should there be a sudden release of the inventory of a cryogenic column or storage cylinder." That statement emphasises that technology for the removal and retention of krypton 85 cannot be deemed as entirely safe, another reason THORP should not be allowed to go ahead.

Very little research has been carried out on the impact of Sellafield or THORP on animals. Circumstantial evidence suggests however that the blackheaded gulls which formed a vibrant and ornithologically important colony on the Radenglass Estuary approximately two miles from Sellafield may have vacated their nesting spot due to their sensitivity to radiation. To assess the wider environmental impact of Sellafield and the likely impact of THORP, a monitoring programme of wildlife on both sides of the Irish Sea needs to be established.

It is particularly appropriate to raise the health effects of THORP in an Irish context. However, it must be remembered that the effects of Sellafield to date are not confined to these islands, but can be detected in many other countries and oceans. Aerial discharges monitored in Poland, Spain and Germany, for example, can be identified as originating at Sellafield.

There are many shades of opinion on the effects THORP could have on human health. An environmental impact assessment on THORP was not carried out nor has a through or authoritative projection on the health impacts been commissioned by the British Government. Proper research needs to be undertaken on leukaemia and childhood cancer levels here. It is lamentable that the Department of Health's last report on leukaemia was published in 1986. That report found that most of the significant incidence rates for children aged between nought and 14 years in the 1974 to 1983 period lived within relatively close proximity to the eastern coastline which, needless to say, faces Sellafield.

The 1984 Black Report could not find any conclusive evidence that Sellafield caused the high levels of leukaemia near the plant but said that no other cause could be found. The 1993 report by the UK Health and Safety Executive found that the incidence of leukaemia and nonHodgkins lymphoma in children whose fathers worked at Sellafield was about 14 times the national average. While not ruling out other factors the report said that a link between radiation and the high levels of these diseases is quite likely.

Perhaps I could draw the Minister's attention to a book published in the United States called "Deadly Deceit, Low Level Radiation, High Level Cover-Up", in which two United States statisticians conclude that radiation is partially responsible for the spread of AIDS and has caused millions of excess deaths in the United States.

Unfortunately, the International Commission on Radiological Protection has decided that the 1977 radiation dose limits should remain as guiding principles and hence no actual reduction in the tolerable dose limits has been declared. However, in his paper entitled "When is a dose not a dose?" published in 1992 Dr. Patrick Greene argued that the approach taken by the NRPB is scientifically fraudulent. He stated, "as far as the human body is concerned a dose of radiation is a dose of radiation. If the NRPB considers that a dose of more than 0.3 mSV is not tolerable, it should make no difference whether this dose is due to contamination caused by old discharges, a dose arising from current discharges or a mixture of the two".

This is no recent discovery; in fact in 1927 Herman Muller won a Nobel prize for showing that no level of radiation is safe. There is indeed no threshold below which genetic damage, cancer or a shortening of life is impossible. More recently environmental scientist, Peter Taylor, estimated that krypton 85 discharges could conceivably cause 200 fatal cancers and 10,000 skin cancers within ten years of THORP's commissioning. Taylor suggested that because those cancers would be spread over more than one country they could be hidden in general cancer statistics. We look forward to Ireland producing comprehensive cancer statistics in the future.

This demonstrates that Sellafield's pollution is not confined to any one country's borders and that THORP is an issue of international concern. It further underlines the need for use of best available technology to reduce and, as far as possible, eliminate krypton 85 emissions. There is not enough information available to assess the full impact on human health of other radio-nucleates from THORP. We do not have a publication from the National Radiological Protection Board on tritium discharges which will increase substantially if THORP is commissioned. Neither the National Radiological Protection Board nor the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the UK takes into account organically bound tritium and food grown in tritium contaminated areas when calculating doses of the critical groups.

Evidence from the Canadian Pickering nuclear power plant has directly implicated tritium with causing congenital birth defects. Thorough research is needed before this radio-nucleate and its behavioural patterns are properly understood. It would be highly irresponsible to commission THORP before it can be proven that tritium emissions do not represent a serious health hazard.

I urge the Minister and the Government to think before tabling an amendment to this motion. I acknowledge the good work which has been done in this area, but we should focus our efforts on readily identifiable breaches of European Union law which all pertain to THORP. If the amendment seeks to tackle the issue of Sellafield and in some way includes THORP as part of the overall case, we will play into the hands of the nuclear lobby as they are able to pick holes in and discredit our arguments because we do not have 100 per cent proof in regard to some health issues. For that reason we should concentrate on THORP.

The health claims on both sides are a legal minefield and distract from the clearly illegal decisions in relation to THORP. We do not have time now to consider specific cases. Is it not a coincidence that THORP got the go ahead on the same day the Downing Street Joint Declaration was announced? Is it a coincidence that a decision on the Greenpeace and Lancashire County Council case is due to be announced in London on Friday and the plant is to be commissioned on Monday? The Government must not be drawn into a political manoeuvre on behalf of Britain which will leave the Irish Government with no room to act. Unless we deal with THORP as a single identifiable transgression of European law we will be sucked into the minefield of uncertainties and procrastination.

I have dealt only with the proposed normal operation of THORP. Before 1986, in the Soviet Union nobody would have seriously considered the effects of the accident at Chernobyl. Given the vulnerability of THORP as a concentration of radioactivity from around the world, adjacent to several ageing nuclear reactors, it is important to bear in mind some of the effects of the disaster at Chernobyl. In a 1988 Greek study it was calculated that in Western Europe alone 200,000 abortions were carried out following fears caused by the release of radioactivity from Chernobyl. The writer of the report, Professor Proukakis, claimed that a similar number of abortions had taken place in Poland. The position in other countries in Eastern Europe could not be investigated at that time.

A report in February 1989 revealed plants in the general area of Chernobyl were exhibiting giantism. In one case poplar leaves were growing to a diameter of seven inches. Farm animals 30 miles away on Ukrainian farms gave birth to deformed offspring.

A 1988 report predicted that 400,000 people in Ireland would die as a result of a similar accident at Sellafield and that half our agricultural sector would be wiped out. The cause of such an accident is difficult to predict, but the human error involved in Chernobyl is only one of a number of possible scenarios.

Recent news of earthquakes in America remind us that during the 1980s England and Wales were hit by 60 earth tremors, two of which, Irish people will remember, occurred in 1984 and in April 1990. In the latter case the epicentre was at Wrexham and measured 5.2 on the Richter Scale. Fortunately, the source of the quake was 15 kilometers below the earth's surface. The effects of a quake five or ten kilometers below the earth's surface would have been far more devastating.

Natural disasters aside, the Pan Am 747 crash in January 1989 was caused by an explosion which occurred very near Sellafield. While aviation rules exclude civilian aeroplanes from coming within a two mile radius of the plant, no such restriction applies to military aircraft. The Trawsfynydd nuclear power station in Wales is often used as a dummy target for military aircraft.

We should contemplate the seriousness of disasters before they actually occur. Surely a Government must take effective legal action on THORP if we are not to be reminded of the tragedy that has befallen other people around the world following accidents, nuclear bomb tests or other causes of radiation discharges. It may be difficult to contemplate, but it is important to bear in mind the report of one woman's experience who lived on one of the Pacific Islands. When she was seven years old the United States detonated a 15 megatonne hydrogen bomb called Bravo over her island. Since then she has produced seven limbless, headless offspring. After her seventh pregnancy she said:

I carried the baby for the full nine months. When I delivered the baby it had no legs, no arms and no head. It was breathing and it moved up and down but it was not a baby at all. It was a bag of jelly. I have had seven like that.

In the area of plutonium transportation, glib assurances that Britain has transported more than 30,000 tonnes of fuel over seven million miles without any serious leak of radioactivity do not allay public concerns, especially in the wake of ecologically devastating accidents involving release of non-radioactive substances at sea, such as the Braer and Exxon Valdez oil disasters.

The activity of THORP has been in breach of Article 79 of the Euratom Treaty, in so far as nuclear regulatory authorities are required "to keep and provide records to the European Commission in the case of the transport of source materials and special fissile materials which include plutonium". British Nuclear Fuels has been notoriously reluctant to supply details of plutonium transports. British fire brigades are not notified of radioactive flask movements in advance and lack the relevant expertise in radiological protection to know how best to act in an emergency involving nuclear materials.

Who is to say that all the plutonium floating in the Irish Sea is legitimate? In June 1988 British and American researchers claimed that more than two tonnes of plutonium from Britain's civil nuclear stockpile is currently unaccounted for. On 28 March 1990, four people were arrested in London for smuggling nuclear trigger devices, in transit from the USA, to Iraq.

What I have said could be used to build a strong case against THORP. Even though the Attorney General, Mr. Harry Whelehan, claimed Ireland does not have a sustainable case against THORP, he has not made public the details of his deliberations on THORP. I welcome the Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications, Deputy Cowen to the House and I am pleased he is present to hear my contribution. Ironically, the Minister outlined why Ireland should take legal action against THORP. He is on record as saying that the commissioning of THORP will be in breach of EU law. In his submission on the second round of consultations on THORP, held by the British Department of the Environment last autumn, he cited three EU Directives which the commissioning of THORP would contravene. EU Directive 80/836, as amended by Directive 84/467, states that no practice involving radiation exposure should be adopted unless it produces sufficient benefit to exposed individuals and to society. One might ask what benefit radiation exposure in Ireland will provide?

EU Directive 85/337/EEC requires that an environmental impact assessment be carried out before such a nuclear installation is undertaken. The original planning inquiry in 1977 is now almost 17 years out of date. The Windscale Inquiry of 1977 omitted a number of key issues that would have to be taken into consideration by an EIA, such as the impact of radiation on flora and fauna together, with the practice of releasing Krypton 85 the discharge levels of which may increase ten fold. EU Directive 90/313/EEC requires that relevant environmental information be made freely available. Supporters of THORP argue that the plant will be profitable on the basis of a report prepared by the accountancy firm Touche Ross. However, the British Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr. John Gummer, in December 1993 revealed that he had never seen a copy of this crucial report before he authorised THORP.

The decision to take legal action ought not to be as daunting as the Government appears to believe. A case taken by Luxembourg and the German State of Saarland against a Cattenom nuclear power station on the Moselle was heard by the European Court of Justice in 1986. That case was won when Cattenom was found to be in breach of Article 37 of the Euratom Treaty. It will interest the Fianna Fáil partners in Government, and perhaps the Labour Party, that the former Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, said in relation to Sellafield in this House on 12 March 1986: "I do not know if many Deputies experience as I do a very real feeling of anger when I consider the enormity of this situation and what we in this country are being asked to tolerate".

The Green Party, as well as many people on both sides of the Irish Sea, again calls on the Government to act legally before it is too late. It is often remarked that the Government seems to have put this issue on the backburner, but there is no backburner left. I have repeatedly said that the Government has been working very hard diplomatically, but its words, though eloquent and plentiful, have fallen on stoney ground. This call for legal action at the eleventh hour is one of many such calls. In November 1988 a Dublin Corporation conference was urged by Mr. Peter Taylor of the Political Ecology Research Group in England to "take THORP to court as the designs in its construction are not the most modern". At another international conference in Liverpool in 1990, organised by Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment which was attended by Members of this House, including Government Members, a resolution was unanimously passed urging the Irish Government to reconsider its decision not to take legal action against the UK for radiological contamination of the Irish Sea. That conference was known as "THORP — The New Threat from Sellafield".

The amendment the Government is considering refers to Sellafield and THORP as if they were one issue. I repeat that the issue of THORP is as clear cut as one could imagine in terms of nuclear affairs. The breach of EU Directives is a matter for legal procedure whereas it is almost impossible to be 100 per cent certain on arguments about the issue of Sellafield, which are very difficult to prove conclusively in a court of law. I urge the Government, as protectors of the people, to take legal action specifically on THORP. There may be cause for a court case on Sellafield, and the sooner the better, but THORP is the issue of immediate concern. I make this request not for myself, not even for my party, but for people North and South of the Border, Unionist and Nationalist, British and Irish. Even the police officer who arrested me in Workington Dock for blocking a shipment of plutonium nitrate, which was due to travel though rush hour traffic to Sellafield for reprocessing, would thank the Government for taking legal action on this issue. That police officer told me he had to do his job but that he wholeheartedly supported what I was doing.

Lest there be any question of the Government considering the sensitivities of the British authorities due to the peace process, which is extremely welcome and urgent, I ask it not to be dissuaded from being decisive on this matter in the courts. Many people in Britain, including the UK Government, believe that the original decision to go ahead with THORP was wrong — even the man who made the decision admits it was wrong. If the British, with their stiff upper lip, do not take account of their previous mistakes — a considerable amount of money has been spent to date and will have to be spent on monitoring the plant even after it is finished in the year 2030 — and does not reconsider, we have the independence of a sovereign State, a member of the EU, and we should use the existing procedures to deal with this matter, whether by arbitration, which would be much weaker than a legal case, or a court case, which we would stand an extremely good chance of winning. Let us be decisive on the matter.

If this question involves reconsideration by the Attorney General, let him do so. If it involves seeking wider legal opinion which may open up some, as yet, unnoticed loopholes, let that be done. If EU Directives which have been signed and agreed by members are ignored we do not take a case, what is the point in having a law?

I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That" and to substitute the following:

Dáil Éireann approves the actions taken to date by the Government with a view to the closure of the Sellafield plant, including THORP, and notes that the Government is continuously re-examining all possible options open to it, including diplomatic and international pressure and legal action, to achieve that objective.

The House is united in its concern about this issue. The motion would have the Government embark on a legal action against the Government of the UK on a basis which is not specified, without any convincing evidence available to support the case and with expectations of success which could not be fulfilled based upon present evidence. It is time for this House to address the issues raised by THORP with realism while maintaining legitimate concerns and doing whatever is possible with care and wisdom in protecting our interests. We must avoid the trap of getting carried away by a tide of emotion and building up unsustainable expectations.

For many years, successive Governments have pursued our concern about nuclear activities which could affect our well-being. It is the clearly expressed wish of the Irish people and Government not to pursue nuclear power as a means of providing energy, or nuclear weapons as a means of our defence. This does not mean we reject all nuclear activity — that has never been the case. There are many applications in medicine, industry, research and agriculture where nuclear technology is useful and beneficial and the risks are minimal. This is why we have a well regulated and safe regime administered by the Radiological Projection Institute of Ireland and backed by legislation.

When it comes to activities carried out in other countries which may affect our well-being the Government has a right and a duty to do everything it can to protect our interests. This can best be done by means of inter-government relations. These means are direct bilateral representations, broader-based diplomatic pressure by like-minded countries, influencing international legal and administrative arrangements and mechanisms such as the European Union, the Paris and London Dumping Conventions and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Legal action remains a possibility when there is sufficient evidence that there is a breach of national or international law and that the Government concerned has failed or is failing to take any action to remedy the breach. It is not a sufficient basis for legal action that we do not like or agree with what is going on or about to be done in another jurisdiction.

It is time to put the question of THORP into its proper perspective. The issue has been raised repeatedly in this House but despite all that has been said or done by successive Governments there are unrealistic expectations as to what can be accomplished by this or any other Government.

Let us be clear about a number of things. THORP is located in another jurisdiction and is not answerable to the wishes of the Government or this House. A large investment of approximately £3 billion has been completed after ten years of construction and is about to be brought into use. There are contracts of considerable value in place to be executed over the next decade and jobs to be maintained in an area with poor employment prospects. The relevant UK authorities are prepared to license its operations, maintaining that it will not create an unacceptable public health or environmental hazard for its own citizens or other countries. That view is endorsed by the European Union Commission in discharge of its functions under the European Treaty. Recent legal proceedings in the UK on which judgments are awaited concerned the issue of due legal process by UK Ministers in authorising discharges without a new public inquiry. It was not about achieving a permanent ban on starting up the plant.

It should be clear from this that if there was a good legal basis for preventing the opening of THORP, proceedings would have been taken by one or other of the parties who are opposed to it. The stance of the Irish Government has been made clear over the years to the relevant authorities. The basis for this stance is the increase in risk to the health of the public and of environmental contamination arising from discharges of radioactive effluent: the risk of accidents arising from the reprocessing activity and the storage and transport of nuclear fuel, plutonium and radioactive wastes; the accumulation of large amounts of radioactive waste on one site close to the Irish Sea and to Ireland; the risks of nuclear weapons proliferation from increasing stocks of plutonium; the so far unresolved problems of long term safe storage and disposal of radioactive waste; and the absence of proof of economic benefit from reprocessing which would justify the risks involved.

The House will be aware that in January of last year I sent a detailed and wide ranging submission to the UK Minister for the Environment and the UK Inspectorate of Pollution. This submission conveyed in the strongest possible terms the Government's total opposition to the continued operation of all nuclear activities carried out at Sellafield and to any expansion of these activities. In particular, the submission expressed the Government's grave concern about commissioning the proposed new THORP plant on the site and the proposed new levels of authorised discharges from Sellafield into the atmosphere and the Irish Sea and called for a full public inquiry to be held before any decision is taken to proceed.

On 28 June 1993, the UK Secretary of State for the Environment announced that, after consideration by him and the UK Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of the report of the Inspectorate of Pollution, it had been concluded that no point of substance had been raised that should cause them to reconsider the terms of the draft authorisations. However, because a high volume of submissions, including ours, had raised questions as to the justification for the operation of THORP and other issues it was decided to delay the commissioning of the plant until a further round of consultations to deal with the wider issues had been held.

Following consideration of material published by the UK authorities on these wider issues, I made a second and more comprehensive submission on behalf of the Government to the UK authorities. In addition to detailing our previously stated opposition to the THORP plant, this submission concluded that, as THORP will serve no overall useful purpose, there was no justification for the increased risk of radiation exposure that the public will receive from the plant. I also concluded, in a separate detailed examination of British Nuclear Fuel's economics of reprocessing at THORP, that there are no demonstrable overall economic or security benefits arising from THORP's operation which would justify it or balance out possible and likely risks to public health and environmental damage. In the submission I renewed my call on the UK authorities to hold a full, open and independent public inquiry, including an environmental impact assessment, to deal with the basic justification for operating the THORP plant in the circumstances now prevailing as well as the technical aspects of the revised discharge authorisations.

Copies of the full submission were made available to Members of the Oireachtas. Aside from the submission being sent to the Consultation Offices in Manchester, copies of the Government's document were sent to the UK Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr. John Gummer, MP, and Ms Gillian Shepherd, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Irish Embassies in London, Japan and Germany. Copies were also sent to our EU Commissioner, Mr. Pád-raig Flynn and to the EU Commissioners responsible for energy policy and nuclear safety matters, Commissioners Paleo-krasses and Matutes. All Irish MEPs were also provided with copies.

Our concerns about THORP were also raised at the EU Council, the Oslo-Paris Convention meeting in Berlin in June 1993, the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna in October 1993, the Consultative meeting of the London Dumping Convention in November 1993, the Board of Governors meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in December 1993 and in the EU Commission at the highest levels. A delegation from my Department and the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland also met officials from various British Government Departments and agencies in December under the Irish-UK contact group on nuclear safety matters. The Irish group restated its concerns about the environmental, health and other aspects of THORP.

Despite the Government's objections to the THORP plant set out in its two detailed submissions, the concerns expressed by the other European Environment Ministers and the large number of other objections received in the public consultation process, the UK Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr. John Gummer, MP announced in the House of Commons on 15 December 1993 his decision to allow commissioning of the THORP reprocessing plant at Sellafield in West Cumbria. The UK authorities had come to a judgment that there was a sufficient balance of advantage in favour of the operation of THORP and that the activities giving rise to radioactive discharges permitted by authorisations were justified.

On hearing this news, I immediately expressed the Government's deep regret at the British authorities' decision. I asked the Department of Foreign Affairs to convey, through the Ambassador in London, the Government's very strong views on the matter. The Government's views on the decision were delivered by the Ambassador to the Secretary of State for the Environment. I made it clear that the Government was particularly concerned that the British authorities had not acceded to the many requests made to them by this Government and numerous other interested parties for a full public inquiry into the wider issues related to the plant before a decision was taken authorising its commissioning. It is still the Government's view that a full, open inquiry in which all contentious issues could be subjected to vigorous and independent debate and close scrutiny is the only process which would command widespread public confidence. I know that Deputies from all parties would wish to be associated with the Government's feelings and fully support our efforts in this regard.

I particularly regret that the British authorities did not recognise at this stage the fundamental changes which have occurred in the nuclear industry since the seventies decision to build the THORP plant. Reprocessing is no longer seen as an essential and future strategic activity to safeguard further energy supplies. Indeed the role of the nuclear industry is now much diminished compared with what was envisaged at the time. The economics of reprocessing have fundamentally changed. Uranium is now in plentiful supply and prices are lower. More important, the extraction of plutonium then envisaged as the "fuel of the future" in a new chain of fast breeder reactors does not now have any meaningful role in the energy supply chain because of the technical and economic failure to develop the required technology. Instead, a growing stockpile of plutonium is a cause of increasing concern about its possible risks of causing nuclear weapon proliferation and possible terrorist uses. In addition, the intervening years have seen no progress in arriving at an acceptable solution to the safe long term storage and disposal of the growing volume of nuclear waste to which reprocessing gives rise.

One can only come to the conclusion that commissioning THORP is based on the narrow and unconvincing grounds of financial expediency and the viability of BNFL and retaining employment in the Cumbrian region. It is very regrettable that the UK Government did not see fit to conduct its review in open forum instead of behind closed doors and take a broad view of the present state and future prospects of the reprocessing industry. I would also say to the governmennts of those countries whose utilities have contracted to reprocess fuel at Sellafield that they are using the plant as a means of resolving their own waste handling problems rather than securing real economic benefits for energy security and supply.

I recently received a letter from Mr. John Gummer, MP, British Secretary of State for the Environment, regarding the decision taken jointly with the British Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to grant the discharge authorisations necessary for the go-ahead of THORP. That letter asserts that the decision was arrived at following long and detailed study of all the points raised in the consultation process. This repeats the British view that all national and international obligations have been met.

Let us be clear about some matters mentioned in the motion put down by Deputy Sargent. There is no evidence or proof in our consultation document that the UK has definitely breached any of its own laws or EURATOM legislation. Whether there are grounds for litigation is a matter for the Attorney General to advise on. In the document the Government called for a full, open and independent public inquiry to cover all relevant issues of dispute, including environment and health effects, basic principles of radiation protection, alternative spent fuel management options, nuclear weapons proliferation and the economics of the plant. We also said that it was proper to undertake an environmental impact assessment based on EC Directive 85/337/EEC dealing with the environmental effects of certain public projects. The point was made that if the construction of such a hazardous installation commenced today, it would be irresponsible not to hold an environmental impact assessment in our environmentally-conscious world. The Government also felt that the terms of a Paris Commission Recommendation, PARCOM 93/5, which was co-sponsored by Ireland and Denmark in June 1993 in Berlin should have been respected by the UK Government. Although such recommendations are non-binding on member states the Government considered it reasonable and legitimate that the recommendation should be respected in view of its adoption by a two-thirds majority of participants and commitments made by the UK Government through its membership of the Paris Commission, and given the concerns expressed by a majority of delegations about the radioactive waste emissions from the THORP plant into the maritime area covered by the Commission. Unfortunately, the terms of the recommendations were not agreed by the UK Government. It is my view that the credibility and authority of international bodies safeguarding the marine environment for the benefit of all will be damaged if the UK is selective about what it agrees to and does not fully recognise concerns about emissions of radioactive wastes.

I will turn now to the question of the need for an environmental impact assessment. While the scope of the 1977 Parker Public Inquiry was very wide-ranging and evidence was given on the then known effects of radioactivity on human health and the environment, no full or formal environmental impact assessment was ever carried out at the time nor has there been one since. THORP, of course, did not originally come within the timeframe of the EC Directive 85/337/EEC dealing with the environmental effects of certain public and private projects after the Parker Inquiry as approval for the construction of the plant was given in 1978. The public inquiry and the EC Directive did not take effect until 1988. It would, however, be irresponsible not to have an environmental impact assessment today on THORP if construction of the plant was to commence now.

The Government, therefore, considered that, given the huge scale and complexity of the plant, its potential impact on the marine and aerial environment, the lapse of time and knowledge of radiation hazards acquired since planning approval for the project was given in 1978, it would be appropriate to have an environmental impact assessment carried out on the basis of the EC Directive as part of a full public inquiry which we had also requested.

There are problems however, about basing any legal action on the fact that there has been no environmental impact assessment. As I already said, approval for the plant was given by the British authorities in 1978 while the EC Directive was not implemented in British law until ten years later. Secondly, but more unfortunately, under the provisions of the EC Directive on Environmental Impact Assessment, reprocessing plants are in a separate category from nuclear reactors. Nuclear reactors are positively subject to an environmental impact assessment. Reprocessing plants however are treated differently in the directive and there is freedom of action on the part of the UK as to whether such a plant is subject to an assessment. In this kind of situation, one would have expected British Nuclear Fuels to have acted responsibly. I consider it illogical to have different nuclear facilities in separate categories but, unfortunately, that is the situation.

This question of whether an impact assessment study in relation to the start-up authorisation is needed has been taken up by me with the EU Commission, with other interested bodies. The Commission still have the question under consideration and I am pressing it for an early decision.

At last week's meeting of the Oslo and Paris Conventions Working Group on Radioactive Discharges my officials called on the United Kingdom not to implement the new discharge authorisations at Sellafield until the provisions of the convention, and in particular its recommendation 93/5, have been observed fully.

The UK and France confirmed their reservations on this recommendation while Belgium lifted theirs. The Irish delegation drew attention to the issue of the new discharge authorisation from Sellafield in contravention of this recommendation. As a consequence it called upon the UK to accept fully all the provisions of the Parish Convention and its recommendations called upon the UK to conform with the provisions of PARCOM Recommendation 93/5. It proposed that a special meeting of the Paris Commission or of its Working Group on Radioactive Discharges or of another suitable group should be held to consider the matter and it also called on the UK not to permit the implementation of the new Sellafield discharge authorisation until the provisions of the Paris Convention, and in particular PARCOM Recommendation 93/5, had been observed fully. Denmark supported the Irish statement and the Netherlands urged both the UK and France to accept Recommendation 93/5.

The Oslo/Paris Convention seeks the progressive reduction and eventual elimination of discharges of radioactive substances in the marine environment. Recommendation 93/5, proposed by Ireland, is specifically concerned with increases in radioactive discharges from nuclear reprocessing plants such as THORP and requires prior consultation with the Paris Commission concerning the need for spent fuel reprocessing, the desirability of carrying out a full environmental impact assessment and the demonstration that best available technology and the precautionary principle will be applied to any planned radioactive discharges. So far the United Kingdom has declined to accept the recommendation. Nevertheless, I will continue to make full use of international conventions such as these to apply ongoing pressure on the British Government in respect of its radioactive discharges to the Irish sea. In line with the Oslo and Paris Convention we will seek to have all radioactive discharges from Sellafield and THORP progressively reduced and eventually eliminated.

There have been calls over the years from many interested organisations and individuals for the Government to take legal action to secure the closure of the Sellafield plant. The Department has, in consultation with the Attorney General's office, examined submissions from various interested organisations such as Greenpeace with regard to taking legal action against Sellafield. However, these submissions, have related solely to legal procedural possibilities which might be explored and do not put forward any possible case supported by facts or evidence. While the Government has always been and continues to be committed to legal action if a sufficient case for it can be shown to exist, it cannot initiate such action without a firm legal case based on sufficient evidence. Any such legal action would have to be based on scientific evidence as to the injurious effects of operations at the Sellafield plant on Ireland. No such evidence is as yet available.

At a High Court hearing in London on 13 January 1994, Greenpeace and Lancashire County Council were given leave for a judicial review into the United Kingdom Government's decision to allow THORP to proceed. The judicial review began on 7 February and concluded on 18 February. The applicants are challenging the decision of the United Kingdom Secretary of State for the Environment to grant the authorisations for THORP without a full and independent public inquiry being held. It should be stressed that this case is about the pursuance of the due legal process before authorisations were issued and it is not about action that would definitively stop operations at Sellafield. Senior officials of the Department were in attendance at the judicial review from the outset in an observer capacity on behalf of the Irish Government. It is expected that the decision on the review will be taken on about 4 March. The judgment will be carefully examined by my Department in consultation with the Attorney General's office.

A recent landmark judgment of the High Court in the United Kingdom highlights the difficulty in establishing a direct cause and effect link between the operation of Sellafield and damages or injuries to people. On 8 October 1993, the British High Court cleared British Nuclear Fuels of legal responsibility for the leukaemia of two children whose fathers worked at the Sellafield — formerly Windscale — plant more than 30 years ago. It was ruled that the scientific study on which the claimants based their case was unsupported by other studies and had shortcomings which reduced the confidence that could be placed in it.

There is no evidence to suggest that activities at the Sellafield plant are in breach of the relevant EURATOM directives and regulations. The Commission examined the implications of THORP and issued an Official Opinion on 30 April 1992 that the implementation of the plan for the disposal of radioactive waste from THORP is not liable, either in normal operation or in the case of a range of accident scenarios, to result in radioactive contamination, significant from the point of view of health, of the water, soil or airspace of another member state. Recently, the Commission stated it had taken the necessary steps to ensure conformity of the THORP plant with the EURATOM Treaty. The question of whether an impact assessment study in relation to the start-up authorisation is needed is currently still under consideration. In addition to the EURATOM Treaty, options for legal action which have been examined include possible action pursuant to the EEC Treaty, Directive 76/464/EEC — on pollution caused by certain dangerous substances discharged from land-based sources into the aquatic environment of the Community — the Law of the Sea, the Paris Convention, the London Dumping Convention, and action in the United Kingdom courts and in the International Court of Justice. However, these have all been confronted by the same obstacle — the lack of sufficient evidence.

The question of an appropriate forum for legal action would also have to be considered. To take action in the United Kingdom courts a specific breach of United Kingdom laws would have to be claimed and established by evidence. In any event, Greenpeace United Kingdom and Lancashire County Council are fully utilising any scope that exists under United Kingdom law. To take action in the European Courts, a breach of European law would have to be established in the face of the opinion of the European Commission of 30 April 1992 in respect of Article 37 of the Treaty and the recent statement by the Commission. Again the problem is the lack of evidence.

The voluminous documentation received from the UK Secretary of State following his announcement of THORP's go-ahead has being studied by officials of my Department and the Radiological Protection Institute in order to assess the rationale for granting the discharge authorisations and the details of the terms of those authorisations. Particular attention has been given to the effect of the Secretary of State's amendments to the originally proposed authorisations and the specific overall discharge limits now to be imposed. The House will be aware that the Government has pointed out in its submissions the glaring gap between what was originally proposed for discharges and what was possible using today's available technology and best operating practices. The effectiveness of measures requiring British Nuclear Fuels plc to report annually on further discharge reductions and on its forward research and development for krypton abatement technology will be carefully examined. Actual performance by BNFL in compliance with these discharge restrictions and other adjustments will be closely monitored.

Despite adjustments in the discharges, there is no doubt that the operation of the plant will increase the risk to the Irish people through radioactive discharges and possible accidents. In addition, there is considerable uncertainty as regards the ultimate means of disposal of the ever growing amount of waste accumulating at Sellafield. This waste on one site comes not only from United Kingdom nuclear activities but from those of many other countries also, and its final disposal in a permanently environmentally safe manner has not been resolved.

Because the THORP decision will inevitably increase the anxiety already felt by the public about Sellafield, I have also asked the institute to expand its programme of testing of levels of radioactive contamination of the marine and aerial environment and to monitor the levels of exposure to the Irish population to radiation arising from its start-up. Special equipment has recently been installed at the institute's laboratories to monitor atmospheric levels of krypton-85 gas which is the main contributor to the increase in atmospheric discharges resulting from THORP.

No increases due to THORP have been detected in our environment. I should reiterate that operations are only being commenced at THORP and that it will be some time before any impact might be detected on our environment. The institute has already estimated that in full operation, and assuming that discharges will be at the maximum authorised levels, the radiation dose to the most exposed member of the Irish public will be about 20 per cent greater from operations at Sellafield than at present. It will still represent no more than 0.2 per cent of a person's present total radiation dose from all sources of radiation, the great bulk of which are natural. However, this fact does not ease the fears of the public about THORP, particularly in view of the addition it will make to already large plutonium stockpiles, with the proliferation risk which this entails and also the shipment of radioactive waste through the Irish Sea and the accident risk associated with this.

The Government does not accept that the continuing loss of life and injury in Northern Ireland is a matter of less concern than THORP. These and all other issues are best resolved in the course of dialogue between friendly Governments. We may not always see eye to eye and agree on all issues, as is the case in relation to THORP, but it is wrong or mischievous to make non-existing connections or suggest that progress can be achieved in one at the expense of the other.

In case the impression may be put about that the Government was complacent about THORP, I emphatically reject any such suggestion. We have taken all the actions open to us and have pursued our case with vigour. There is no question of the Irish public being exposed immediately to high risks as a result of the start-up of THORP, but that there will be some increased risk from discharges and possible accidents, however small, is undeniable. What is strongly arguable — and this is the main basis for the Government's opposition to THORP — is that there is no demonstrable economic or social benefits which would justify these risks because the economic basis for reprocessing is unsound and the political and ultimately military and radiological risk of accumulating economically useless separated plutonium are unacceptable. In addition, there is no long term satisfactory solution to storing and disposing of the pile of waste which will inevitably accumulate at Sellafield.

The problem is therefore a long term one which requires continuing vigilance, continuing diplomatic and representational pressure, insistence on technical improvements to reduce risk, building a stronger international political climate and more effective instruments to make operations such as reprocessing and the actions of Government that authorise and regulate them more amenable to reason and common sense and to public accountability in its broadest sense. The Government will therefore maintain its complete opposition to nuclear operations at Sellafield and to any further expansion of the complex. The United Kingdom Secretary of State has already indicated that any court proceedings against the operation of THORP would be resisted vigorously and, in his view, a court could not but be impressed by the care and attention devoted to the process of arriving at the decision to proceed with THORP. The question as to what legal action the Irish Government could take now regarding the THORP plant is, of course, being kept under constant consideration and review. In consultation with the Attorney General the Government remains committed to maintaining diplomatic and international pressure on the British authorities and, if the opportunity arises to initiate appropriate legal action, if there is a sufficiently good chance that such proceedings would succeed.

I listened to the Minister with interest and will compare his contribution with the statements made by his party's spokespersons when in Opposition. The contrast is quite stark. Tonight's statement by a Government Minister is a most feeble effort——

Who wrote that?

I wrote my own speech. The statement is a complete cave-in to the pressures from the British Government. It is a climb down the like of which I have never seen in the ten years during which I raised the issue of Sellafield and Windscale. The former Deputy Gerard Brady and I were the first to raise this issue in the House when there was very little interest in Windscale. The same officials now tell us there is no evidence we can pursue through the European Court. The statements by the Minister are in direct contrast to what was said when Fianna Fáil was in Opposition.

Sellafield offered a target for Brit bashing and raised the hackles of the back-benchers at the appropriate time. The Government will not take legal action because it says it has no evidence. As a country which has nothing to gain but quite a lot to lose if there is an accident, we should make a strong and vigorous protest in international forums.

I went to Sellafield in 1983 and asked pertinent questions in relation to its operation. I was politely taken down the road to a dump which was called a treatment plant and shown low and medium radioactive waste exported from Ireland. It was made quite clear that we were dependent on them to dispose of some of our nuclear waste and the position has not changed.

As we do not have a waste management policy we depend on other countries to deal with our chemical, toxic and nuclear waste. As a result, we are totally compromised in our stance with the British Government on this issue. Instead of barking and biting in this House the Government should formulate a waste management policy. Industries with waste output have not located here because of the uncertainty in relation to the disposal of waste. A vacuum has been created by lack of policy in this area which has allowed a number of fringe groups to create unnecessary fears in relation to environmental issues although I distinguish between those and responsible environmental groups who have taken a correct stance. It is very easy to lash out about foreign issues that affect us but when it comes to getting our act together we are found wanting.

The proposed operation ignores our rights as a neighbouring nation to consultation on matters affecting the health and well-being of our people and environment. The risks associated with the development are avoidable and unnecessary. The lack of established waste disposal facilities for THORP in either the UK or in those countries receiving THORP waste constitutes a violation of the precautionary principle. As this development violates the principle of international relations between sovereign states and accepted principles of environmental prudence, it should not be permitted to proceed.

The majority of British nuclear installations — 12 in all — are located on the west coast facing Ireland. The west coast has one of Britain's lowest population concentrations while the east coast of Ireland has its highest population concentration. A significant proportion of the Irish economy is based directly or indirectly on sectors dependent on the natural environment — agriculture, tourism, food industries, fishing and forestry. For this reason we should be opposed to indefinite operation of nuclear installations in western Britain.

The first principle of the system of protection suggested by the International Committee on Radiological Protection states that: "No practice involving exposures to radiation should be adopted unless it produces a sufficient benefit to the exposed individuals or to society to offset the radiation detriment it causes".

Ireland is exposed to the risk of radiation hazard by the transportation, processing and storage of all radioactive material at nuclear installations on the west coast of Britain. This development will significantly increase the risk. There is no benefit to either the individuals or society exposed to this risk. Not only is this exposure to risk without benefit but it is without the consent or control of the citizens of Ireland. This is a significant interference in the right to national self-determination and represents a violation of national sovereignty.

The risks to which Ireland is exposed are avoidable because of the following factors. If nuclear installations are safe why are they all concentrated along the west coast? They could be evenly distrubuted throughout the UK closer to centres of population and consumption, thus avoiding a disporportionate share of risk exposure to the people of Ireland. Other forms of waste management generate less volumes of low and intermediate level wastes which require local disposal thereby increasing the avoidable hazard. Seventy per cent of the material reprocessed at THORP will originate overseas, thereby increasing exposure to avoidable hazard.

These factors must be further considered in the light of emerging issues which render the development unnecessary, namely, the cessation of "fast breeder" reactor programmes by customers and the falling demand and price for plutonium. The likelihood that these two factors, combined with Krypton 85 gas removal and decommissioning costs, will render the facility uneconomical. The precautionary principle holds that actions with unpredictable outcomes should not be undertaken.

Reprocessing at THORP will generate high volumes of low and intermediate level wastes which will require storage/disposal facilities. At present there is no long term waste management programme in place. The integrity of Nirex's planned repository for intermediate level waste is now being questioned by the UK Government's agencies.

Furthermore, while it is proposed that all high level wastes should be returned to the countries of origin, none of them has built storage plants for high level wastes. For these reasons alone the commissioning of THORP is premature.

I know that 25 per cent of all electricity in OECD countries is nuclear generated. This contributes to reductions in atmospheric emissions and nuclear power contributes to international stability by diversifying energy sources.

The advantages do not outweigh the virtually irreversible risks implicit in all aspects of the nuclear power industry. Commitments to further diversification of energy sources, complete with energy consumption management, can instead contribute significantly to these concerns. In general, a phased decrease in dependence on fission-based nuclear power must be achieved. The commissioning of THORP is a retrograde step in this process.

The Minister said he will put in place certain measures to study and investigate the incidence of disease in this country. Not only should that be done, there should be increasing support for research and development of diversified energy sources. We should contribute significantly to fission research and development and provide all monitoring of the Irish Sea on behalf of the European Union, on the effects of radioactivity in the marine environment. I still believe there should be an independent nuclear energy inspectorate in Europe because for too long we have had to take the British word after accidents. As the records show, Britain disclosed only what it had to because of public opinion.

This issue has grown from a non-political issue in the early 1980s to an intensive political issue today. I regret that all the talk and rhetoric from the Government in Opposition has come to nought because the Minister's contribution this evening is a complete climb down, giving in to the British Government and the heavily financed British nuclear fuels industry.

Since I came to this House in 1981, no subject has received more attention, nor has there been more manifestation of opposition to it, than the subject matter of Sellafield. As my colleague said, all these manifestations of opposition appear to have come to nought even though the Government outlined and clearly indicated its outright opposition. Towards the end of his contribution the Minister indicated that the Government will continue to oppose the extension of activities in Sellafield. If we take the success of its opposition to date it would have been almost better not to oppose because it had the opposite effect.

The issue of health and safety of people on this side of the Irish Sea was referred to by a number of speakers. In view of agreement in the House on the possible risks I cannot understand the reason there has not been sufficient penetration of the armour on the other side of the Irish Sea in impressing on that Government that this matter is of serious concern to our people. It concerns our health, welfare and safety although the threat of legal action does not appear to impress those on the other side of the Irish Sea.

Undoubtedly, this country is in dire need of a proper waste management plan. It behoves the Government to focus its combined attention on that area because there is no sense in producing nuclear waste and hoping that somebody will take it to the other side of the Irish Sea for reprocessing. Another aspect is the danger of an accident in the short term. While British Nuclear Fuels has over several years put in place various safety measures which it claims will guarantee, as far as possible, against accidents, there is no absolute fail safe system. The law of averages says there could be a serious accident and if one occurs, there will be a serious problem on this side of the Irish Sea.

Every time British Nuclear Fuels issues a press release it states it has reduced, by a considerable amount, the degree of possible pollution or discharges with obvious benefits to those who live here, particularly those on the east coast. In a press release, dated 21 February 1994, David Coulston, director of health and safety said:

BNFL is fully committed to continuing to minimise the impact of operations on the environment. Discharges of the significant nuclides have been reduced to 1 per cent of the peak levels of the 1970s.

That is an amazing statement because if British Nuclear Fuels is now saying that 1 per cent of the significant levels of the 1970s have been achieved why did they tell us in the early 1980s that there was no danger and that comparisons could be made in relation to radioactivity in a host of other areas which were completely harmless? If that is the case why did British Nuclear Fuels recently spend £600 million modernising safety standards at their plants? If we accepted the reassurances in the late 1970s and early 1980s what was the necessity for the expense if there was not an ongoing problem? The consequences of an accident in the short term would have long-term effects on the health and safety of people here, particularly those on the east coast. Despite the Government's protestations it has not sufficiently impressed on British Nuclear Fuels and/or the British Government the seriousness with which it has gone about its business. If it had gone about its business in a serious fashion I have no doubt its views would have been taken on board and there would be an indication of a scaling down of activity. We could then have said that the Government has taken on board the fears expressed by the Irish people and sufficiently impressed on its counterparts on the other side of the Irish Sea its sincerity and determination.

The question of ongoing discharges was referred to by other speakers. Notwithstanding modifications to the plant in the past, all of which were stated to be state of the art in terms of improving the position from our point of view, why have they not been able to tell us there is no risk? Nobody ever said that and nobody can claim it. I fully recognise that the Sellafield site is of considerable economic value on the other side of the Irish Sea. We must also impress on our friends there that the price is too high for that kind of economic activity. If the Government is serious about what it says now— and about what it said when in Opposition in the early 1980s — why has it not been successful in getting across to its counterparts and ultimately to British Nuclear Fuels the full extent of its fears and its intention to protect the health, welfare and safety of the people on this side of the Irish Sea?

Debate adjourned.