I propose to take Questions Nos. 19 and 25 together.
I refer the Deputies to my answers to Questions Nos. 580 and 583 of 22 January 1997. I am not aware of radioactive waste being discharged into the Irish Sea in an experimental fashion. However, routine discharges by BNFL are authorised by the United Kingdom's Environment Agency and are permitted under its relevant national legislation.
Revised discharge authorisations for the Sellafield site, agreed in 1993 by the UK's Inspector of Pollution and the Ministry for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, came into effect in 1994 and provided for the operation of the new THORP reprocessing plant and the enhanced actinide removal plant known as EARP. As a result of the coming on stream of these plants steep increases in the level of radioactive technetium 99 in the Irish Sea have been detected.
Arising from this, I wrote to the relevant UK Ministers expressing my concerns and requested that they use powers available to them to order the immediate and complete cessation of the discharge of technetium 99 from Sellafield into the Irish Sea. In addition, I have also written to the European Commissioner responsible for nuclear safety, Ritt Bjerregaard.
The necessary preparations have been made to have the question of radioactive discharges from Sellafield raised again at a meeting later this year of the Commission for the Protection of the Environment of the North East Atlantic established under the Paris and Oslo Conventions dealing with the prevention of marine pollution.
Ireland has also requested the Oslo-Paris Commission and the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to undertake a thorough technical review and assessment of both the reprocessing and non-reprocessing options for spent fuel management as well as their impact on radioactive discharges into the marine environment. To this end, Ireland has made a voluntary financial contribution to the NEA to fund such a study.
At a meeting with the British Ambassador in my office last Friday, I expressly requested that the concerns of the Government and public in general on radioactive discharges from Sellafield into the Irish Sea be conveyed directly to the British Government. I assure the House that I will persist in vigorously pressing the Government's case against Sellafield.