Nuclear Safety: Statements.

I wish to share time with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern.

I welcome the fact that this debate is taking place this evening and I am grateful for the opportunity to respond in detail to last week's developments and reiterate current and ongoing Government policy in this area.

The Government is committed to the safe closure of Sellafield and will continue to use every legal, diplomatic and political means at its disposal to progress that objective. It is pressing the European Commission to step up its game in terms of holding the operators of Sellafield to account. Regardless of the privatisation of any element of the British nuclear apparatus, this Government will continue to hold the UK Government responsible for the operations of Sellafield and the health and safety of the Irish people and environment.

Last Thursday, the UK's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, NDA, published a new strategy document outlining how the United Kingdom proposes to tackle the clean-up of its historic nuclear facilities including those at Sellafield. The decision by the UK Government to approve the sale of the separate but linked British Nuclear Group was made in the context of this strategy.

That decision raises concerns about accountability, transparency and the risk of compromising safety in the pursuit of profit in a privatised entity. The UK authorities have confirmed to my office that the privatisation of the British Nuclear Group does not alter the fact that the site and the operations undertaken there remain the responsibility and in the ownership of the UK Government through the NDA.

The Irish Government will continue to hold the UK Government accountable and responsible for the continuing safe operation of the Sellafield complex. While the UK Government may have a sovereign right to manage its affairs to best serve its interests, we also have sovereign rights and responsibilities to ensure that the health, environment and safety of our citizens are not adversely impacted by any decisions taken by the UK.

The NDA is a non-departmental public body established by the UK Government in April of last year. The UK Government mandated the authority to ensure that 20 civil public sector nuclear sites in the UK, including Sellafield, were decommissioned and cleaned up safely, securely, cost-effectively and in ways that protect the environment.

Would it be possible to see a copy of the Minister's speech?

I will organise for the Deputy to receive one. I am not sure if that is usually done when statements are being taken.

That is fine. Other people received copies and I do not see why I should not have one.

While the establishment of the NDA was portrayed in some quarters as a new dawn for nuclear clean-up in the United Kingdom, particularly at Sellafield, we in Ireland have been down the road before when other new dawns have proved false.

As with so much else, the devil is in the detail in so far as the NDA is concerned. The Irish Government considers that this authority is fundamentally compromised by the fact that it continues to engage in commercial mixed oxide fuel manufacturing and the continued operation of the reprocessing plants, THORP and magnox at Sellafield.

These operations continue to generate additional waste and radioactive discharges into the Irish Sea. The recent leak at THORP, which caused 83,000 litres of highly radioactive material — a swimming pool full — to leak into a secondary containment area, was the latest and most serious example of the long-standing poor operational safety record at Sellafield. The worst aspect of this incident was the revelation that management was complacent and ignored very clear warning signals that something was wrong. This and the fact that the leak occurred speak volumes.

I have availed of the extensive consultation process in place between the United Kingdom and Ireland to convey all of the concerns of the Irish Government on the mandate and operation of the NDA. I reiterated these concerns at my meeting with the chairman and the chief executive of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in Dublin last November. Our principal concerns relate to the assignment of responsibility for commercial reprocessing and related operations to a body responsible for nuclear clean-up and decommissioning, reliance on income from reprocessing operations by the authority to fund clean-up operations, the failure of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to engage with the principle of waste minimisation, our wish that the THORP and Magnox reprocessing plants be shut down and the commissioning of the MOX plant discontinued, ensuring that the decommissioning of nuclear facilities does not result in radioactive discharges to the environment, particularly the Irish Sea, and ensuring the contracting out of various decommissioning and clean-up projects on a competitive basis do not compromise safety.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is currently engaged in a review of issues posed by the shutdown of the THORP plant. The issues raised by the current shutdown at the THORP plant represent a real benchmark for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and, ultimately, the UK Government in respect of their stated objective of decommissioning and clean up.

Members will be aware of the Government's policies in this area, as set out in An Agreed Programme for Government. The Government regards the continued existence of Sellafield as an unacceptable threat to Ireland and believes it should be closed. We will continue to use every diplomatic and legal route available towards achieving the safe, orderly and efficient closure of the plant.

In so far as the legal route is concerned, the Government's international legal proceedings against the UK under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in respect of the Sellafield MOX plant were suspended in 2003 pending resolution of jurisdictional issues in the dispute raised by the European Commission. These issues are the subject of proceedings by the European Commission against Ireland before the European Court of Justice.

The Advocate General's opinion, which was issued in the case on 18 January last, considers that the ECJ has jurisdiction in respect of the dispute between Ireland and the UK. While this opinion favours the case made by the Commission, it will be a matter for the court to issue the final judgment, which is expected later in the year. The final outcome should clarify international and community law in respect of the protection of the marine environment and other issues. When this case is completed, the Irish Government will expect the Commission to act robustly in respect of the operation of the Sellafield plant, which has not been the case to date.

The Government has also been very proactive on the diplomatic front, not only in the UK, but also in Europe. The House will recall that last October I met with UK Secretary of State at the Department of Trade and Industry, Mr. Alan Johnson MP, tointer alia convey Ireland’s serious concerns about the THORP incident the previous April. I also conveyed in the strongest possible terms the view of this Government that reprocessing at Sellafield is unwelcome, uneconomic and environmentally untenable, compromises safety and should be brought to an end.

Earlier this year in Brussels, I met the EU Commissioner for Energy, Andris Piebalgs, to articulate clearly the Government's view that we expect the Commission to exercise its competence robustly in respect of the continued operations at Sellafield. In so doing, I specifically mentioned the THORP leak and the B30 storage pond and left the Commissioner in no doubt as to the depth of Ireland's concerns in respect of these issues. Subsequently, the Commission issued a formal warning to the UK regarding accounting and reporting procedures currently in place at Sellafield. This action by the Commission represents a step in the right direction but I am determined on behalf of the Government to ensure that where the Commission claims competence, it actively exercises it.

My officials and scientific experts from the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland continue to meet with their UK counterparts on a regular basis during which Ireland's concerns regarding operations at Sellafield are raised. My policy is to use the consultation processes to articulate the views of the Irish Government in respect of nuclear issues and to ensure Ireland's interests are represented and protected. The current consultation document on future UK energy requirements is no exception in this regard. The Government is determined through my Department and the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland to fully engage in this consultation process. The current legal and diplomatic initiative by the Government in respect of Sellafield has resulted in increasing recognition by the UK Government and its agencies of the priority accorded to the issue of Sellafield by the Irish Government.

Some progress has been made. We now have unprecedented levels of co-operation and coordination between our two countries. Welcome as that is, however, a significant difference — indeed an unbridgeable gap — remains in our perspectives on nuclear issues in general and Sellafield in particular.

I conclude by reassuring the House that the policy of this Government in respect of Sellafield remains clear and unambiguous and that we will continue to pursue all legal, political and diplomatic options to secure its safe and early closure. I will assign my remaining time to my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, who has a long-standing and deep interest in this issue.

I thank the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for assigning his remaining time to me. The issue of Sellafield unites this House like no other. Our common stance is crystal clear. Sellafield is an unacceptable threat which should be closed forthwith in a safe and orderly manner. We have pressed this policy through every diplomatic, political and, where necessary, legal route available and will continue to do so.

ln advancing this policy, we reflect the overwhelming views of the Irish people. Indeed, our proximity to Sellafield has helped shape a strong and consistent anti-nuclear policy within successive Governments. I want to make it clear to the House that this State will not be forced to go nuclear. Recent reports do nothing to alter our stance. The basis of our policy is stronger than ever and the reasons behind this policy are worth reaffirming.

Windscale, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl remain powerful testimony of the destructive potential of nuclear power. Likewise, Sellafield remains a real and present danger to life on this island. The point not often advanced by the nuclear lobby today is that the proven reserve uranium fuel stock in the world today will last for only 50 years, which is approximately the same order of time as for proven oil reserves. In the event of more countries opting for nuclear power, these supplies will diminish faster. Nuclear power is not the unlimited energy supply its supporters claim it is and is simply not economically competitive compared to gas-fired generation. This fact is increasingly clear when one builds in the cost of long-term storage and plant decommissioning. Capital, operational and maintenance costs of nuclear plants are three times that of a conventional plant. Under its current configuration, our electricity supply system is not suitable for nuclear power. Typical nuclear plants, which supply over a gigawatt of electricity, are too large for the Irish system. Even the smallest modern generation III nuclear plant would destabilise the system by delivering too much inflexible base load.

Our opposition to Sellafield and to nuclear power in Ireland has clear and logical foundations. This opposition to nuclear power is shared on both sides of the Border. At the recent meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in London, I stressed our opposition to the construction of any new nuclear plants in the North. This point has been publicly acknowledged by my colleague, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Peter Hain, MP, who recently stated that:

There will be no support in the island of Ireland for building a nuclear power station, the Irish government set its face implacably against that and I don't think there would be any support in the North.

Therefore, the anti-nuclear policy of this House, the Government and the Irish people is clear and steadfast. There is no question of developing a nuclear plant in Ireland. Indeed, the "use of nuclear fission for the generation of electricity" is banned here, under the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 and will remain banned.

Some politicians have mischievously asserted that the absence of a specific anti-nuclear provision in the Strategic Infrastructure Bill signals a pro-nuclear shift in Government policy. This is not true. Nuclear power is already banned so there is no need to re-ban it.

In the same fashion, child labour and the death penalty are banned and are, therefore, not re-banned in every labour law or criminal justice Bill that comes before the House. This level of point-scoring exemplifies the need for a grown-up discussion on this issue. We are all clearly united behind the anti-nuclear policy of successive Governments, including this Government.

Tell that to Forfás.

However, this non-nuclear status brings with it an onus to provide alternative, secure, reliable and competitive energy supplies for families, workers and industry. This is because energy supply must meet energy demand and failure to meet that demand means unemployment, a flight of capital and profound effects on our economy.

It is not sufficient for politicians to loudly proclaim anti-nuclear credentials but then oppose gas pipelines, pylons and interconnecters, as the Deputy who attempted to interrupt me has done. Being anti-nuclear means advancing genuine non-nuclear alternatives.

When did the Green Party oppose interconnectors?

Alternatives are needed which can deliver for Ireland now, rather than at some unspecified future date.

The Deputy interrupted the Minister, who only has a small amount of time in which to contribute.

Will the Deputy have some manners and allow me to continue?

The Minister has accused me of something I have not done. He should not accuse the Green Party.

The Government is anti-nuclear and is providing alternatives.

I expect some security.

Others claim to be non-nuclear but offer no alternatives, which is untenable.

I welcome the Labour Party's proposal to have a debate on this matter. In preparation for the debate, I carried out some research. I read inThe Whitehaven News and in a press release from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, CORE, that, on a bank holiday weekend in the United Kingdom last year, a shipment of plutonium MOX fuel was transported through the Irish Sea to Cherbourg. Did the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government know about this shipment? Was he informed about it?

If the Deputy wants to submit a parliamentary question, I will give him a comprehensive reply.

I would like the Minister to answer the question. If he is not able to answer now, that is fine.

We are making statements.

Did the Minister know about the shipment? If so, why did he not make a public statement? When a previous shipment of MOX fuel was returned from Japan, a national debate took place. The Minister for Foreign Affairs was serving as Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources at that time and he instructed the Naval Service and Air Corps to watch every element of the transportation, about which he expressed his deep and public concern. I can find no record of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government commenting on that transportation of MOX fuel. In the interests of transparency and openness, did the Minister know about the shipment? If so, why did he not comment on it? If he did not know about the shipment, why was that the case?

At the core of this issue——

The Deputy has asked me to answer a number of specific questions but I understood that we were here to make statements. If the Deputy wishes to ask a particular query, I will provide an answer if he tables it in the form of a parliamentary question.

I understand that the Minister has five minutes at the end of this debate to answer any questions asked. The Deputy is quite in order in asking his questions.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. It is important that, when we discuss transparency and openness——

The Deputy asked for a specific answer.

The Deputy is in order. I will not allow interruptions.

I wanted to draw the Ceann Comhairle's attention to the matter.

The Minister is entitled to answer the Deputy's questions at the conclusion of the debate.

It is critical that the record of the Minister's knowledge of this shipment while he has been in office is made available to those on this side of the House. In the interests of the Freedom of Information Act 1997, which is intended to provide the public with access to information, it is incomprehensible that the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, due to the way it believes the law has been framed as a result of changes made by the Minister to legislation, refused to give me more than 80 of the 120 documents it holds in respect of the most recent serious incident at Sellafield, that is, the leak at the reprocessing plant. This is a matter of concern because, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs said, Deputies have always agreed on the issue. However, Members on this side of the House do not possess all the facts. I need those facts to make a judgment as to whether the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is doing his job effectively in respect of this issue. I await his answers with interest.

The issue for Deputies is whether we agree with the British Government's announcement on the privatisation of the operation of all nuclear sites in the United Kingdom. This means that the British Nuclear Group — basically British Nuclear Fuels Limited, which has managed the process for a number of years — will compete with others who may or may not have better track records. The difference between BNG and the other groups is that it is a wholly-owned British Government authority and, therefore, there is, as much as there can be, a direct line responsibility for the ownership of and actions and transparency on the Sellafield site and elsewhere. Like the Minister, those on this side of the House are vehemently opposed to the privatisation of those sites. The key issue is that investment might be based on profit motives and not safety.

I read the British Government's information with interest and spoke with a number of its officials in Ireland but, while I respect the integrity of their positions, which they hold firmly and honestly, it is unacceptable to Fine Gael and the House that the process will continue. One of the marks of the relationship between Britain and Ireland in recent years has been the closeness of our views, particularly on Northern Ireland, and the ways in which we have moved forward. The old Irish view of Britain as an imperialist nation is long gone and we have a constructive and excellent relationship with the British Government at all times. It is fundamental to this relationship that the British Government should take on board our serious and deep concerns about what it is proposing, particularly in respect of the Sellafield site.

We are not confident that those involved in private enterprise will always put safety at the top of their list, have the relevant expertise at their disposal or be prepared to take the most expensive route rather than, from their perspective, taking that which might be most effective from the point of view of their incomes and balance sheets. What has happened to date at Sellafield has been unacceptable and there has been appalling neglect, particularly in terms of safety. A number of serious incidents have occurred but, thank God, a serious accident has not yet occurred there and I hope one never will. It is essential for Ireland that the British Government should adopt a hands-on approach to and take ownership of these issues.

My brother, Michael O'Dowd, who acts as chairman of a British-Irish anti-nuclear local authorities group, received a commitment from Mr. Peter Hain that the British Government does not intend to build a nuclear power station in Northern Ireland. I welcome this commitment.

The debate has moved on. In recent days, the representatives of Forfás published a report that, with the exception of its proposals on nuclear energy, was excellent. It is a short report of approximately 27 pages and is worth reading. It has many sound and solid sections. Arising from the report, I listened to a representative of Amárach Consulting make the case for a nuclear industry in Wyfla on "Morning Ireland" this morning.

It is Wylfa.

I apologise. I hope there will never be a Wylfa here. This morning, it was proposed that Ireland lease that plant, which would remain open for many years. I wish to put on the record what Mr. Bull, a representative of British Nuclear Fuels Limited, recently said at the Welsh Affairs Committee in the United Kingdom.

Was he speaking bull?

The Assembly Government indicated that it wants to extend the life of the Wylfa plant and Mr. Bull was asked how easy it would be in practice. Mr. Bull, who I believe——

He was not speaking bull.

——just in case people think I do not, stated:

In practice there are a lot of considerations to be weighed into that decision. The first point is to restate it is not a decision for us to make; it is a decision for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority as the owner of the station. It is not simply a question of taking a decision about the station in isolation. Wylfa is the last of a series of magnox power stations. All of the fuel for those stations has been manufactured at the Springfield site in Preston. They are just in the process now of making the last fuel for Wylfa. They just recently cast the last billet of uranium which is to go into making the final fuel for Wylfa to dispose of by 2010.

Probably the more significant consideration relates to the fate of the fuel once it comes out of the reactor. The consideration there is that there is only one facility for reprocessing that fuel. That is the magnox reprocessing facility at Sellafield. Under the terms of our commitment to the OSPAR agreement we have to end marine discharges from the Sellafield site by 2020 so the closure date for that reprocessing facility is set in 2012.

It is not simply a question of looking at could we run the reactor for another five years as a decision to be made in isolation. How we would manage the future fate of the fuel post-2010 and whether there is any potential at all for extending the life of the reprocessing facility whilst still meeting our OSPAR obligations for 2020 is a major challenge. Our understanding is that the NDA do not consider it realistic to extend the life of Wylfa beyond 2010.

This is important in the context of the national debate that has begun on this issue. I welcome this debate and it is important to have it. There is no case to be made for Ireland to take over or lease the plant to which I refer, as was recommended this morning on the national airwaves. Moreover, other issues have arisen in respect of the plant. For example, some years ago an issue arose regarding its reactor core and I understand that it was closed for some time in order for the situation to be assessed.

Members should nail this issue here and now. Whatever arguments are made — everyone is entitled to make them — Members must carry out research and rebut such arguments in favour of the facts. This plant must close because the reprocessing of the fuel cannot continue beyond the year 2012.

There is, however, an important debate in which all must engage. Government policy has failed, particularly in respect of energy supply and the use of alternative energy. The Government has not been sufficiently aggressive in its examination of or response to our energy problem. I refer, in particular, to the development of alternative energy resources such as biofuels. While I do not know what fuel the Minister's State car uses, perhaps it is time for him to convert to a model such as a Prius. He could also start taking the train or even consider walking.

The car is already on order. The Deputy should not worry. I will give him a ride in it some day because it will be the only time he will be in a position to travel in it.

I am delighted that the Minister has taken this step. It is right and proper that he has done so.

There is a delay in receiving such cars.

Every State car, bus and other form of transport should use renewable energy or biofuels. That is the only way forward. We should also be more aggressive in pursuing this option in the context of our agricultural policy. Many acres of land have been set aside or will never be used in the context of our current agricultural practices. This could change and many more people could work in agriculture if we were to develop crops that are suitable for the production of biodiesel and so on. If the Minister proposed to the Cabinet that a proportion of biofuel should be introduced into existing diesel and petrol engines, it would make a significant difference to our carbon emissions and would be of significant assistance to the development of crops which would be suitable for conversion.

In summary, everyone agrees that we neither want nor accept the privatisation of the British nuclear industry. I understand that it will cost in the order of €100 billion to decommission the United Kingdom's nuclear legacy. While the British Government's views may be genuine, we do not accept them and this privatisation is unacceptable to Members. Despite serious and significant problems, particularly in respect of the operation of Sellafield, Members still feel that the nuclear industry should remain in public hands and that no private companies should work there. It should be operated as it is at present, with all its faults and failings.

Finally, I want the Minister to state on the record whether he knew of the MOX transport to which I referred earlier. If so, why did he not make a statement in that regard? We must be clear and must have complete transparency and openness as to what the Government is doing and what it has been told, as well as with whom it has been in communication. The Freedom of Information Act was amended by the Government, which has removed transparency and openness. Members have been deprived of clarity and the entire truth as to what the Minister is or is not doing. I am greatly concerned that I might be informed that providing me with information on some of these matters would threaten the State's security. This is utter and absolute rubbish. Events in Sellafield threaten the security of our citizens. If Members do not know the full story or all the facts and if the Minister hides behind the Freedom of Information Act, as amended, he deserves to be absolutely condemned for his lack of transparency and openness.

I welcome the fact that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has come before the House and that the Minister for Foreign Affairs also addressed this issue. I thank the Minister for agreeing to my request to hold this timely debate. I did not seek the debate to criticise the Minister or the Government on the issue of nuclear safety, although there is plenty of room to do so. I sought the debate so this House could unite with the Government and the Minister in presenting the strongest possible case to the British authorities in the face of a greatly increased threat to our people.

I also sought the debate at this time in order that the Taoiseach, who will meet the British Prime Minister tomorrow, would be armed with the united support of our national Parliament when he raises the issue with Mr Blair. I call on the Taoiseach to make full use of his oft-quoted special relationship and friendship with Mr. Blair to impress on him and his Government the strong feelings of the Irish people and their representatives in their sovereign Parliament regarding the dangers that arise from the operation of the Sellafield complex in nearby Cumbria, as well as their fears of the increased dangers arising from the privatisation of this project. The Taoiseach must demand that his friend, Mr. Blair, will begin the process of dismantling, clearing and removing the entire Sellafield complex. He must insist that the consequent dangers and the fears of Irish people are not further exacerbated by the privatisation of any part of this process. The Taoiseach must make it clear to Mr Blair that until Sellafield is removed, it will remain a permanent bone of contention between our otherwise friendly countries. He must stress that tensions between the countries will be heightened by any privatisation of the operation at Sellafield.

I wish to remind the House and the Irish people of the nature and reality of Sellafield. It is a colossal nuclear junkyard where waste from around the world is collected and processed. This process entails a constant dripping of pollution into the Irish Sea and the atmosphere by radioactive pollutants. It was originally built as a military plant to process nuclear waste for the by-product plutonium, which is the raw material for atomic bombs. The plant, which was then called Windscale, and its operation were shrouded in secrecy up to and following the disastrous fire in 1957. That part of the complex remains severely polluted with radioactive material, is still sealed off and may have to remain so forever. There has been a long record of lesser accidents and radioactive releases at the plant and practically all have been handled with deceit and have been covered up by the British authorities.

Reprocessing at Sellafield results in the production of a residual highly radioactive liquid waste. This is stored in 21 massive tanks that are located above ground. The material in question is highly volatile and must be continually cooled to prevent it from overheating and exploding. These tanks are the greatest single threat to the Irish people. If one was to explode, it would be equivalent to 100 Chernobyls. If they all exploded in a chain reaction, the effect or result would be incalculable. I will return to this point later. The British authorities have agreed to vitrify this liquid, that is, turn it into a form of glass, so that it can be stored safely. They have miserably failed to so do and their vitrification plant barely keeps up with the new production of waste.

I will remind Members of what radioactive material does to the human body. Radioactive material destroys human flesh and bones. In large doses, it causes radioactive sickness and death results awfully, but mercifully quickly, in one day to three months. In lesser doses, it does not kill quickly but causes a variety of cancers that lead to a slow and lingering death. For those who become contaminated by radioactive fallout and who survive, the future will be grim. Future generations will be born with a variety of malformations and disabilities. Members who do not believe me should consider the health statistics for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where 1 million men, women and children were vaporised, or for Chernobyl.

I stated earlier that the 21 tanks of highly active liquid waste at Sellafield are the greatest single threat to Ireland and its people. These tanks are above ground and require constant cooling to prevent them from exploding. They are highly vulnerable to mismanagement, of which there has been much at Sellafield. They are also vulnerable to attacks by terrorists or to other sabotage. After the attacks of 11 September 2001 in the United States, it is even more important to remove this potential and lethal target.

Studies have been carried out by independent, internationally recognised scientists as to the potential effect of an explosion of one or all of these tanks and their deadly payloads. The effects would be catastrophic and that reality must be spelt out again and again. If one or more of these tanks were to explode, 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, and there is a 30% chance that it would drift directly towards Dublin. As it moves, the cloud would spread out to cover a wider and wider area. The slower the wind, the wider the spread. Nuclear fallout would kill or contaminate people in the immediate vicinity of the site. It would contaminate the sea and all in and on it as it progressed. Dublin would be hit five to 12 hours after the disaster struck Cumbria. It would be virtually impossible to escape contamination. Hundreds of thousands would be immediately affected. Some would die quickly and many thousands would die a slow and lingering death. The deadly cloud of radioactivity would continue across Ireland, carried by the wind, whether north, south or west. Who knows? Ballybunion or Ballyshannon would be as vulnerable as Ballymun. It would lay a lethal trail of death for people, including men, women and children, rich and poor. It would contaminate the earth, grass, towns, hillsides, valleys and rivers. 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 and deadly for 250,000 years. For the survivors of the disaster, which can be avoided if we force the closure of Sellafield, 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 United Nations nuclear inspection team, no one in their right mind would come near our shores. In short, our economy would collapse and there would be a mass exodus from this island. All the iodine tablets, nationwide leaflets and shelters provided by Deputy Jacob would make no difference.

We are now being told that nuclear energy is necessary for civilisation to survive by those who refuse to invest in alternative and renewable sources of energy. The murderous power of nuclear energy was laid bare for everyone to see when the American air force dropped two nuclear bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As I said earlier, more than 1 million innocent men, women and children were vaporised by these two bombs. The military industrial complex that drove the development of the nuclear technology boomed in the following years. Along with weapons' development, nuclear power stations were foisted on the world by industry and compliant governments. The lies and deception that characterised the operation of Sellafield were an integral part of the nuclear industry from day one. They claimed throughout the 1950s and 1960s that clean free energy was on the horizon. We now have a proliferation of nuclear power stations which produce neither free nor clean produce. These stations produce waste, which can neither be stored safely nor neutralised. It is waste with which science cannot deal.

The current promoters of nuclear power must have thought we had forgotten their lies and that the deadly nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island, Windscale and Chernobyl had faded from our memories. Sellafield is our legacy from this corrupt and disgraced industry. Now the British Government wants to privatise the operation and decontamination of its nuclear waste. As has been said already, the cost at Sellafield and other sites in the UK is estimated at €100 billion. These are rich pickings.

I want to register my strong objection to such a move. It was bad enough dealing with British Nuclear Fuels which was Government-controlled, but to hand over this sensitive and potentially lethal task to a for-profit-only private sector operator, which will cut corners to make profit, is something the Government and our people cannot afford to consider. Such a move will increase the possibility of the type of disaster I described earlier. I also call on the British Labour Party to speak out against this hostile action against Ireland by its government. At our weekend conference, I availed of the opportunity to meet and speak to the British Labour Party General Secretary and impressed strongly on him the strong feelings of the Irish people on this subject. Even the British Tories, who invented privatisation, have come out against this move by Mr. Blair. Their spokesman, Mr. Alan Duncan, said that to dump 50 years of dubious waste on the private sector, with none of the guarantees that only Government can offer, needs serious public debate before going ahead. Likewise, the GMB and Amicus trade unions condemned the proposal on the basis that safety would be compromised. I offer the Minister and the Taoiseach the support of the Labour Party in their efforts to stop this dangerous decision going ahead. We will be watching carefully how they use this mandate from Dáil Éireann.

The Sellafield complex is an obnoxious industrial dinosaur that poses a serious and ongoing threat to the lives and well-being of Irish people and future generations. Its closure and removal must be a top priority for every Irish Government. I ask why would mankind promote such a Doomsday?

I wish to share time with Deputies Finian McGrath, Gregory and Morgan.

During the past half an hour, we heard much bluster from the Government side of the House. It is more like a stuck record than anything else. I think I saw some dust being blown off the speeches made by both Ministers. We have heard it all before. I sense a real air of complacency coming from the Government side. We have heard the assurances and the diplomatic niceties. While this is all very well, I do not believe the Government is doing enough to close the nuclear industry across the water. The Minister is also failing to promote renewable energy sources in Ireland. While he is saying, "No new nukes", Forfás is saying we should make an offer for a second-hand nuclear power station in Wales. The Minister is also saying he is doing what he can but, to the best of my knowledge, he has not travelled to Sellafield, looked these people in the eye and told them to close it. When my colleague, Deputy O'Dowd, and I travelled to Sellafield, the Minister criticised us for doing so. It is about time the Minister got real and said directly to the nuclear industry in the UK that it is time to close that deadly and dangerous industry.

The Minister's worst offence is that, year after year, he and his colleagues sign up and pay a small fortune to the nuclear industry through our contributions to the EURATOM Treaty. It is time for these contributions to end. The EURATOM Treaty is about promoting the nuclear industry and guaranteeing a steady supply of nuclear fuel to the industry. To the best of my knowledge, the Minister has not raised our concerns about that treaty. Did he use Ireland's Presidency of the European Union to make changes to the treaties?

The Minister did not do so. He is tacitly supporting and funding the nuclear industry. It is time he made a move to withdraw from the EURATOM Treaty. As the treaty is approaching its 50th anniversary, it is an appropriate time for Ireland to withdraw from the treaty or, if we are not withdrawing from it, it is time to make substantial changes. Unlike other treaties, the Government has not proposed changes to these treaties. The Minister should work with his colleagues and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to stop the development and promotion of the nuclear industry. As we approach its 50th anniversary, it is time for the Minister to do something about it.

Nuclear energy is still as wrong as it was 50 years ago. Nuclear energy is not renewable because there is a limited supply of this material. Where does the waste go? We know from Britain that a permanent repository for it has still not been found. If the Minister or I were in business and did not do what we intended to do with our waste, we would be laughed at. However, year after year, the nuclear industry continues to operate in this way.

It is not long since the disaster at Chernobyl, an event the UN described it as the most serious environmental disaster that has occurred in western Europe. Chernobyl could happen again and we need the Minister to try to stop the nuclear industry from replicating left, right and centre. Nuclear reactors are vulnerable to terrorist attacks and I know from my visit to Sellafield that they are as vulnerable now as they were in the past. Without giving away any trade secrets, I am seriously concerned about the vulnerability of the nuclear industry. It is not the answer and I do not hear the Minister saying strongly enough that we do not want it.

I do not believe that the Irish people want nuclear power. If the Minister conducts any kind of an opinion poll, he will discover that the vast majority of the people do not want it. All those years ago at Carnsore Point they said that we should not take the nuclear route.

The nuclear industry affects Ireland. The Minister need only talk to his colleagues at the Radiological Institute of Ireland to discover that, 25 years later, we are still measuring the legacy of the Chernobyl nuclear explosion. As Adi Roche and her colleagues in the Chernobyl project can attest, the environmental, social and economic cost will haunt people, not just those in the former Soviet states but elsewhere around the world, forever.

The nuclear industry in the UK has debts of €100 billion. That would buy a great number of windmills. I call on the Minister to make the first move towards withdrawing from the EURATOM Treaty and clearly stating that we want renewables and not the nuclear industry to be the future for energy in Europe.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate on Sellafield. I speak as a northside Dublin Deputy with major concerns about Sellafield and about nuclear power in general. Most of our citizens have major health and safety concerns about the Sellafield plant, which I have opposed from the outset. I do not do so lightly and I base my belief on the international experience of accidents, deaths and the threat to the planet from nuclear power stations. I also base my opposition on the international scandal of nuclear weapons and their major threat to international peace. I do not support the brass-neck politics of Britain and the US, states which lecture other nations, most recently Iran, about nuclear power and which possess the real weapons of mass destruction. They are wrong, immoral and a disgrace to the international community. We need disarmament now. These weapons of death should not be allowed to continue in existence. They are a major waste of the financial resources needed to end poverty, famine and starvation.

I urge all Deputies to support this common sense approach and I urge this country, as an independent and neutral State, to use its clout at the United Nations and within the European Union to end nuclear power and weapons once and for all. It is a form of terrorism that should be targeted on the international stage.

Sellafield and all nuclear power stations are a threat to the human race. Plans to privatise the €56 billion clean-up of Britain's aging nuclear sites will, according to one of the most senior figures in Britain's own nuclear industry, cause serious accidents. Brian Watson, former director of the UK's largest nuclear site at Sellafield in Cumbria, has accused British Government Ministers of pursuing an erroneous dogma that can only result in costly mistakes.

Prime Minister Tony Blair is preparing to launch his long-awaited review this week, which is widely expected to introduce a new programme of nuclear power stations and which is set to provoke bitter arguments. The introduction of competitive tendering for decommissioning of nuclear plants to begin later this year could be disastrous. I fear that the loss of control could be similar to that relating to Railtrack, the private rail company which collapsed in 2001. Competition is likely to lead to incidents of a serious nature due to "short-termism" and a lack of experience and knowledge. If people get it wrong at Sellafield, there will be no going back. Brian Watson worked at the Sellafield plant for more than 30 years and was site director from 1999 until he retired in July 2004. He made his comments in response to the strategy being proposed by the British Government's Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. At Sellafield, there are 21 tanks which each contain 1,500 cu. m., of high-level liquid waste that requires continual cooling. There are seven different cooling systems in place. The tanks contain 2,400 kg of caesium-137.

I urge all Deputies to challenge Sellafield. We owe it to our constituents, the citizens of this State.

I also welcome the opportunity to again focus attention on the widespread concern in Ireland regarding Sellafield, which continues to be the greatest single environmental threat facing the Irish people.

The history of Sellafield has been one of cover-ups, accidents and incidents, an absence of proper accountability, PR propaganda rather than genuine transparency and even the falsification of safety records. All that was when full responsibility rested with a state-owned body with a degree of political accountability. With the plan to sell off the British nuclear clean-up business dominated by Sellafield's THORP plant, an operation that increases its nuclear dangers almost by the day, there is now even more concern that the private sector will, as it always does, maximise its profits at the expense of safety measures. Such measures have never had the degree of priority they deserve, particularly in light of the potentially catastrophic implications of a major accident for the Irish people.

I doubt whether we will ever know the full truth about incidents that have already happened at Sellafield or whether we will ever be told the full extent of the risks of a major accident occurring in the future. While I recognise the necessity of the Taoiseach raising this matter tomorrow with the British Prime Minister, I cannot see Mr. Blair doing anything other than offering a dose of his usual lip service.

The privatisation of the nuclear waste business to enable British Nuclear Fuels to construct more modern nuclear power stations places this country in increasing danger of a potential catastrophe over which we will have no control. The only acceptable solution is to close Sellafield.

The Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant has long posed a serious threat to the health of the Irish people. There has been a long-running campaign for the closure of this notorious plant, the safety record of which is particularly appalling. There has been a litany of accidents, leaks, inaccurate records, missing material, and many court appearances and convictions. The decision of the British Government to sell off and privatise Sellafield is a cause of major concern and alarm to the Irish people, in particular those living on the east coast. Sellafield must not be sold to private interests. The implications of such a move are far-reaching and terrifying. It is difficult to believe that the British Government would even consider such a move. The running and decommissioning of a nuclear power station cannot be dealt with by private interests that are driven by profit-making motives. The cost-cutting which would undoubtedly result from privatisation would have repercussions for the health and safety of the public in Ireland and Britain.

Public accountability with regard to Sellafield is bad. The plant has a notorious record in terms of accidents and the failure to keep accurate records. We should be prepared for a highly dangerous decline in accountability if this reckless privatisation is permitted to proceed.

I wish to deal with the Government's softening attitude on the use of nuclear power. The inclusion in the Forfás report published yesterday that consideration should be given to the development of nuclear energy in Ireland as a more long-term solution to the energy crisis is deeply worrying. Nuclear power will never be acceptable to the Irish people. The Government must make clear its stance on the issue. There must be no equivocation in respect of this matter. The Minister must reject giving nuclear power any consideration whatsoever. For many years, we have been warning of the dangers of over-dependency on oil. The failure to make the transition from the use of fossil fuels towards renewable energy, including wind, wave, solar power, has been highlighted by environmental groups, by those seeking to develop renewable energy and technologies and by parties including that which I represent.

The Government has consistently dragged its feet. Only now, years after other states, is it granting householders, seeking to install solar panels, geothermal heating systems and wood pellet stoves coming on stream. As a result of the Government's failure, since coming to office in 1997, to act to develop renewable energy and energy saving technologies, we are informed that there is an energy crisis. It reminds me of the problem in accident and emergency units where, after nine years in power, the Government is beginning to realise that there is a crisis.

We will be told that the energy crisis must be treated as a national emergency in order to advance the pro-nuclear agenda. We will be told we must do things that we might not do in different circumstances and that we have no choice but to turn to nuclear power. The ground is already being prepared. The kite is clearly being flown in respect of nuclear power.

The comments contained in the Forfás report came only a short time after the Government refused to join Austria and Germany in opposing nuclear power at the recent European Council. Why was that the case? The Government's support for the European Council's call for a new generation of nuclear power was a highly significant indicator of its changing position in regard to such power. This support is totally inconsistent with the long-standing demand for the closure of Sellafield.

When the Government published the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill 2006, Sinn Féin highlighted its concern that the proposed legislation included any infrastructural developments to be fast-tracked, such as an industrial installation for the production of electricity, steam or hot water with a heat output of 300 MW or more. We asked if a nuclear power station could be fast-tracked under this provision. That question is more pertinent than ever.

The Irish people are overwhelmingly opposed to nuclear power. The potential cost of nuclear power in terms of the destruction of human life and of the environment is a price the Irish people have made clear they are unwilling to pay.

Perhaps I could have a couple of minutes in which to contribute.

The order of the House is that there are 15 minutes for the Fine Gael Party, 15 minutes for the Labour Party, 15 minutes for the Technical Group and that the Minister is to be called upon to make a statement in reply which will not exceed five minutes.

Deputy Durkan is above and beyond all of those to whom the Ceann Comhairle refers.

I support the views expressed by the other speakers on this side of the House on the issue under discussion and I emphasise the need, at a time when the entire energy issue is at a crossroads and when alternatives are being sought, to have due regard for health and safety, sustainability and renewability. If those issues are kept to the fore, there would be less need for certain interests to emphasise reliance on nuclear energy. I will not rehearse the comments of previous speakers regarding the safety of Sellafield. Every knows the position in that regard.

I recently read articles in some newspapers to the effect that nuclear energy is a natural option, that it is quite safe and that nobody has ever died from it. Each of the articles was rubbish. I am sure the Minister read them. They contained the most extraordinary affirmations from people who were supposed to be scientifically inclined. They attempted to say that the nuclear energy is fine and that it is stable. It is not stable and the technology is not available to make it stable. Other European countries rely on it as a power source only because they have alternative back-ups and they are in a position to marry the two. We need to rely on a different marriage between renewables and what we have at present and to move towards those that are likely to give us a cleaner environment.

I thank Deputy Durkan for his contribution and congratulate him on his effective use of the time available. I agree with him that if the answer to the question was nuclear, it must be a very foolish question. I am reminded of a placard held up by a young schoolgirl in Navan during the course of an election campaign a number of years ago which read, "If the answer was Fine Gael, it must have been a very foolish question." I agree with the Deputy that nuclear power is not an option. As Deputy Stagg said in his fine contribution, the reality is that there has been a complete distortion in this debate. There is an attempt to write out the major issues of health and safety issues, not just in this generation but going forward for several generations.

I recently made the point, although I was obviously not listened to by Deputy Cuffe, following a meeting with the British Secretary of State, that we regard ourselves as stakeholders. If a fraction of the money which must now be wasted cleaning up the mess that obtains in this industry had been invested in research in clean burn coal technologies, Britain would have the secure energy it is seeking. It is not our responsibility to advise Britain with regard to its energy policy. Later this year we will see a close to zero emission coal-electricity generating station operating in the United States, the research for which cost less than $1 billion. When one compares that with the clean-up cost of £100 million, to which a further £9 million was added last week, one sees the perversity of this proposition.

A number of Deputies referred to the Forfás report that was published yesterday. It suggests that Ireland needs to develop a national strategy to prepare for the challenge of peak oil. Few of us with disagree with that. The report urges the adoption of proactive measures, including the possibility of developing nuclear energy. That is where we would depart from the Forfás report. The answer to Deputy Morgan's question is "no". Under the terms of section 18(6) of the Electricity Regulation Act 1999, the use of nuclear energy for the generation of electricity in Ireland is specifically, statutorily forbidden. We do not need to continually forbid it: as the Minister for Foreign Affairs pointed out, it is sufficient to forbid things once. Under the terms of the energy policy review currently under way, the nuclear option is specifically excluded. The option is, therefore, doubly excluded.

With regard to the specific question raised by Deputy Morgan, let me put his mind at ease because I would not like him to have a sleepless night. Neither I nor any other member of the Government would agree with the proposition put forward in the Forfás report. The Deputy referred specifically to a mythological event at the recent European Council meeting and Deputy Cuffe challenged me in that regard. Let me put the record straight in both cases. The Taoiseach has already made the position clear that, of course, we would support any action from a member state. Deputy Cuffe should know, because it was well reported at the time, that, as a member of the Convention on the Future of Europe, I strongly supported, on behalf of Ireland, the Austrian proposition. That is a matter of record. I not only did that openly in the course of the convention, I also did it as the leader of the Friends of the Community Method Group.

Deputy O'Dowd raised two questions, one of which related to an FOI request. As the Deputy is aware, the operation of the Freedom of Information Act is a matter of law, a law in which the party of which the Deputy is a member had some——

The Minister changed the law.

Not in this regard. International relations and government to government relations and government to government messages were excluded from the Deputy's original draft and from every subsequent draft under the Freedom of Information Act. If the Deputy has any doubts about that, I refer him to the Act.

I do not accept that.

The salient point is that if the Deputy believes the decision of the information officer in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government was wrong, he could have made an appeal to the Information Commissioner but he did not do so. If the Deputy was genuinely interested in the issue — I do not doubt his sincerity——

Will the Minister answer the question?

If the Deputy was genuinely interested in the issue rather than in hollow grandstanding, he would have asked the Information Commission to explain the position.

The time allotted to the Minister has concluded.

The Deputy also raised the question of communications regarding shipments. As he is well aware, government to government advice is never the subject of——

Was the Minister aware of the shipment?

There was an indication to the Government that——

Did the Minister know about the shipment?

If the Deputy wants me to answer, he should show good manners, courtesy and forbearance. Advice received by the Government from another government is never made the issue of an advanced exchange. This was the case in this particular instance. When Government advice was given, it was not disseminated further.

Did the Minister draft a press release on the issue and then fail to issue it?

Did I draft a press release and not issue it? No. I will check the matter for the Deputy. On the other point the Deputy——

According to my information, the Minister did draft and fail to release a press release.

I do not know from where the Deputy obtains his information.

The Minister would be surprised.

As the Deputy says, he would be very surprised if I suppressed any press release.

The Minister did not issue the relevant press release because he was afraid to do so. He knew about the shipment throughout.