Private Members' Business. - Sellafield Nuclear Plants: Motion (Resumed).
The following motion was moved by Deputy Stagg on Tuesday, 23 October 2001:
That Dáil Éireann:
–concerned at the continuing and increased threat to the health and safety of Irish citizens posed by the Sellafield nuclear plant in Britain and conscious, in particular, of the increased danger of a terrorist attack on the complex or on shipments of nuclear materials passing through the Irish Sea which would have a devastating impact in this country;
–conscious of the long history of covered up accidents and mishaps which have been a feature of the history of the Sellafield complex and distrustful of BNFL's capacity to be open, honest and competent, in the light of its past record;
–condemns the decision of the British authorities to sanction the commissioning of the MOX plant at Sellafield;
–deplores the failure of the Government to take assertive preventative action to block the commissioning of the MOX plant;
–deplores, in particular:
(a)the disbandment of the team of scientific and legal experts, established by the previous Government, following their success in blocking the planned underground nuclear dump;
(b)the downgrading and inactivity of the inter-ministerial working party on Sellafield; and demands:
(i)that the Government now take immediate legal action with a view to injuncting the British Government and BNFL from proceeding with the MOX plant;
(ii)that further legal action be taken under the EURATOM Treaty at European Court level;
(iii)that additional action be considered under the OSPAR Convention and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea;
(iv)that the Government mount an immediate diplomatic offensive against the MOX plant and seek the support of other member states of the OSPAR Convention which share our concerns about Sellafield;
(v)that the Government convene an international conference of other concerned countries, environmental groups and concerned local authorities on both sides of the Irish sea to co-ordinate efforts to block the opening of the MOX plant;
(vi)that the Government seek to have established a Council of the Irish Sea, with representatives from the Oireachtas and from the Assemblies of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man to monitor and review all aspects of development and the conservation of the marine environment of the Irish Sea;
(vii)that the Government upgrade the inter-Ministerial working group, which should be chaired by the Taoiseach, and provided with all possible scientific and legal expertise;
(viii)that the Government insist on the right to station Irish inspectors permanently at the plant to monitor controls and to independently report any incidents or accidents;
(ix)that the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland be given whatever resources that are required to enable it to effectively monitor the environmental and health impact of the ongoing radioactive pollution of the air, sea and land from Sellafield emissions; and
(x)that the Government commission and publish an assessment of the likely impact of an accidental explosion or attack on Sellafield and initiate a programme to alert the public to the dangers and advise IT of the safety procedures to be taken in the event of a nuclear incident at Sellafield.
Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
"concerned at the continuing and increased threat to the health and safety of Irish citizens posed by the Sellafield nuclear plant in Britain and conscious, in particular of the increased danger of a terrorist attack on the plant or on shipments of nuclear materials passing through the Irish Sea:
–notes the long and unsatisfactory history of accidents and incidents at the Sellafield plant;
–endorses the Government's condemnation of the recent decision to sanction the commissioning of the Sellafield mixed oxide fuel fabrication plant;
–supports the action being taken by the Government, including legal action initiated by the Government against the UK Government under the OSPAR Convention to prevent the commissioning of the MOX plant;
–notes that the Government is finalising consideration of further legal action against the UK Government in regard to the MOX plant under the EU and EURATOM Treaties and under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea;
–notes the strong representations made by the Government to the UK Government and at the OSPAR Commission against the proposed commissioning of the MOX plant;
–notes that radioactive waste from Sellafield is one of the areas identified for consideration in the work of the British-Irish Council Environment Sectoral Group;
–endorses the work being carried out by the Ministerial Committee on Nuclear Safety which comprises ministerial representation from the key Government Departments, the Attorney General's office and representation from the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) and which gives added impetus to the Government campaign against Sellafield;
–notes that the RPII continues to maintain contact with the UK nuclear installations inspectorate with regard to safety standards at the Sellafield plant;
–notes the effective role being carried out by the RPII in monitoring radioactivity contamination of the marine, air and terrestrial environment;
–notes that the potential consequences for Ireland of a terrorist attack on the Sellafield plant would be of the same nature as that of a major accident at the plant and that the Irish Government has in place a national emergency plan for nuclear accidents to ensure a rapid, co-ordinated and effective response to such an accident or disaster at Sellafield or elsewhere; and
–notes that the Government will shortly be publishing an updated version of the national emergency plan for nuclear accidents, reflecting improvements made to the plan in recent years, and that a summary of the plan will be circulated also to every household."
–(Minister of State at the Department of Public
Enterprise, Deputy Jacob)
I wish to share my time with Deputies Neville and McGahon. I agree with the broad thrust of the motion. However, I remember we debated the same topic a few years ago. I was elected in 1997, but Sellafield, or Windscale as it was, has existed for decades. Have we used this issue as a political football? What can we do? There is much rhetoric about it. It is strange that we heard how the Irish and British Governments were in consultation over the IRA decommissioning issue, but on this issue we are discussing taking them to court. I know that the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, has done much hard work in recent years. It was said that the Government reneged on its support of him, but I know that he is capable of doing the job.
Are all political parties being honest with the people? I do not know what we can do. There are fine suggestions in the motion, such as the reconstitution of the team of scientific and legal experts. It deplores the downgrading and inactivity of the inter-ministerial working party. These must be examined, but we must consider what we could do if there were a catastrophe similar to 11 September, as has been said. Do we have an early warning system?
Is the country willing to properly fund protective measures? I am familiar with the Civil Defence's equipment and believe that there was never the will to put a proper defensive system in place. If the public are willing to pay for it, then let us do it. If not, then let us remain as we are and be honest about it. We should check with our colleagues in Britain on the current security arrangements at Sellafield which they say they can deal with through interceptor aircraft or anti-aircraft missiles.
The nuclear reactor plant at Sellafield is a time bomb waiting to go off. The British Government's decision to commission the MOX fuel production plant is contemptible given the view of successive Irish Governments and especially of the potential danger it poses to this State. It is obvious that Britain has no interest in our views. Our attempts to influence Britain were ineffective and a waste of time. This must change and the Government must change its softly softly approach of the past four years. Tonight we have the same language. We have threats and attempts to talk tough. The Minister of State said last night that he would not be deterred. Britain is not listening and the result is that Sellafied, with its attendant dangers, is not closed down and the MOX plant is proceeding. I call on the Taoiseach to tap into his special relationship with the British Prime Minister and inform him of our concerns, the dangers and the fears we have about the destruction of most of the State as a result of an accident at Sellafield.
The campaign to close it down has fallen on deaf ears. and is constantly and contemptuously rebuffed. Britain sees this as an economic issue. BNFL is one of the biggest such operations in the world with an annual turnover of £2.5 billion and an annual profit of £250 million. It is obviously an extremely efficient commercial operation employing 16,000 in Britain and 20,000 worldwide. The Irish people's concern and our health and environmental issues, as well as those of part of Britain, are of secondary importance to this massive money making operation which produces cheap electricity for the British economy. We live under the threat of an accident at Sellafield and have sustained a torrent of lies from Britain about leaks. We have no confidence in any British assurance and are horrified at the falsification of data on the trade with Japan which led to that Government breaking its contract with Sellafield. Whether an accident or a terrorist attack, an explosion at Sellafield would cause massive fallout, terrible loss of life and unbelievable suffering, both short and long-term for the Irish people.
As a resident of County Louth, I express once again in this chamber the concern and fear that people in that county have of Sella field. We have the highest rates of cancer and leukaemia in the country, an unhappy statistic we share with south County Down. Every County Louth person feels menaced by Sellafield, just across the Irish Sea.
I am cynical and see it being used as a political football. If this Government leaves office, the issue will reappear on the political agenda in a few months and many of the arguments we make here tonight will be used by Fianna Fáil.
On this issue, let us be honest with the public, an ingredient sadly missing from public life today. Any Irish Government, whether led by Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, is powerless to do anything.
Why did the Deputy not do it when he was a Minister?
We stopped the NIREX plant.
The Deputy did not close Sellafield down.
This should be above politics. We should have a consensus. It is too serious. we should not con the public. The Government is now taking the correct measures in bringing it to the International Court of Justice.
It is about time, but we did not do it when we were in Government. The issue is too serious for political posturing.
I was concerned for a moment that my constituency colleagues would be at loggerheads on this issue. In general terms, it is reasonable to say a broad political consensus is emerging on the serious hazard that arises from the presence of the Sellafield plant in close proximity to the east coast. In regard to the events of 11 September in America where terrorists crashed planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon building, there are few on the face of the planet who realistically thought that was something that might happen. However, it did and the result was the death of thousands of people in horrific circumstances. The events of 11 September and their impact on thinking in different places have been cited a few times dur ing this debate. Those events have heightened the awareness of the hazards involved with Sellafield.
Let us consider what might happen and the horrific circumstances we would face, particularly on the east coast if a similar terrorist attack were to be launched on the Sellafield plant. Imagine trying to evacuate the towns of Dundalk and Drogheda, the city of Dublin, and the towns and villages along the east coast and probably further afield into the midlands.
We have had the unfortunate experience of Chernobyl, the fall-out from it and the implications for populations far removed from that plant.
The reality is that the British Government is acting like the neighbours from hell on this issue. It is adopting the approach that Sellafield is part and parcel of the infrastructure of its economy and the hazards inherently involved in its location for the people of Ireland appear far down its list of priorities.
The time has come when the issue will have to be taken much more seriously. I am pleased the Government has decided to initiate serious court proceedings about it. Since the issue has been taken up we have to go after it through every fora and every platform. There is no doubt that if it is allowed to expand, as the British Government proposes with the MOX development, there will be an increased danger and hazard on our doorstep.
We will dust down and update the national emergency plan but the question arises as to how effective that emergency plan would be in the catastrophe we would face in the event of a serious accident at Sellafield. There are regular reports of minor accidents which are talked down. If there are minor accidents there can be more serious accidents, the implications of which are very serious.
Due to the enhanced economic significance of the nuclear industry in other member states I am concerned that we as a non-nuclear State have a reduced voice in the fora that discusses these issues throughout Europe. The French and others would probably broadly support the British position because they have a nuclear industry to think of and are looking at its relative importance to their position. We do not have such an industry here and there is a strong view among our population that Sellafield should not be on our doorstep either.
If we can get the political consensus from this debate to accelerate the Government's efforts to have Sellafield closed that is what we should do because the price, the hazards and the dangers involved are too serious to contemplate for a population which is only 50 or 60 miles away from that plant.
I spoke last weekend at a conference in London organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. In that speech I was highly critical of the Government on its for eign policy, the Nice Treaty, neutrality and the war in Afghanistan. When I turned to the issue of Sellafield I felt it was right to concur with the Taoiseach's strong statement when he said he was appalled at the decision of the British Government, announced in the most underhand way, to authorise a MOX plant at Sellafield. Now is the time for Irish people to speak with one voice on this vital issue.
The plant at Sellafield is a threat to the very existence of the Irish people. A major accident at the plant would cause such devastation on this island that the future of human society here would be in doubt. Huge swathes of Britain would be similarly affected. This grim reality must be the basis of our approach to the campaign to close Sellafield.
Successive Irish Governments, including this one, have not done enough to fight Sellafield diplomatically, politically and legally. All parties who participated in governments share that responsibility but now is not the time for recriminations about past failures. We must have maximum unity around the demand of the Irish people for the complete closure of this death plant, this potential Chernobyl on our doorstep.
I agree with most of the Labour Party motion, in particular its demands for further action from the Government but, with respect, the Labour Party has missed a golden opportunity to unite the House around a motion that all could endorse. The Government would not ever have supported a motion which included sections deploring its actions. I note in passing that the Labour motion speaks of Irish inspectors being stationed permanently at the plant. There should be nothing permanent about Sellafield, it should just go.
It is a rare moment, but I agree with Deputy McGahon when he urges a consensus approach. We need all parties and all Members of this House to come together in a unanimous commitment to comprehensive action by the Government and a united demand on behalf of the Irish people to the British Government for the closure of Sellafield.
I have this evening, written to the Leaders of all parties and to the Independent members in the House seeking such a consensus for united action. I feel so strongly on this point that I am willing to support the Government amendment in a practical demonstration of my commitment to a united approach. Now is the time for united purpose and united action. It is not the time for party political point scoring. It may give us short-term satisfaction and marginal electoral advantage to have a go at the Administration for not doing enough but in this crisis it only serves to dissipate vital energy which must be used to campaign to get the MOX plant stopped and to get Sellafield closed.
Discussions between the parties and the drafting of a motion could have achieved a unanimous vote. We must seek to achieve that in the time ahead so that the message goes out to the world that there is total unanimity against Sellafield and behind a forceful campaign for its closure.
When he approved the decision to open a MOX plant at Sellafield earlier this month, the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was guilty of an act of bad faith and disregard for the Irish people on a par with anything done by his predecessors in the long and sorry history of Anglo Irish relations. Many in this House have scorned Sinn Féin when we have pointed out the delays, the failures and the bad faith of the British Government at various stages of the peace process. At the root of that bad faith is the historic disregard for the Irish people which still persists among large sections of official Britain. Nowhere is that better illustrated than in their contempt for Irish opinion on Sellafield. However, the British Government also displays a disregard for its own people. What a sad indictment of the Labour Government that it must advance the argument about the employment of the workforce in Sellafield in order to defend the plant. Does it regard the health and the very lives of the workers at Sellafield and their families as less precious than their numerical strength as a workforce when the local and national employment figures are tallied? If the British Labour Party had been true to its best traditions it would have had a plan in place even before it came into office after Major's Government to close this plant and establish sustainable employment for its workers.
This grave and imminent danger to all our lives requires unprecedented action. We should establish in the Oireachtas an all-party action committee to forge a united and effective approach. The party leaders in this House and, if possible, those in the Assembly in the Six Counties should come together at the earliest opportunity, in a very public way, to lead the campaign for closure. Governments are usually very reluctant to engage in overt political campaigning which includes public protests and demonstrations. They are even more reluctant to support and participate in such campaigns in the jurisdictions of other states. However, now is not the time for diplomatic niceties. I would urge a mass public campaign in both Ireland and Britain, spearheaded by the Irish Government and Irish political parties and mobilising people power to have this plant shut down. We must deploy every possible method in this campaign, diplomatic, legal and political. We need to mobilise the wide support the closure demand enjoys within Britain itself.
I wish the Government well in its legal action but it cannot and must not rely solely on this approach. Political pressure at national and international level and the deployment of people power is what will close Sellafield. Let us maximise the pressure, let us send out the demand, loud and clear, to the British Government to decommission its deadly nuclear industry now.
I welcome the opportunity to speak about an issue which has been of interest to me in recent years. I am pleased it is again being debated in this House as it deserves attention.
This should not be a party political issue. Sellafield has always been a matter of grave public concern, but successive Governments have failed to secure its closure despite the fact that this aim has appeared on many election manifestos. I am sure this issue will be dusted off once more in the coming months with greater urgency, particularly in light of the events of 11 September.
I have had the pleasure of visiting Sellafield in the past and while I was there I visited the THORP nuclear reprocessing plant. This plant takes waste from 30 nuclear reactors located in nine countries worldwide and reprocesses it. In other words, it takes spent nuclear waste from across the world and brings it to Ireland's doorstep, all in the interests of making a profit.
The safety record of British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. is dreadful. It has a litany of cover-ups to its name and yet it seems to continue to thrive. BNFL is a profit-making company which has a very close relationship with the British Government, the very organ of state responsible for policing it. It has the full support of the British Government and advises it on how it should respond to Irish concerns. It has advised the British Government in the past that it should be assertive and not appear to justify or apologise for the UK nuclear industry. It has its own set of rules on how to deal with Irish people. BNFL even tells the British Government which Minister should respond to letters from Ireland, suggesting that a lower ranking Minister should reply to us lowly Independents. It has worded responses for Ministers of the British Government which, to a degree, that Administration has accepted word for word. All of these documents were uncovered and featured on Channel 4's "Dispatches" programme.
This is not a healthy relationship between a government and a profit-making company in anybody's language, particularly a company that has been guilty of successive cover-ups. In another leaked memo, the company admitted that it was not complying with guidelines which govern the reporting of incidents. It admitted that it was doing less than it was required to do. However, what is worse is that the British Government's Department of Trade and Industry's view at that time was that it should let sleeping dogs lie. Again, those responsible for policing this facility knew that BNFL was not complying with an agreement on incident reporting. However, instead of taking action against the company it advised that nothing should be done.
In almost every case, BNFL has had to admit wrongdoing only after it was caught red-handed. This company should not be left in charge of a nuclear facility. British Nuclear Fuels has treated the concerns of Irish people in an arrogant and dismissive manner. Its actions have been condoned by the British Government, which has now rewarded it by allowing it to extend the MOX facility at Sellafield. This is not the first occasion on which the British Government has partici pated in a cover-up. One need only refer to the Beaufort Dyke arms issue in that regard. We have been let down by the British Government, Europe and successive Irish Administrations, which failed to take legal action until now. If we had half the courage and conviction of the Dundalk residents' group, which fought BNFL when nobody else was willing to do so, things could be very different today.
Much has been made in recent weeks of accident and emergency plans in the event of a plane crashing into Sellafield. However, not much attention has been given to the rooms full of research on the effects of low levels of radiation on people's health. Research has been carried out by Irish scientists such as Carmel Mothersill who claims a link between genomic instability and low levels of ionising radiation. The results of this research have been confirmed by the Harvard School of Public Health and other renowned institutions such as the University of California.
Despite these concerns and this research, BNFL still ships nuclear fuel via the Irish Sea and along the coast from the port of Barrow to the THORP nuclear reprocessing plant. It is stored and monitored at Sellafield where it is eventually reprocessed. The result of this reprocessing is that radioactive materials are emitted into Irish air and into the Irish Sea. This may not be as dramatic as a terrorist attack but it is more than likely still detrimental to the health of residents, albeit more slowly and in an ongoing, unseen and unchecked way.
BNFL is actively pursuing as many contracts as possible. There is only one other comparable facility in the region which is located in France, so it stands to reason that BNFL will increase its business and continue to thrive. At present, Tony Blair is falling over himself to hold hands with George Bush and is pontificating about respect and tolerance between nations. He should apply these ideals to the relationship between his country and that of his immediate neighbours, all of whom have signed up to the OSPAR Convention. He has conveniently ignored his obligations under this convention and he cannot be allowed to continue to do so.
I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, on his hard work in this area. Unfortunately, the only attention he has received has been when things go wrong. However, I am aware that he has worked extremely hard on this issue. The time to reason with the British Government is long gone because it is clear that the Administration in question is not impartial. Legal action is long overdue and it is the only way to resolve this matter, once and for all.
For many years Sellafield has posed the most serious threat to public health and environmental well-being in Ireland and that threat has been allowed to remain in existence for far too long. The Government's position remains unchanged. We demand that Sellafield be shut down and we will not cease our campaign until it is closed, once and for all.
I am appalled and angered by the decision of the UK Government to proceed with the MOX plant. At a time of international stress following the events of 11 September, one would presume that the UK Government would be concentrating on dealing with the threat to Britain's safety and security. Instead, it made the appalling decision to allow the expansion of this potentially deadly plant. If the British Government believes that its decision will go unnoticed or that it will pale into insignificance in comparison with the current international crisis, it is very much mistaken. This decision is significant to the Irish people and the Government will continue to fight it.
On numerous occasions we have expressed our firm opposition to the opening of the MOX plant. We have provided the UK Government with detailed responses to the five consultations carried out in respect of the plant. We have initiated legal action against the UK under the OSPAR Convention. We are currently finalising consideration of further legal options against the UK under EU law, the EURATOM Treaty and the EU Treaty. If our concerns are not taken on board by the UK Government we will continue to take legal action to the fullest extent of international law. To claim this Government has done nothing is a nonsense. It is clear that the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, has been relentless in his fight against Sellafield and the commissioning of the MOX plant. I commend his unyielding efforts. I was delighted to hear Deputy Fox give an Independent view of the Minister of State's view and commend him.
That is an Independent view?
It is essential that the House support this motion. For far too long the Irish Sea has been used as a dumping ground for Sellafield. The opening of the MOX plant will only add to this horrendous pollution, which continues to pose a threat to our public health, environment and industries such as fishing, agriculture and tourism. It is not acceptable for the Irish Sea to be used as a sewerage service for the Sellafield plant.
The biggest fear of the Government and the public is of an accident at the site. Until recently the likelihood of this fear becoming a reality was quite slim if one listened to the British side. However, due to the events of last month, it is now imperative that the capacity of those nuclear plants to withstand similar terrorist attacks is seriously examined. A major accident in this plant would affect the whole of Ireland, including my county of Cork. We must stand together in our campaign to shut the MOX plant and eventually the Sellafield plant once and for all. It will not do to use this serious matter as a ploy to gain political points. It is essential to take swift action in our fight against the opening of the MOX plant and there is no time here for bickering and scoring points. That is why I am asking the Opposition to support the Government amendment. We cannot and will not allow this issue to rest. It is the Government's aim to prevent the opening of the MOX plant and to close Sellafield once and for all. We will not cease in our fight against this nuclear monstrosity until it is won.
I commend all the organisations involved in caring for the victims of Chernobyl. That nuclear tragedy was the worst the world has ever experienced and is a reminder to all of us of the devastation and destruction a nuclear accident can cause due to radioactive material escaping into the atmosphere. A whole generation of children has been born in Belarus with serious defects in their immune systems or with limbs missing and other deformities. That is the tragedy of nuclear fallout caused by human error. Voluntary groups in Ireland have done much to bring happiness to those children, with trips to Ireland, hospital care and operations. I thank the thousands who have contributed to the mercy missions to Belarus and other areas, providing food, clothes, ambulances, workers and specialists. They have all been part of the convoys of help which have gone to the affected areas over the past ten years. On behalf of all Members I salute those who have been involved in the voluntary effort, which is wonderful.
I have attended a number of functions in Cork for the Chernobyl Children's Project. Adi Roche is a Labour Party member and was at its conference but I salute her for the work she has done on behalf of the children of Chernobyl. A number of groups has formed as a result of her pioneering work and it is tremendous to see so many groups around the country involved in such work. I pay particular tribute to hospital staff who are involved in lifesaving operations for children who have suffered as a result of this fallout. The Mercy Hospital, Cork, has played a role, as has University College Hospital, St. Mary's Orthopaedic Hospital and the South Infirmary.
More importantly, people have adopted children from Belarus who are not 100% physically. There is tremendous credit due to any adoptive parent who would show such love to children who so desperately need to be brought up in an environment where they can have some peace and happiness in their lives.
I am glad to support this motion. I wish to share my time with Deputies Wall, Bell, Upton, McManus and Rabbitte. This motion is timely, comprehensive and deserves the full support of the House.
I issued a statement about the threat posed by Sellafield a week ago. When I made that statement I had not seen a copy of a report prepared for the Committee of Petitions of the European Parliament, the so-called STOA Project Report, which gives even more cause for alarm. The Committee of Petitions undertook its study of Sella field and of another reprocessing installation in Cap La Hague in France following concerns about these installations expressed to the committee by Dr. W. Nachtwey.
The committee investigated Dr. Nachtwey's petition over a six-year period and reached several alarming conclusions. In particular, the committee concluded that the UK and France have not complied with Article 34 of the EURATOM Treaty which grants control rights to the European Commission for the verification of operation and efficiency of monitoring equipment at nuclear facilities. The UK and France have never requested the European Commission's opinion under Article 34 concerning any of their activities at Sellafield and Cap La Hague.
Another conclusion was that the European Commission spends little by way of manpower resources on the evaluation of nuclear projects. It has expended two person months on the evaluation of reprocessing plants, which is a scandal.
The OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, to which the European Commission is a contracting party, is of particular relevance to reprocessing activities such as are carried out at Sellafield. Increased releases of key radionuclides from Sellafield in the late 1990s and expected future discharges are inconsistent with obligations under the OSPAR Convention.
The hazard potential of liquid high-level wastes from Sellafield is very high. A serious accident might lead to large releases of radioactivity and in the long-term to over one million fatal cancer cases globally, which is a frightening statistic. The conclusion of this significant report states the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel at Sellafield and Cap La Hague leads to the largest man-made releases of radioactivity into the environment worldwide. Accidental releases from Sellafield and Cap La Hague could be two orders of magnitude larger than in the case of the Chernobyl disaster, which was referred to earlier, and could lead globally over the long-term in both cases to over 1 million fatal cancers. Those are significant scientific facts in a very comprehensive report and I hope they can be taken as a basis by the Government in initiating legal action to deal with this.
It is not intended in disseminating these facts and opinions to alarm people on the dangers which Sellafield represents, as people are already acutely aware of it. Several people in my constituency, which is inland, have spoken to me recently of their concerns about Sellafield but it is essential that responsible public representatives, and even more so the Government of the day, should address these issues and take the actions necessary to allay public concern and to have these facilities brought under control and closed. In that regard, it is regrettable that Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats have decided to divide this House on an issue which should have the support of every Member.
We should be fully aware of the hazards that Sellafield represents to Ireland, not just to the east coast but to the whole country, which I am sure the Minister of State recognises.. As someone closely associated with the farming community I know that an incident at Sellafield has the capacity to devastate Irish agriculture and lay waste thousands of working farms. One only needs to look at the wasteland that surrounds the Chernobyl nuclear facility to imagine the destruction to our environment and agricultural economy that Sellafield could cause.
Our motion is not divisive and does not seek to score political points, despite what other speakers have said. It rightly highlights the inertia that has characterised this Government's so-called campaign against Sellafield and, most importantly, outlines a ten point action plan that would harness our legal, diplomatic and political campaign against Sellafield. It is a multipronged approach and should be welcomed as such.
It is also essential that the European Commission should take seriously its responsibility in this area. Its activities and role in, say, the area of competition are as nothing compared to the importance of the threat represented by nuclear reprocessing. That two of the larger member states, France and Britain, are remiss in addressing their responsibilities in this area should not deter the Commission from confronting the issues involved here.
I urge the European Commission to start, even if belatedly, to assume its responsibilities for this situation. It might start applying resources to bringing its knowledge of this situation up to date as a precursor to taking firm action to protect all the peoples of the European Union, irrespective of whatever vested interests have to be tackled in following that through.
The Labour Party has put down this motion for the House out of a genuine concern which many inside and outside this House feel about the threat that the nuclear re-processing plant at Sellafield presents to the health and safety of people in Ireland and in England, and to all the peoples of the European Union.
There has been widespread public comment on this issue within the past week or two arising from the final report of the Committee of Petitions of the European Parliament on the Nuclear Reprocessing Plants at Sellafield and at La Hague in France. This alarming report reinforces the views which the Labour Party has held consistently over the years where Sellafield is concerned. Those views might best be encapsulated in the idea that Sellafield is unsafe at any speed.
Years ago what we now know as Sellafield was known as Windscale. When it was Windscale there was a serious nuclear accident on the site which was known at the time and has been referred to subsequently as the Windscale incident. When the reputation of Windscale had declined over time to notoriety because of failures or inadequacies of control with multiple inci dents, it was thought best by the British to change the name of the plant to Sellafield. However, the failures, the inadequacies and the incidents have continued, despite the protestations to the contrary of BNFL or its claim that the authors of the Committee of Petition's report are biased.
The media has picked up on the nightmare scenario which would follow if an aeroplane were to accidentally or deliberately impact the storage tanks in Sellafield. That would precipitate a disaster, but the greater danger derives from an accident or explosion taking place at Sellafield due to human error.
Over the years BNFL has claimed that Sellafield is safe. Sellafield was built by human beings and is subject to the flaws and failings that characterise every human activity. To say that Sellafield is safe is like saying that to drive from Dublin to Athy is safe. Notwithstanding years of road safety campaigns, there are still horrifying accidents on our roads every day. Sellafield is, likewise, subject to human failings, be they design or technical flaws, errors of judgment, errors due to fatigue, etc. While an accident arising from human error by someone driving to Athy could be serious, however, a serious accident such as an explosion at Sellafield could have catastrophic consequences which could prevail for years and affect huge numbers of innocent victims. That is the feature of Sellafield which strikes terror among the people at large.
Another aspect which disturbs people about Sellafield is the insensitivity of successive British Governments to Irish feelings about the nuclear reprocessing plant and the danger it represents as viewed from this side of the Irish Sea. This matter should be addressed urgently by the Government as a major Anglo-Irish issue which can and should be dealt with between neighbouring countries who are both member states of the European Union. Surely one of the advantages of our membership of the EU is the regular contact which takes place at intergovernmental level? Can the Government, in the context of this contact, not convince our British colleagues of how seriously this situation is viewed by people in Ireland and that action needs to be taken to address our concerns?
Reprocessing plants such as those at Sellafield and La Hague should be closed. I also want to see the other nuclear power plants in the UK and in the other member states brought under much tighter European control and inspection.
It is shocking to discover from the Committee of Petition's report on Sellafield that the European Commission, which has statutory responsibility under the EURATOM Treaty and is a legal contracting party to the OSPAR Convention, has been utterly deficient in discharging its responsibility where reprocessing plants are concerned.
I congratulate the European Parliament and, specifically, its Committee on Petitions for highlighting the shortcomings in this area. I urge them to carry through on this and ensure that sufficient resources are put in place by the European Com mission to guarantee the protection of Europe's peoples against nuclear discharges or accidents at Sellafield. The Parliament cannot impose on the Commission by way of a directive, but it can, in the context of approving the European Union budget, insist on budgetary provision being made by the Commission which will require the Commission to deal adequately with its responsibility in this nuclear reprocessing area.
I am really astonished at this debate tonight. For starters, I am astonished at my good friend and colleague, Deputy McGahon, agreeing with Sinn Féin and at Sinn Féin agreeing with him. I am just wondering whether Deputy McGahon will stand again at the next election. Perhaps there might be a message in this debate tonight, but I wish him well anyway. However, when I see Fine Gael and Sinn Féin agreeing on a Labour Party motion, then I know the Labour Party is right. I thank my colleague, Deputy McGahon, for his support and I thank the Sinn Féin Deputy also.
What will the Independent Deputies do? Deputy Fox supported the text of the Labour Party motion, yet she will go through the lobbies and vote against it. I cannot understand that kind of hypocrisy. Why will the Independent Deputies, who agree with the Labour Party motion, not come in and vote with the Labour Party behind my party leader and our spokesperson? It is the height of hypocrisy. There are four Independent Deputies who can put the Labour Party motion in this House on the record in the interests of the Irish people, but they will not do that because they will sell their souls again and the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, will agree with that.
The Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, has done his bit on this issue, but he has been left way out at sea on this matter. He has done his best and he will do his best in the future. He is a sincere Wicklow man who has the same problems which I have in County Louth, but he realises that he is really up against it.
I would have to say to my colleagues here, as members of the European socialist group, that the British Prime Minister Mr. Blair has let us down very badly. This House should give him a message collectively, that the Irish Labour Party will not support the British Labour Party in what it proposes. We will demonstrate that, nationally and internationally, led by our party leader and deputy leader. We will not accept that the actions of a Labour Party, a member of the socialist group, pose a really serious problem not only for the people of the east coast but for all the people of Ireland. We will not accept that Prime Minister Mr. Blair goes around the world looking for a coalition against terrorism and at the same time poses the biggest possible problem to the security of this Republic, and we will not support him in doing so. We should tell Mr. Blair now that the Labour Party will not support him internationally if he continues to endanger the lives of the people of this Republic.
The events of 11 September and the decision of BNFL to announce the expansion of its nuclear reprocessing facility have coincided to remind us of the sheer arrogance and indifference of that company to the legitimate concerns of the population of this country. BNFL cannot be trusted because of the long litany of mishaps, incidents and accidents over many years. Reassurances have been given many times which have almost always turned out to be ill-founded.
The ALARA principle – as low as reasonably achievable – is the underlying principle that guides the use of nuclear material. Any exposure to radiation should be balanced by the potential advantage to the public. X-rays are a very good example of the use of radiation where there is an overall benefit to the patient. BNFL and its expansion of Sellafield are clearly designed to benefit some of the British public and the British economy, but the legitimate concerns of the population of this island are arrogantly ignored. It has always been a clear argument that Sellafield brings no benefit whatsoever to Ireland. Conversely, it causes pollution of the Irish Sea and considerable stress for many people who worry about the consequences of that pollution.
The inaction of the Government over the past four years is the greatest indictment of its commitment to real action on Sellafield, which has been allowed to flourish without a whimper from the Government until the recent MOX plant became a public scandal. Only then did we hear any response or see significant effort from the Government. BNFL is concerned with making money, not with the health of its neighbours or protecting the environment. For years it has been repeated that the biggest threat from Sellafield is the risk of a major nuclear accident.
BNFL does not seem to understand the normal conventions of being good neighbours, nor does it care about any damage that might result from its indifferent approach to discharges into the environment. BNFL responds only to pressure and the pressure from the Government was allowed drop to the point where it was undetectable. It is now much more difficult to force a row-back, when the MOX plant has been given the green light by the British Government. The UK Government is not doing us any favours in allowing the MOX plant to go ahead.
There is a tangible fear expressed by the public about the consequences of a nuclear accident or incident, or terrorist attack. If these fears were not soundly based, then none of us would be fighting to have Sellafield closed. Promises about action that might or could be taken will not satisfy the public. It wants to know the details of the plan, the timeframe on the plan of action, who will be engaged to progress it, what kind of expertise, legal and scientific, will be needed to implement it. In other words, it is no longer adequate to give vague comforting promises that something will be done sometime in the future.
The sanctioning of the scale-up of the MOX plant within weeks of the terrorist attack in New York is about as insensitive as one could imagine. Whether the consequences of a terrorist attack on Sellafield would be as serious as predicted by some commentators is irrelevant. The perception of a doomsday scenario through a terrorist attack, combined with a genuine fear of the consequences of radioactivity, serve to frighten an already mistrusting public. It should not be forgotten in our concern for the consequences of an accident at Sellafield that there are many other nuclear reactors in the United Kingdom that, if attacked or they were the centre of an accident, could produce a very damaging result for Ireland. The ageing reactors in Wales, close to our coastline, should not be overlooked in our concerns with the high profile now focused on Sellafield.
Sellafield, or any of the other nuclear installations in the United Kingdom, offers no advantage to Ireland. It is all pain and no gain for Ireland from these installations. Why should we, in this country, carry the negative consequences of these installations, when we stand to gain absolutely nothing from them? We cannot trust the information fed to us for years by BNFL. We are not allowed to have any significant role in independent monitoring or inspections of the plants. BNFL conveniently hides behind the shield of confidentiality when requested to allow access to the plant by an independent inspectorate. On the basis that any information is better than none we acquiesce, accept and settle for a limited inspection of documentation. We all know that this is not telling anything like the full story, but it is the best offer available.
The Irish Government should no longer stand for being fobbed off like this. The Labour Party has set out a clear ten point plan which, if implemented, would give the Irish public some reason to have confidence in our ability to defend our environment, tourism industry, fishing industry, the health and safety of our animal population and, most importantly, the health and safety of our people, from the consequences of radioactivity.
Like the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, I represent County Wicklow, a beautiful county with an extensive coastline. It is also vulnerable. Living on the east coast inevitably means living close to Sellafield, which has been a malevolent and threatening presence in our lives for decades. The initiative to link the local authorities around the Irish Sea was sponsored originally by Bray Urban District Council.
During the years the history of accidental discharges and deliberate cover-ups has served to deepen our anxiety. When the rainbow Government took office the anxieties expressed by people in County Wicklow and other areas were finally heeded. The Government set about the mammoth task of challenging Sellafield and seeking its closure. We all understood this was a project of great ambition and scope, but the fact the work had begun gave us all some comfort. The record of that ministerial group showed we were right to hope. The changes in the international marine framework came about as a result of the work of those Ministers. The then Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, in particular, must be acknowledged for his effectiveness in blocking the development of the major underground dump at Sellafield.
The record of this Government, by comparison, is cause not for reassurance, but for alarm. I have the highest regard for my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, and his sincerity, but he is in an impossible position. Because the ministerial group was disbanded when the Government took office, the Taoiseach and his Cabinet failed to keep up the necessary pressure on the British Government. As a result, the British Government has felt free to play havoc with our security, not just in County Wicklow, but in Ireland. The decision, and its timing, to proceed with the MOX plant show how badly the situation has deteriorated. At a time when we have seen the horrific effects of global terrorism, the decision by the British Government is both irresponsible and dangerous. Even without the MOX development, Sellafield constitutes an obvious target for terrorists. If it was attacked by an aircraft, a level of radioactivity could be created which would be 40 times greater than that of the Chernobyl disaster, and result in tens of thousands of cancer deaths in Ireland.
The recent EU report highlights the true nature of the threat to people and the environment. It points out that the release of radioactive waste into the Irish Sea and the atmosphere is largely unnecessary, yet we have been forced to live with the reality that this sea is the most radioactive in the world. More importantly, it points out the extraordinary threat posed by the volumes of high level radioactive waste in liquid form currently stored in tanks at Sellafield.
I welcome this debate. It reflects the concerns of the people in my constituency which are being expressed to me on a daily basis. The Labour Party is committed to ensuring the record of BNFL is exposed, but also that the challenge to close Sellafield is taken up. We welcome the recent EU report which highlights the extent of the hazards in close proximity to our shores. It has helped concentrate minds and forced the Government to cobble together a response, which, even if tardy, is still welcome. The motion being presented by the Labour Party goes much further than anything the Government has managed to do. It sets out a strategy, spelling out what must be done to counteract the potential nuclear catastrophe inherent at Sellafield. I urge the Government to support it. We all understand the challenge is immense. What is needed is an integrated approach which adopts the various elements spelled out in the motion, both on the legal front and the diplomatic front. It should also be addressed in the context of the famous relationship we are supposed to have through the Taoiseach with Tony Blair. If we do not adopt this strategy, there is very little chance we will see significant improvement in terms of the safety we are entitled to enjoy and which is being badly affected by developments in a country close by.
Last night the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, gave quite a comprehensive response to this timely motion proposed by Deputy Stagg in the name of the Labour Party. I watched his speech with growing horror. He painted a nightmare scenario that would frighten most citizens had they heard it, and I have no doubt he was entirely justified in spelling out the full horror of living so near to this monstrous hazard. What struck me about the Minister's speech was that, having described the danger, he offered no conviction that his Government will do anything effective to deal with an issue that so concerns the people of this country and not just those resident in the east coast.
The Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, spelled out the well known lamentable record of Sellafield concerning safety management and safety standards. He went on to explain that the severely critical report of the UK inspectorate which in February 2000 made 28 recommendations has, 18 months later, largely been ignored by BNFL.
The Minister last night confirmed that the nuclear spent fuel reprocessing industry is now separating more plutonium than the nuclear industry is able to absorb. The result is that Sellafield now has a stockpile of plutonium which presents a potential risk to existing and future generations. He explains why the Government has been concerned about the risks associated with the storage of high-level liquid waste in tanks at Sellafield. He seems to say that despite assurances from the UK authorities concerning vitrification of the waste the response has been poor. No matter what lengths the Minister of State goes to in order to explain what he has done over the past five years, it is plain his efforts have been entirely ineffectual. The latest devastating proof of that conclusion is the alarming announcement by the UK Government that it has given the go ahead for the MOX plant. This announcement betrays how very little regard the UK Government has for the protestations of the Irish Government and only adds insult to injury. In the wake of 11 September it is a breathtaking decision.
Prime Minister Blair seems to have an ambition to emulate some of his great wartime predecessors as he sees it. If we are to believe his rhetoric, it is not unreasonable to conclude that Sellafield might become a terrorist target. The Minister of State admitted as much last night. The consequences of this for the British and Irish people would be unthinkable. Can measures be put in place to secure Sellafield against terrorist attack? I do not believe there is any such thing as absolute security and most thinking citizens will conclude that if we have been consistently lied to about safety standards, it is probable we are being lied to about security standards.
The conclusion of the recent report that the Sellafield plant, together with its counterpart in France, in the course of their ordinary day-to-day operations spews out an amount of radiation equivalent to a large nuclear accident is horrifying. The consequences of a major accident at the Sellafield site is, I am convinced, a preoccupation of Irish people and the spectre of a terrorist attack is unthinkable. My colleague, Deputy Gilmore, detailed last night what might happen in these circumstances. One even has reservations about repeating such a scenario. It is clear, however, that the Minister of State does not take serious issue with the description and, in any event, the Minister concludes that the commissioning of the MOX plant increases the risk of accident. He tells us in the wake of the MOX decision that he wrote to the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Health and the Taoiseach personally contacted Prime Minister Blair.
It is true that no one in the UK Administration paid too much attention to the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob's, letters. I do not blame him. It is obvious the Irish Government has left him to carry the can. A junior Minister does not carry the clout necessary to reflect the deep concerns of the Irish people. The web of public relations advisers and spin doctors who follow the Taoiseach around let it be known from time to time that he has a great personal relationship with Tony Blair. Tony Blair probably does not know that the Taoiseach, of course, has a great personal relationship with everyone. The test of his special relationship with the British Prime Minister is whether he can reverse the contempt shown by the UK Government for the genuine fears of the Irish people. Dusting down his annual speech to the Fianna Fáil Ard Fhéis obviously carries very little weight with Tony Blair.
I understand an initiative under the Law of the Sea is now contemplated by the Irish Government, which I welcome. However, of itself, it seems an entirely inadequate response. If we examine the Minister of State's seven point summary last night of the concerns of the Irish, with which I agree, only one, that is, the discharge of radioactive materials into the Irish Sea seems relevant to such an initiative. I ask the Minister of State to take on board the plan sketched out by Deputy Stagg in proposing this motion.
I wish to share my time with Minister of State, Deputy Moffatt.
I welcome the opportunity to address the House on one of the most serious matters to come before us in recent years. Coming from a coastal community on the Hook Peninsula in County Wexford, I understand the serious concerns expressed over the last two nights by my colleagues. Given that I share a constituency in Wexford with Deputy Howlin, he and I heard quite a lot about this particular aspect at meetings, particularly in recent weeks. It is not so long ago that the concept of a nuclear plant in Wexford was put forward and, needless to say, I am pleased that did not come to pass or that such a terrible event did not happen in south Wexford.
It was the Minister of State's party proposed it.
The Minister of State did not—
I was around and I did. I did not make a name for myself at the time, like the Deputy. Unlike him, I am not into publicity-seeking. He did quite well.
Since coming into office more than four and a half years ago, this Government has made known its concerns and opposition to Sellafield and the UK authorities. I am a member of the Ministerial Committee on Nuclear Transport chaired by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob. The Sellafield MOX plant is one of the main issues of discussion at the committee in recent months and will remain a priority until it is closed. I listened to Deputy Rabbitte suggest, facetiously at times – unfortunately I did not have the opportunity to listen to other Members – that it was quite easy to change the British view on this issue. This is not a political football to be kicked around.
The Minister of State is safer on submarines.
The Minister of State should address the Chair, please.
I will. This is a national issue on which we should all work together.
If our motion is read, I am sure Members will agree we can work together on this issue.
It is a Labour Party motion.
I recall some time ago travelling to Sellafield at my own expense to see what went on there. I am quite satisfied with what has been said here that, of course, the MOX plant should not be commissioned. Deputy Howlin in particular will be aware – I got very little support on the issue – that I was greatly concerned about the transporting of fuel to Sellafield through the Irish Sea. When I mentioned that ships used to travel through the Irish Sea, which was sometimes very busy with submarine traffic, some people thought it a sort of skit. Now the chickens are coming home to roost and people are beginning to see the dangers. I agree with what has been said. The Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, is working as hard as he can. If we support him rather than ridicule him, and be serious about the issue, we might go the distance.
As everyone here will know, the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, comes from the bordering constituency of Wicklow. One can hear the fun going on over on the benches opposite and I wonder how serious is the Labour Party about this issue.
The Minister of State is contradicting himself.
It is no wonder they are where they are in the polls. If they took the issue seriously, we might go the distance. I support fully the amendment from the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I categorically refute any suggestion that this Government has gone soft on Sellafield.
The Government remains firmly committed to bringing about the closure of Sellafield and it will spare no effort in achieving this goal.
The Government's opposition to Sellafield has been conveyed and repeated forcibly to the United Kingdom, both at ministerial and other levels. Furthermore, our concerns have been highlighted at every opportunity at relevant European Union and other international meetings.
The legal action under the OSPAR Convention, which the Government is taking against the UK in regard to the MOX plant, is an indication of its determination to prevent this plant from proceeding. The Government can see no justification for this plant. This is the first time legal action has ever been taken by any Government against Sellafield. A decision on the possible legal action under EU and UN law, in addition to the OSPAR legal action already well under way, will be taken by the Government in the next few days. The Government knows where it is going in relation to the MOX plant – it wants the UK decision reversed.
I refer to the report commissioned by the STOA committee of the European Parliament to which a number of Deputies referred and which has also received coverage in the media. I understand this report is not yet in the public domain. I am aware that the Department of Public Enterprise has been endeavouring to obtain a copy of the report ahead of its publication, and I understand the Department has now received a copy of the report and, in conjunction with the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, is examining it. The renewed interest by the European Parliament in nuclear affairs, and in particular the radiological impact of the Sellafield and La Hague nuclear reprocessing facilities, is to be welcomed.
The danger of a terrorist attack on Sellafield is a matter of real concern. At the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency last month, Ireland actively supported a draft resolution which recognised the need to continue to devote attention to the potential implications of terrorist attacks for the physical protection of nuclear materials and nuclear facilities. The resolution adopted by the General Conference requested the director general of the agency to strengthen the agency's work relevant to preventing acts of terrorism involving nuclear materials and other radiological materials.
I assure the House that the Government is doing everything in its power in regard to the Sellafield issue. The Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, has already outlined to the House details of the national emergency plan for nuclear accidents. The national emergency plan, which is currently in the public domain, dates back to 1992. The plan has been undergoing review over the past two years and an updated plan will be ready for publication towards the end of the year. A summary of the updated plan will be circulated to every household in the near future. In the meantime, recognising that there is a public need for information and counter measures in the event of an accident, the Department of Public Enterprise will place advertisements in the national and provincial press giving essential advice on these counter measures which is simple, practical and effective.
The Government will continue to pursue all realistic and effective courses of action, legal and otherwise, to bring about the closure of Sellafield. The tragic events of 11 September have added a new dimension to this objective. The task is not easy, but we will not be found wanting. We can achieve our objectives through a combination of legal action and, where appropriate, diplomatic action. We have been successful previously in harnessing the support of other countries with similar concerns about reprocessing facilities and will continue to foster our relationships with like-minded countries towards this end.
It is a difficult situation and I know Deputy Stagg, and previously Deputy Gilmore, put a great deal of effort into this question. It will be difficult to get results, but the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, is doing everything he can to ensure we make progress on this issue.
I wish to share my 15 minutes with Deputies Quinn and Stagg. The Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, is leaving the Chamber but I will begin my contribution by referring to him because the opening comment in his contribution was that this was one of the most important issues to come before this House in recent times. If that is true, and I believe it to be true, it is extraordinary that no senior Minister spoke in this debate. No senior Minister even came into the Chamber to sit in support of the Minister of State in charge of this issue. If this is the most important issue or among the most important issues facing this House, what sense of urgency or importance is attached to it by a Government which does not even require a senior Minister to attend for this debate?
The Minister for Public Enterprise, the Minister for Health and Children or the Minister for the Environment and Local Government did not attend.
Although we all salute efforts made by people like the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, that effort has been futile, pointless and a failure. It cannot be glossed up in any other terms because we have nothing to show for four and a half years of this Administration. I get annoyed when I hear people preaching, either from the Fine Gael back benches or the Sinn Féin seat behind me, for consensus on this issue and that we should rally to an ineffectual cause. The Labour Party is united in the view that we will no longer tolerate a second rate effort that has resulted not only in there being no diminution of the dangers inherent in the Sellafield plant but a significant worsening of the situation with the bringing on-stream of the MOX plant. That is in stark contrast to the record of the previous Administration.
The previous Administration, on my initiative, set up a Cabinet sub-committee of Ministers that I had the honour and privilege to chair. We took our business seriously and in two and a half years, we not only gathered a huge volume of scientific data and legal expertise but succeeded, for the first time in 40 years, in halting the advance of the dangers of Sellafield when the NIREX proposal to build an underground nuclear waste storage facility at Cumbria was stopped. It was not stopped by a Minister of State writing letters. It was stopped by direct intervention by me at the European Environment Council at every single meeting by tabling it as an agenda item at the Council and raising it at the broader European Environment Forum to such an extent that at one meeting I got a personal note from John Gummer, Secretary of State, asking if we could take it as read for that one Council that the Irish Government is vehemently opposed to Sellafield. It was stopped because the then Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, went to give evidence at the planning inquiry in Cumbria and a co-ordinated con certed effort was made that had, for the first time in 40 years, tangible results.
All the work of that two and a half years was undone by a decision to dismember that ministerial committee. According to the reply to a parliamentary question, a new committee was established several months later, no longer chaired by a member of the Cabinet but by a Minister of State. That is not a serious continuity of effort, and mealy-mouthed words will not justify the inaction and failure of the past four and a half years. It is time we decided to join our forces to do everything we can, legally, to confront the greatest potential hazard this country has ever faced. That can only be done through a united approach by this House behind the solid message of the Labour Party motion. I appeal to the Minister of State to withdraw the Government amendment before he divides the House.
In his closing remarks yesterday, in this debate, the Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise, Deputy Jacob, told the Dáil that further action to prevent the MOX plant operating would be taken later this week. It was particularly disturbing then, but not surprising, sadly, to read in our newspapers this morning that, notwithstanding the Minister of State's ignorance of the situation, the decisions had already been taken at a Cabinet meeting that day and would be steered through by a Cabinet sub-committee, also established yesterday and of which the Minister of State failed to inform the House last evening.
What I said was totally and absolutely correct.
Because I know the Minister of State, I doubt very much that he intentionally failed to inform the House of the existence of the sub-committee or that, in its three pronged attack, the Government would initiate legal action under EU and UN conventions.
I stated the position quite clearly several times on this matter.
In fact, the Minister of State told the House that these decisions would be taken in the near future. If he did not seek to mislead the Dáil intentionally, the only conclusion must be that he was unaware of the Government decisions taken yesterday. By excluding the Minister of State from these decisions, the Taoiseach has displayed a frank expression of no confidence in him.
The Deputy is misrepresenting the situation.
The Government is already well known for its desire to inform the media of information it withholds from the House, but it is unusual to withhold information from its own members. We are left with a Minister of State who is responsible for the campaign against Sellafield, but out of the limited loop.
The Minister of State would be rightly annoyed at being ignored. The Government's campaign against Sellafield has mirrored the Taoiseach's leadership on other issues. When confronted with problems, he has been slow to act. Rather than take decisions, he has sat and watched other Ministers wither on the vine. The experience of Ray Burke and Ned O'Keeffe springs to mind.
The Government has fought against Sellafield as hard as it fought for Aer Lingus – not at all. Since coming to office, it has been devoid of drive and energy. The campaign against Sellafield falters, the national development plan falls behind schedule and Aer Lingus goes to the wall. Meanwhile the captain of the ship is having his photo taken elsewhere. That is what has passed for leadership in this country in recent years.
The Labour Party motion before the House this evening sets out an action plan to carry the fight against Sellafield into the international arena. The Government's amendment, now seemingly out of date, is a recipe for inaction. The Government is now establishing a Cabinet sub-committee, four and a half years after abandoning the last one. If the Taoiseach wishes to undermine his Minister of State, he could do no better job than he did yesterday. If he wishes to remove him from his post, then he should have the courage to do so.
On this issue, the people deserve more than this second best, half rate campaigning it is getting from the Government. They deserve, too, that the campaign be headed up by a Minister whom the Taoiseach respects at least sufficiently to brief him properly before sending him into the House to bat for the Government.
I thank all contributors to this debate, from all sides of the House. I am amazed and deeply disappointed at the negative and minimalist attitude of the Government to our very constructive motion and the whole issue of Sellafield, which has been described as a disaster waiting to happen.
During the debate there were many knowledgeable contributions. We heard of iodine 129, carbon 14, strontium 90, cobalt 60, technetium 99 and plutonium, the raw material for atomic bombs. We also heard of the 21 tanks of highly active liquid waste at Sellafield. While it is important to have knowledge of the scientific basis of what we are dealing with, it is also important to speak of this awful threat in a manner that will be understood by the ordinary citi zen. All of the chemical substances I mentioned are radioactive. They are discharged from and stored in Sellafield. Radioactive substances destroy human flesh and bones. In large doses, they kill quickly and, in smaller doses, cause a variety of cancers that lead to a slow lingering death.
What would be the effect on Ireland if these substances were to be released into the atmosphere, either through terrorist attack or an accident at the plant? The reality needs to be spelled out. A colossal cloud of radioactive material would rise over Cumbria, less than 100 miles from Dublin and the east coast of Ireland. It would drift at the speed of the prevailing wind away from the site. There is a 30% chance that it would drift directly towards Dublin and spread out to cover a wider area. The slower the wind, the wider the spread. Nuclear fall-out would have contaminated or killed people in the immediate vicinity of the site and, as it progressed, would contaminate the sea and everything in it. Dublin would be hit within hours after disaster had struck Cumbria.
It would be virtually impossible to escape contamination. Hundreds of thousands of people would be immediately affected, some of whom would die quickly while many thousands would die a slow and lingering death from a variety of cancers. The deadly cloud of radioactivity would continue across Ireland, carried by the wind, whether north, south or west at the time. Bally-
bunion would be as vulnerable as Ballymun. It would lay a lethal trail of death for men, women and children, rich and poor. It would contaminate the earth, the grass, hillsides and valleys and no animal would be safe. The deadly radioactive contamination would last for thousands of years. In the case of one variety it would remain active for at least 250,000 years.
For the survivors of this disaster, which can be avoided, there would be a grim future. Irish agriculture would be devastated. Our produce would not be fit for human consumption for centuries. Europe's greatest agricultural nation would be reduced to a wasteland. Irish tourism would be destroyed. Apart from the occasional UN nuclear inspection team, no one in their right mind would come to our shores. In short, our economy would collapse, and there would be a mass exodus from the island. All the iodine tablets, nationwide leaflets and shelters provided by the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, would make no difference at all. For those contaminated by radioactive fall-out and who survive, the future would be grim. Future generations would be born with a variety of malformations and disabilities. Anyone who doubts this need only look at the health statistics for those who survived Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Chernobyl.
To remove this real threat to present and future generations in Ireland must be our priority. The operations at Sellafield are uneconomic and unnecessary. The plant is in breach of international law and flies in the face of common sense and logic. Why would mankind promote such a doomsday scenario for its own kind? We must resolve, therefore, to close down this deadly threat to our very existence as a nation and people. That must be our first priority. We must use every diplomatic, legal, political and economic tool available, on a permanent and relentless basis, until we are successful. We cannot rest until this threat is removed. I recommend the motion to the House.
Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Aylward, Liam.Blaney, Harry.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Brennan, Matt.Brennan, Séamus.Briscoe, Ben.Byrne, Hugh.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Coughlan, Mary.Cowen, Brian.Cullen, Martin.Daly, Brendan.de Valera, Síle.Dempsey, Noel.Dennehy, John.Doherty, Seán.Ellis, John.Fahey, Frank.Fleming, Seán.Flood, Chris.
Foley, Denis.Fox, Mildred.Gildea, Thomas.Hanafin, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Healy-Rae, Jackie.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.Kelleher, Billy.Killeen, Tony.Kirk, Séamus.Kitt, Michael P.Kitt, Tom.Lawlor, Liam.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McCreevy, Charlie.McDaid, James.McGennis, Marian.McGuinness, John J.Martin, Micheál.Moffatt, Thomas.Molloy, Robert.Moloney, John.Moynihan, Michael.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.Ó Cuív, Éamon.
O'Dea, Willie.O'Donoghue, John.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Hanlon, Rory.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Keeffe, Ned.O'Kennedy, Michael.O'Malley, Desmond.Power, Seán.
Roche, Dick.Ryan, Eoin.Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Wade, Eddie.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Wright, G. V.
Allen, Bernard.Barnes, Monica.Barrett, Seán.Bell, Michael.Belton, Louis J.Bradford, Paul.Broughan, Thomas P.Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).Bruton, Richard.Burke, Ulick.Clune, Deirdre.Connaughton, Paul.Cosgrave, Michael.Coveney, Simon.Crawford, Seymour.Creed, Michael.Currie, Austin.D'Arcy, Michael.Deenihan, Jimmy.Dukes, Alan.Durkan, Bernard.Farrelly, John.Finucane, Michael.Fitzgerald, Frances.Gilmore, Éamon.Gormley, John.Hayes, Brian.Hayes, Tom.Healy, Seamus.Higgins, Jim.Higgins, Joe.
Higgins, Michael.Howlin, Brendan.Kenny, Enda.McCormack, Pádraic.McDowell, Derek.McGahon, Brendan.McGrath, Paul.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Jim.Mitchell, Olivia.Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.Naughten, Denis.Neville, Dan.Noonan, Michael.O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Sullivan, Jan.Penrose, William.Perry, John.Quinn, Ruairí.Rabbitte, Pat.Ring, Michael.Sargent, Trevor.Shatter, Alan.Sheehan, Patrick.Shortall, Róisín.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Upton, Mary.Wall, Jack.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Bradford and Stagg.
Amendment declared carried.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.