Radiological Protection Bill, 1990: Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Essentially, the purpose of the Bill is to provide the framework for a comprehensive system of radiological Protection for the general public. Specifically, the Bill establishes the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, dissolves the Nuclear Energy Board and transfers its assets and liabilities to the new institute on the dissolution of the board. The Bill also enables a range of radiation protection measures to be taken by various Ministers, both in normal circumstances and in a radiological emergency situation. Finally, the enactment of this Bill will enable Ireland to ratify three important international conventions in the nuclear field and some of the provisions in the Bill derive from the requirements of these conventions.

I will go into more detail on these conventions and on all the provisions of the Bill. I will also outline to the House the important and positive changes which have been made to the Bill during its passage through the Dáil and since I introduced the Bill back in May last year. Before doing so, however, it might be useful to give the international background to this legislation as well as the Government's policy on radiological protection, nuclear safety and nuclear matters in general.

Senator will be aware that in the international debate on environmental questions nuclear energy is being presented as the solution to the issue of environmental damage and global warming. The international debate about these issues is progressing in many fora but our concerns about the nuclear option, which are shared by a great many other states, remain unchanged. More recently the situation in the Middle East has affected and threatened the availability and price of oil and introduced more uncertainty into energy supply systems. Difficult as it may be to find solutions to all these problems, both environmental and political, I am still firmly of the view that large scale and widespread recourse to nuclear energy is not an acceptable solution to our energy problems, given the very serious health and environmental risks which are intrinsic to the nuclear industry.

Safety issues and the risk of serious accidents with trans-boundary implications are all still at the very heart of the nuclear question. In that context, Ireland, in its capacity last year as President of the European Community, was pleased to propose on behalf of the EC member states the holding by the International Atomic Energy Agency of a conference on nuclear safety scheduled for September 1991. I look forward to its deliberations and conclusions and hope that it will make a timely contribution to determining the nuclear safety agenda for the decade ahead.

Ireland is now firmly identified within the IAEA and indeed all international fora as a country dedicated to finding an international solution to nuclear safety and radiation protection issues.

The House will agree that nuclear countries must increasingly recognise the legitimate concerns of their non-nuclear neighbours and accordingly operators of nuclear power programmes must carry out their operations in accordance with the highest standards at all stages, from siting and construction to operation and to eventual decommissioning. These concerns extend equally to the whole question of the disposal of nuclear waste.

Any discussion on nuclear safety must, of course, consider the question of damage resulting from an accident, including liability and compensation. An IAEA Standing Committee has met a number of times to look at possible revisions of the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage. Ireland welcomes the progress that has been made so far, particularly in the acceptance by contracting parties that any definition of nuclear damage must include damage to the environment and that the liability regime must cover reinstatement. A comprehensive liability regime is well overdue and we look forward to substantial progress being made at the forthcoming meetings.

I am pleased to inform the House that Ireland, as a member of the IAEA, has been playing a very active role at these meetings, in pressing for the establishment of a system which would ensure that no victims of a nuclear accident would be left without full compensation and also that states would assume their full responsibilities in this area. The corollary of that policy, and Ireland is supported by many countries on this issue, is that an element of State liability must now enter the present civil regime.

Senators might appreciate if I dwell briefly on some basic facts about radiation. The atom has proved in many ways to be a Pandora's box for mankind, revealing many inherent dangers as well as benefits. The processes by which nuclear materials are obtained, processed and used generate wastes which remain dangerous for thousands of years and prove a deadly legacy for generations to come.

Radioactivity and the radiation which it produces has always been present in the universe and on earth. We cannot see, smell or feel it and, in fact, its existence has been known for less than a century. It is now known that people constantly receive doses of radiation from natural sources. Radioactive materials contained in the earth's rocks, soil, air and water give rise to external radiation doses, that is, from a source outside the body, and internal doses from radioactive substances in the food we eat and air we breathe. Radiation is also constantly showered on the earth from outer space.

In addition, following the discovery and invention of uses of radiation, people can receive doses from man made sources such as the various stages involved in the generation of electricity in nuclear power stations, the accidental release of radioactive materials from nuclear facilities and equipment, the nuclear weapons tests of the 1950s and 1960s and the use of radiation in the medical field for diagnosing and treating diseases.

The adverse effects of radiation on human tissue were noticed shortly after its discovery. There is still a lot that is unknown about the effects of radiation, particularly at low doses, but it is accepted that the damage which it causes to human cells depends on the level of radiation dose. High doses can kill cells and cause death within a short period of time. Low doses would not cause immediate death but may cause changes to human cells and lead in time to cancers or genetic damage. However, it appears that radiation damage is not uniform. Not everyone is similarly affected by the same dose, but what is clear is that a person receiving a dose has a greater risk of adverse effects than if he did not. There is, of course, no difference between the effects of a given amount of natural radiation and the same amount of a man made source of radiation.

It is not possible to completely eliminate doses of radiation. What can be done is to attempt to minimise the doses from both natural and artificial sources. General principles of radiation protection have been developed over the years and have been widely adopted. These principles are reviewed in the light of developments in relation to the understanding of the effects of radiation. They involve a system of control by a competent national authority whereby only those activities involving radiation doses which are justified by the benefits which they produce are permitted. In addition, permitted exposures must be as low as reasonably achieveable and doses received by individuals from the activity must be below specified dose limits.

These principles have been applied in international standards of radiation protection for many years in a more systematic way to some man made uses. These international standards have been adopted in European Community laws and are implemented and supervised up to now by the Nuclear Energy Board in its licensing system for the use of radioactive substances. Increasingly, however, attention is being given to a more systematic application of the principles of exposure to natural sources and to other man made uses such as medical doses and international standards may be extended in the future to these other sources of exposure.

The post-Chernobyl era has witnessed a worldwide apprehension of nuclear energy which has been manifested in a retreat from nuclear plant construction plans and an increase in the number of reactors being shut down. In fact, only now are we beginning to learn of the full facts surrounding the Chernobyl disaster. If anyone was in any doubt about the repercussions of such a nuclear accident, the further recent disclosures about Chernobyl widely reported in the press, have shown the incalculable effects of such a disaster on human health. The full picture clearly will only emerge in years to come.

I will now turn to the actual proposal in the Bill to dissolve the Nuclear Energy Board and replace it with the Radiological Protection Institute. It must be said that the board's expertise and performance over the years has been quite satisfactory, and the proposed dissolution of the board in no way arises from any concern about the manner in which it has discharged its functions. The reasons for the board's dissolution are much more to do with the fact that the old legislation, The Nuclear Energy (An Bord Fuinnimh Núicléigh) Act, 1971, and the board established under that Act, are no longer appropriate to deal with the radiological protection issues which we as a Government wish to confront in the 1990s.

Strange as it may seem today, the main purpose of the 1971 Act at the time was to establish a body to regulate a nuclear power programme. As Senators are aware, during the 1960s a nuclear power station for Ireland was under consideration and Ireland's accession to the Euratom Treaty along with the other European Community Treaties was anticipated. There was also a growing interest in the use of radioactive substances in industry and for research as well as in the medical field and with the rapid growth worldwide in the development of this new technology the Government needed expert advice on the subject.

The functions of the board, as provided for in the 1971 Act, are to advise the Government and individual Ministers on all aspects of nuclear energy and to keep itself informed of developments in nuclear energy with particular reference to the implications for the State of such developments. In particular, it was to advise on all aspects of the acquisition, location, operation etc. of research reactors, to advise the Minister on proposals for nuclear power stations, to prepare safety codes for radioactive substances and devices and to promote knowledge, proficiency and research in nuclear science and technology.

There was a clear link between the establishment of the board and the consideration of a nuclear power station for Ireland. This link is demonstrated in the fact that the announcement by the Government in 1973 of their approval in principle of the ESB's proposal for a nuclear power station accompanied the announcement of the coming into operation of the 1971 Act.

I will turn briefly to the considerations which led to the abandonment of the nuclear power project. In February 1979 the Government authorised the ESB to complete the planning process for the project but not to enter into any commitments until the Government decided whether or not the project should go ahead. The Government also decided that a public inquiry would be held to deal with all of the relevant issues. However, one month later a very serious accident occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in the USA. This accident highlighted the safety risks that accompanied nuclear power and caused much greater emphasis to be given everywhere to the safety issue in any decision on nuclear power. As well as the safety issue, the economic recession which followed the oil crisis of 1979 caused a downturn in electricity demand and by 1980 it was clear that an early decision on a nuclear power plant was not necessary from the point of view of meeting electricity demand and nuclear generation in particular was not appropriate until the safety implications of the Three Mile Island accident could be fully evaluated.

The risks arising from nuclear power have since become clearer and successive Governments here have decided that nuclear power will not be used for the generation of electricity in Ireland. The ESB have expanded their natural gas and coal generation facilities and no longer have any plans for a nuclear station. The land that the ESB acquired at Carnsore Point, County Wexford, for the nuclear power station is to be put to agricultural use and where applicable a portion of this land is to be used for afforestation. Accordingly, the decision not to build a nuclear power station in Ireland means that a major part of the Nuclear Energy Board's original functions and the corresponding provisions in the 1971 Act are redundant. The board has, of course, continued to carry out its other functions. These are the provision of advice to the Government and the Ministers on nuclear matters, the regulation by licence of activities involving radioactive substances, the monitoring of ionising radiation in the environment and of the exposure of persons employed on work with radiation and the provision of library and information services. It is now time to re-examine and refocus the functions of the board so as to express its main role as the centre for radiological protection of the public as clearly as possible. Senators, I am sure, will agree with the thrust of that policy.

Senators will also recollect that at the time of the Chernobyl accident, our preparation was not all that it should have been. However, we were not alone in that respect. In Ireland, the resources available to the board were inadequate at that time to enable it to satisfactorily provide the services required of it, which were to monitor and determine the extent and location of any contamination of the Irish environment, to assess the potential exposure to radiation of the Irish public and to identify the necessity for the introduction of measures to limit such exposures.

Furthermore, the roles of various other responsible bodies and the ability to mobilise them quickly in the event of an emergency had not been pre-planned in a systematic way. Additional resources were allocated to the board soon after the accident and co-ordinated procedures were quickly devised. Radiation monitoring showed that, fortunately, Ireland generally was not severely affected by the accident. An extensive programme of monitoring levels in foodstuffs at processing plants and livestock in certain mountain areas was introduced and is still continuing four years later. This programme shows that contamination levels monitored did not warrant the introduction of specific control measures, such as bans on the movement of livestock, or on meat, and that radioactivity levels in food in Ireland are low and well within the levels determined for international trade. However, it is clear that if a serious accident happens at a plant much closer to Ireland than the Chernobyl plant the effects could be severe.

As Senators will be aware, an emergency plan for nuclear accidents based on the lessons learned from the Chernobyl accident has been drawn up by an interdepartmental committee and was recently approved by the Government. The plan, which will be published shortly, involves the deployment of a network of radiation monitoring devices around the country in order to detect any increases in radiation and pinpoint the areas of the country seriously affected. A system is provided to enable notification of an accident abroad to be received and then, the rapid calling together of a co-ordinating body. Following a notification of a detection of raised radiation levels, the machinery is now in place to direct the response and the identifiction of the roles and functions of the various Government Departments and other bodies in response to the emergency. Much of the necessary equipment has been purchased and is operational.

I will turn here briefly to a policy issue which is at the forefront of our strategy in the field of nuclear safety. I believe that the best way to ensure that the highest standards of safety are being achieved and maintained is to have an independent, international inspectorate established to verify the application of such standards. Within the European Community we have proposed that the Commission establish such an inspectorate for the Community. We have pointed out that the Commission has sufficient power to do this under the Euratom Treaty and that it must remember that it has a duty to protect all of the people of the Community. I continue to look to the Commission to bring forward a realistic proposal, and to nuclear member states to accept that they must be seen to be safe. Last year, in response to repeated requests from Ireland, the Commission announced a modest proposal to reintroduce inspection and verification of member states' monitoring facilities for discharges of radiation. Officials from my Department have met Commission representatives to discuss this initiative and have made it clear that while Ireland welcomes this latest move, it is imperative that a much more radical approach is adopted.

The nearest nuclear installations to Ireland are, of course, those on the west coast of the UK. Successive Irish Ministers for Energy have conveyed to the UK authorities Ireland's concerns in relation to the UK nuclear industry. These concerns have naturally focused on Sellafield, but we should not forget the risks associated with the operation of the old magnox reactors, with their outdated technology and inadequate standards that would not meet current day requirements. Even the UK authorities themselves admit that the magnox reactors cannot meet today's safety standards and I will continue to put our case to the UK authorities at every opportunity.

There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that the Government policy of direct contact with the UK authorities on the nuclear issue has had some success. The significant decrease in discharges from Sellafield, the closure of two older magnox reactors, the decision not to go ahead with the proposal to store radioactive waste in caverns under the Irish Sea and the cancellation of the Dounreay reprocessing plant project are all due largely to consistent opposition from Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Scandinavian countries as well as groups within the UK and public opinion generally becoming more aware of the risks to which they are exposed. I am committed to the continuation of this policy to achieve our aims and I will look at every option open to us.

The rightful attention we give to the existence of nuclear risks arising from installations abroad should not cloud the fact that radiation risks occur at home. I referred earlier to the fact that people constantly receive doses of radiation from radioactive materials contained in the earth's rocks, soil, air and water. One of the major natural radiation sources is radon gas which is released from radioactive materials in the earth. The concentration of the radioactive material varies according to the geology of the region. Radon, as a gas, can accumulate in buildings and in certain regions of the world with a high incidence of radon, this can cause high radiation doses to the occupants. Studies carried out in Ireland by UCD indicate that approximately 2 per cent of Irish dwellings — concentrated in certain regions of the country — may have indoor radon accumulations giving rise to about eight times the average natural background radiation dose in Ireland. The Nuclear Energy Board are carrying out further studies on the question. Last year, the EC approved a grant worth 100,000 ECU for a research programme co-ordinated by the Geological Survey of Ireland and involving the Nuclear Energy Board, Irish universities and German interests, on the geological factors contributing to the incidence of radon. The results of this programme should help to make it easier to predict radon hazard areas.

Radon in houses is a relatively recently identified problem, and there is as yet no international consensus on the levels at which action by the householder should be considered to reduce the radon concentration. However, on the advice of the Nuclear Energy Board, and based on the most recent research into the problem, the Government decided to adopt a specific reference level — 200 becquerels per cubic metre — which we regard as very low but also achieveable. Our commitment to radiation safety is reflected in the adoption of a low reference level, and also in the fact that, even in constrained budgetary circumstances, the Nuclear Energy Board will spend around £150,000 this year to enable it to carry out radon surveys and research. The institute will continue this research and develop it as necessary. Recently the Nuclear Energy Board advertised their radon-testing service in local newspapers in the west of Ireland, explaining the problem and encouraging people to have the radon level in their homes measured. The Department of the Environment have also published a booklet giving information and advice on remedial measures where there is a risk of radon accumulation.

Finally, I wish to turn to an issue raised extensively on both Committee and Report Stages in the Dáil, by way of a number of Opposition amendments to the Bill, which effectively meant that Ireland would be declared a nuclear free zone. I do not want to go into all the details surrounding those amendments; suffice to say that proposals in relation to visits of naval vessels and overflights of military aircraft which might carry nuclear weapons are not feasible. The question is of a military nature and more appropriate to the responsibilities of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It is not appropriate to this Bill. Even more fundamental to this issue are the implications for this country's obligations under the rules of international law. Senators will be aware that under international law, a foreign naval vessel has the right of innocent passage through the territorial waters of another state. For me to have accepted these amendments on Committee and Report Stages in the Dáil would have opened the way for Ireland to be declared in breach of the rules of international law and I would emphasise to the House that this would have major international implications for us which could not be countenanced.

I am quite confident that our position on the movement and control of nuclear weapons and materials is fully understood by the international community and, moreover, is protected by present legislation. The only nuclear weapon option Ireland supports is the zero option and our unqualified support for non-proliferation makes our position clear and unambiguous. The Radiological Protection Bill is not the appropriate medium for such proposals, given its primary aims of establishing the institute, putting in place radiological protection measures and enabling the ratification of international conventions. This whole question is more a military matter and is more pertinent to the diplomatic arena, the area of international relations and comes within the responsibilities of my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

I will now turn briefly to the details of the international conventions in the nuclear field which we wish to ratify under powers contained in the Bill.

The Conventions on early notification of a nuclear accident and on assistance in the case of a nuclear accident or radiological emergency were drawn up after the Chernobyl accident in 1986.

One of the major issues hindering an effective response to the Chernobyl accident in all countries including Ireland was the lack of information on the occurrence of the accident and its nature. This issue was quickly recognised by the international community and the International Atomic Energy Agency and the immediate result was that in September 1986, these two Conventions were adopted and opened for signature. The Conventions have each been signed by over 70 countries, including Ireland, and have each been ratified so far by over 40 countries.

The Notification Convention puts in place a formal regime for the notification of nuclear accidents. It requires a state which is party to it in which a nuclear accident covered by the Convention occurs, to notify other states which are or may be physically affected of the accident, of its nature, the time of its occurrence and its location.

I regard the existence of this Convention and its ratification by Ireland as very positive developments in relation to our emergency preparedness. Obviously, the earlier we are notified of an accident the better we can prepare to deal with its consequences.

The measures required to implement the Notification Convention include the notification of a competent authority and a point of contact. The Bill provides that the institute will be the competent authority. Under our emergency plan, the Garda Síochána Communications Centre is the point of contact for receiving notifications of an accident. Following notification of an accident to the Garda Síochána Communications Centre by any route, the centre will contact the institute, and the emergency plan will, if necessary, be brought into play.

The Assistance Convention provides for states parties to co-operate between themselves and with the IAEA to facilitate prompt assistance in the event of an accident or radiological emergency. I feel that this Convention has special importance for a small non-nuclear country like Ireland, as we would in the event of an emergency be able to call on assistance from other states party to the Convention. In the event of a radiological emergency a state party may request assistance in the form of personnel, equipment or materials from another state party or an international organisation. The Convention provides that the assisting party may offer assistance without costs but that if it is provided on a reimbursement basis the requesting state must reimburse the assisting party.

Certain provisions of the Bill enable Ireland to ratify this Convention. The institute is to be the Irish competent authority for making and receiving requests for assistance although the making of requests for or offers of assistance is subject to the consent of the Minister because of the need for co-ordination with the Nuclear Accident Committee established under the emergency plan. This committee is chaired by an officer of the Minister.

In order not to inhibit the availability of assistance under the Convention to Ireland, I propose to adopt the optional provisions of the Convention in relation to the privileges and immunities to be afforded to assisting personnel when providing assistance in Ireland. The Government will make an order under the Diplomatic Relations and Immunities Acts, 1967 and 1976 to provide for the granting of privileges and immunities. The Bill before the House covers other privileges, immunities and compensation provisions which are referred to in the Convention but which are not covered by the Diplomatic Relations and Immunities Acts. The Bill also makes provision for the necessary confidentiality requirements of the Convention.

The Convention of the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material was drawn up in 1979 following concern on the part of the Governments about the possibility of terrorism involving uranium and plutonium, which are materials used in the nuclear industry but also capable of being used in nuclear weapons. The Convention lays down standard protection measures for these nuclear materials while in international transport, involving notification of shipments, security escorts and surveillance. The Convention also requires state parties to make certain acts such as robbery, embezzlement, extortion or sabotage serious criminal offences and to subject offenders to prosecution or extradition.

In order to implement the convention it will be necessary to ensure that any shipments of the relevant nuclear materials to or from Ireland are protected in accordance with the requirements of the Convention. The institute will be in a position to do this under the Nuclear Energy (General Control of Fissile Fuels, Radioactive Substances and Irradiating Apparatus) Order 1977 which will be kept in force under the Bill, when enacted. Under this order the custody, use, manufacture, importation, distribution, transportation, exportation or other disposal of radioactive substances is prohibited except under licence from the board. Conditions may be attached to such licences.

The Bill makes acts of robbery, embezzlement, etc. involving nuclear materials, as described by the Convention, offences and lays down severe penalties. The Bill also establishes the necessary extra territorial jurisdiction to prosecute offenders in relation to offences committed abroad, where the offender is not extradited to the relevant State. In order to ensure that extradition may take place to another state party to the Convention with which we do not already have an extradition agreement, it would be necessary for the Government to make an order under section 8 of the Extradition Act, 1965 enabling extradition to that State to take place subject to the provisions of the Extradition Act. This will be done, if necessary, before we ratify the Convention.

I will now outline the main features of the Bill but before doing so, I would like to dwell briefly on certain changes to the original Bill which were made during its passage through the Dáil. When the Bill was first drafted, a number of organisations put their views to me on various aspects of the legislation. I listened to them, as I did to many Members on the opposite side of the House particularly on Second Stage in the Dáil and, as a consequence, I have amended the Bill in a number of important respects. Perhaps the most important change has been in the whole area of ministerial control, in particular the provisions as originally set out in section 20. Senators will see that section 20 is now a very short section merely providing that the Minister may give general directives to the institute. Originally, this section was much more detailed. In my view it placed too great an administrative burden on the institute but, more importantly, it created the possibility of undermining the independent role of the institute.

Also in that general area, particularly in section 17, there was a genuine worry that it was unnecessary and too cumbersome for the institute to have to seek the approval of the Minister for Finance as well as the Minister for Energy when, for example, any changes to its work programme during the course of the year were considered. Accordingly, on Committee Stage in the Dáil, I received the support of the House for the removal of this requirement in section 17 and in other appropriate clauses in the Bill.

As I mentioned before, I also agreed on Committee Stage that the institute should take on a much more active role in the area of providing information to the general public and I have made the necessary amendments to the Bill.

Finally, I have also amended the First Schedule to the Bill, in response to various arguments concerning the makeup of the board of the new institute. I agree that appointments to the institute should be made quite clearly and unambiguously on the basis of qualifications and expertise in relevant fields. Accordingly, Senators will see that part 2 of the First Schedule provides exactly for that, by having up to five of the members as persons engaged in or having knowledge or experience in a range of relevant fields. Up to six further members would be appointed on the basis of representative organisations in those fields. I consider that this approach which involves a mix of individual expert appointments and representative appointments will enable me to appoint a well balanced institute.

Turning to the detailed provisions of the Bill, Part I contains preliminary and general sections setting out the Short Title, definitions, provisions relating to the laying of orders and regulations before the Houses of the Oireachtas and provisions relating to expenses. Part II deals with the establishment of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, the dissolution of the Nuclear Energy Board and the transfer of the assets and liabilities of the board to the institute. I will appoint by order a day to be the establishment day for the establishment of the institute, the dissolution of the board and the transfer of assets and liabilities. The main functions of the institute, as set out in part II section 7 are to carry out monitoring of radiation in the environment, to advise the Government on radiological safety matters, to assist in emergency planning and response, to monitor developments on radiation matters in order to keep the Government informed and to carry out research. As I mentioned before, I have agreed to an amendment to section 7 which now specifically requires the institute to provide information to the public on radiological safety — the new section 7 (k).

Section 8 outlines the range of particular functions. I again point out that in this section, I have made doubly sure of the independence of the institute by deleting any reference to the institute acting merely as an agency for the Minister. Section 9 enables me to confer by order additional functions on the institute.

All these provisions provide the machinery for an effective radiological protection body capable of confronting and dealing with all of the radiological problems facing the State and its citizens.

As I have outlined, the institute will consist of a chairman and between six and 11 members and will be able to form committees to advise it on various issues. The staff of the institute will be headed by a chief executive officer. I had originally intended that in order to ensure the effective operation of the institute as and from the establishment day, I would appoint the first chief executive officer. However, again in order to reinforce the independence of the institute, I have amended the Bill so that the board will do so, subject to my consent, even though there will be a time lapse before the first chief executive officer takes up office. The other staff of the institute will be transferred from the board on the establishment day and indeed, the institute is fortunate to have available to it the considerable expertise and experience of a highly qualified staff.

Part III of the Bill outlines a range of powers and controls to ensure the effective protection of the public from radiation hazards. Section 30 empowers me to make orders regulating activities involving radioactive substances by establishing a licensing system operated by the institute. In practice the Nuclear Energy (General Control of Fissile Fuels, Radioactive Substances and Irradiating Apparatus) Order, 1977, which was made under corresponding provisions of the 1971 Act and which will be continued in force under this Act, will be the basis of the licensing system and will be operated by the institute. This part also contain new provisions relating to the protection of the public from the effects of radiological emergencies.

An important feature of the response to a radiological emergency is the ability to impose control measures to ensure that food with unacceptable levels of contamination does not reach the public or that contaminated food ingredients do not enter the food chain. The legislative base to enable such measures to be implemented was not very satisfactory at the time of the Chernobyl accident. While certain measures could have been implemented if it was necessary to do so, an accident with more severe consequences could have required the urgent enactment of additional legislation. Part III contains sections which provide for comprehensive powers to enable the various Ministers who have responsibilities in relation to the food chain to ensure that radiation doses to the public from food in a radiological emergency are minimised. There is also provision for the obligatory immediate notification to the institute of any theft, threat of theft, accident or loss of radioactive substances or devices so that any response measures required can be put in place as soon as possible.

Part IV includes certain provisions which are required in order that Ireland can ratify the Notification, Assistance and Protection Conventions. There is provision for the designation by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the countries which are parties to the Protection Convention so that importers and exporters will be aware of the physical protection requirements for imports from and exports to countries which are not parties to the Convention. There is provision for the protection of the confidentiality of confidential information received pursuant to the operation of the Conventions. There is provision to ensure the immunity from customs charges or seizure of equipment sent to, from or through the State for the purposes of the Assistance Convention and also for the payment of compensation for death, injury or losses arising out of that Convention.

In relation to the Protection Convention, the Bill creates offences in relation to the commission of certain acts involving nuclear material and establishes jurisdiction over these offences not only when they are committed in the State but also when they are committed in a Convention country and when they are committed elsewhere by an Irish citizen or by a national of a convention country. This is to ensure that offenders who are present in the State can be extradited to the relevant Convention country or be prosecuted in the State if extradition does not take place. In view of their seriousness severe penalties are laid down for the offences involving these specific nuclear materials, which are capable of being used in nuclear weapons and are capable of causing widespread damage.

I believe that this Bill will provide the comprehensive legislative framework which is required to establish the machinery to protect the people of Ireland from the dangers of ionising radiation and I commend this Bill to the House.

I welcome the Minister to the House. This is important legislation which arose initially in the other House about a year ago. It has taken a while and has been subject to certain amendments and proposals raised by our party and by other Members in that House, which he has taken on board.

Our party were concerned with the whole question of the Minister for Energy possibly acting as judge and jury in relation to such matters. Some of the changes introduced regarding the workings of the radiological institute of Ireland will enhance its independence. I welcome what the Minister has said in relation to changes to section 20, that he will give more general guidelines and then let the board take over which is as it should be. The less ministerial interference the better particularly in relation to the transfer of functions from the Nuclear Energy Board to the institute and also the appointment of the chief executive officer although the Minister will have to have some say. It is important that organisations will be able to nominate members. The Minister in his reply might expand further on whether he has selected organisations yet or if he is taking representations or what criteria will be used.

The question of protection from radiation leakages and from radioactive substances in the air has only become known to many of us in more recent years particularly in the light of the Chernobyl disaster five years ago and more particularly closer to home in relation to emissions and the few leakages from Sellafield. There is general discussion about this but many people do not know much about it. Some of it is quite technical. As has been stated here, there is a certain amount of radiation emanating at all times from various substances in the air and it is only by investigating it that we can address the subject more carefully. The reality is that while there are many downturn effects in relation to radiation there are also medical benefits for the treatment of certain diseases and illnesses. It is quite a technical area but an area we need to learn about. As an island we cannot cut ourselves off and say that it does not relly concern us because we do not have nuclear reactors. It is important in relation to this legislation and in relation to the monitoring of damage to the environment and possible alternative power sources for the future. It is ironic on a day when one energy supply monopoly is causing concern that we are looking at an alternative source here.

I would hope that when this new institute is set up it will not be a hamstrung layer of bureaucracy. The Nuclear Energy Board did a lot of good and I pay tribute to its members and the people who have worked diligently since the legislation was enacted in 1971. It is important that we look to the future and to our role both as a member of the EC and of the UN and as a signatory of the various Conventions which have been mentioned here, that we combine our efforts and that we are able to get answers to our questions.

In relation to the inspectorate which is to be established for the Community, who is to be involved in that, will the follow-on be that we will have individuals on the inspectorate, that we will have access to its results and its reports? We are still learning from the Chernobyl disaster and there are many unanswered questions in relation to Sellafield. While the Minister has indicated that he and some of his predecessors have made representations from time to time to their opposite number and so on, we recall recent events. It takes the British authorities, and probably other authorities, quite a long time to get the message in relation to problems. The Minister should make representations at EC level in particular.

Perhaps one of the first things the chief executive and his new committee might do would be to demand that they are allowed to examine the situation in Sellafield, to hear reports and not just accept certain assurances that risks are being minimised, that leakages are not as frequent as they were in the past and that things are pretty well all right. We have to constantly keep this issue before the various bodies that will be meeting, reporting and discussing the question of radioactive control and problems in this area.

Radon gas and its problems have been mentioned. It was said that 2 per cent of dwellings in certain regions have problems. What is the Minister going to do in relation to those areas or what plans has he in regard to sorting them out? Perhaps when he is replying he would name some of the areas affected and then elaborate on exactly what has been done either to sort out the problems or to get further reports in relation to certain regions.

The functions of the new institute are set out in sections 7 and 8. What has the Minister in mind in relation to meetings with the Department and with the various other bodies and what is the position in particular as regards local authorities and their response at local level? The Minister made great play of this great plan which is about to be announced and this communications network involving the Garda. I recall recently in my constituency getting calls that there was not a squad car available and that was only to investigate a break-in. In the case of a major problem whether it is a radiation leak nearer than Chernobyl, perhaps even as near as Sellafield, how is the plan to be put into effect? How are we going to react? We are all familiar with the fire brigade reaction when something happens and at times we close the stable door after the horse has bolted. Perhaps the Minister would indicate when the plan which has been drawn up will be announced and whether there be sufficient resources to develop it and ensure that there is a proper line of communication.

The question of food has been mentioned. Is the Minister satisfied with the inspections which are at present taking place? Is he satisfied that foodstuffs are radiation-free and that they conform to high standards? Is he satisfied that inspections are carried out on a regular basis? We are all aware of recent concern in relation to the beef industry. The Minister should take a close look at the whole question of how food is processed and whether it is safe.

It is important that when this new body is set up it is given sufficient teeth and funds to ensure that it can carry out its functions adequately and properly. We have to ensure that lessons are learned from Chernobyl. We must not make any mistakes in relation to the development of tests regarding safety standards. It is like robberies in houses: prevention is better than allowing things to happen.

Another matter which we have got to look at is the whole question of transportation of materials. Perhaps the Minister when he is replying, would indicate whether he is satisfied with the present method of transportation of various fuels and toxic substances which pass through our crowded cities and villages? If an accident were to happen does he think we would be able to react in time to avert a calamity? Unfortunately, as we have seen in the case of fires and rail crashes, we only set up judicial inquiries when the disaster has happened. It is important that we take preventive action, that we anticipate the worst that can happen, what our reaction and response will be in relation to local authorities, the fire brigade service, civil defence, the Garda authorities and the Army and that we have a plan in readiness to enable the situation to be dealt with.

In recent days we have seen how difficulties can arise. One wonders if we only react after an event and do not think ahead to the problems that can arise and act accordingly.

The Minister has indicated that he will be establishing the institute on a certain day. Perhaps he might like to indicate what sort of timescale he would put on it at this stage with a reasonably speedy passage through this House. What investigations, undertakings and work have taken place in order to transfer the functions which were previously held by the Nuclear Energy Board to this institute? It is important also that regulations that may be drawn up will be laid before both Houses so that we will be able to have a certain monitoring of the situation. It would also be important — the Minister might give an undertaking in this regard — that reports of the institute's deliberations, findings or discussions at EC or UN level are from time to time brought before this House and also that the institute's workings are brought before this House so that we can monitor its success.

It is important that the Minister gives a clear commitment here today in relation to the whole question of Sellafield, that is an undertaking that he will be calling for the phased closing down and passing out of that reactor at Sellafield. It is important that we give a clear commitment in this country that that is our ultimate intention and that that is the object and goal we have to go after.

I look forward to the Minister's response in relation to matters which I raised here tonight. It is important that we get this legislation right, that the institute we set up is given sufficient teeth, given sufficient resources and, in particular, is given the necessary expertise in order to combat what might be one accident too many.

I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute to this debate. This Bill is to provide for the establishment of the Radiological Protection Institute in place of the previous Nuclear Energy Board and to transfer all the functions of the Nuclear Energy Board to the new institute. As a radiologist, I am only too well aware of the necessity for such an establishment. At the outset let me express my appreciation — the Minister has done so as well — to the Nuclear Energy Board who have provided an excellent service to this country down through the years. The formation of the new institute is in no way a criticism of the old board; rather it is a recognition of the very serious problems which have arisen and is an attempt by the Government to keep up to date and to do everything they can to protect our people and our environment.

As I have specialised in the field of radiology, I am very familiar with the hazards of radiation and the dangers to both the living and the unborn. Many of my predecessors and the pioneers in radiology suffered and died from the effects of excess radiation, such as cancer and leukemia. The Irish Government have no alternative but to introduce legislation authorising the setting up of a radiological protection institute with the necessary finance and power to protect this country from the threat of nuclear energy. With the enormous advances in nuclear development, a non-nuclear country such as Ireland must have a body with the necessary authority to act with the required authority and speed to counteract decisions made outside our jurisdiction which could have damaging effects on our country and our people. Let us consider the unenviable situation in which we find ourselves as a country.

It is impossible to believe that apart from the ghost town of Prepeat next to the burnt out hulk of Chernobyl and sites around the world where nuclear bombs have been deliberately exploded, the Irish Sea is the place most contaminated with radioactivity in the world. The huge nuclear complex run by British Nuclear Fuels, known as Windscale, or Sellafield, is only 80 miles from our coast and is responsible for this horrifying situation. Unfortunately, Sellafield is the heart of nuclear Britain and the nuclear waste processor to the world. One is talking about this nuclear waste processor being as close to our coast as Kilkenny is to Dublin. Sellafield's track record for the last two or three decades has not been good. Its number of leaks and accidents are unequalled. Its radioactive discharges have been the largest in the world. There is in this waste storage facility the potential for an accident far more catastrophic than Chernobyl. Imagine the action and precautions the Irish Government would have to take if this situation prevailed in Kilkenny. Britain, unfortunately, is committed to going down the nuclear energy road and Heaven knows where any further reactors will be located. There is no guarantee that Northern Ireland will not be a site for such a reactor. The one thing we do know is that they will all further pollute the environment around them with radioactivity, discharging nuclear waste into the sea and the air.

As a doctor and a radiologist I shudder to think what the long term health implications for the Irish people would be if there was an accident at Sellafield. The implications for our economy would also be disastrous. In relation to my own speciality there are horrific pictures in the annals of radiology showing the early workers with damaged limbs and other deformities which give some indication of how lethal and toxic unlimited radiation can be. Those people in those days had no idea as to the dangers of radiation any more than the general public of today. That is why we need a modern and independent organisation to protect us and our environment.

We are all aware of the dangers of Sellafield or Windscale as it was known. Many would say that the name was merely changed so as to alter the perception in people's minds of the horrors that existed in Windscale. We are also well aware of the efforts made by this and previous administrations to have something done about this nuclear plant.

The disaster at Chernobyl in 1986 is still very much in our minds. The consequences of that disaster continue to live with us and will continue for the rest of our lives. As the Minister said, there were very few nuclear energy boards in the countries affected by that disaster who have escaped criticism because of being totally unprepared for that situation. Because of the inadequacy of funding here at that time they were not in a position to monitor and determine the extent and type of contamination which was affecting the Irish environment. Fortunately for Ireland in that instance, we were sufficiently removed from the source that we were not seriously affected by the radiation spill, but that does not apply where Sellafield is concerned.

If we consider the enormous amount of work done over the last five years by the Government and the people to establish us as an economically viable country, the envy of our neighbours, we should further consider how closely the economy is tied to ecology. When the Euro-tunnel is completed we will be the only island in the EC. For us to market our produce — our food, cattle, fish, water etc — we will need to have no pollution and no radiation. A continued strong economy for Ireland will depend, among other things, on our clean water and clean air.

The facts are all there. Sellafield is an enormous problem for every aspect of Irish life but how can any institute set up by any Irish Government influence the direction Sellafield is going to take?

It is because of disasters such as Chernobyl, Three Mile Island in the US and the dangers of Sellafield that we need a properly structured and properly funded radiation protection institute. It is regrettable that Ireland, a non-nuclear country, has to provide such a service, but the reality is that many countries use nuclear power for one reason or another. Accordingly, we must be in a position to monitor these and to ensure that these countries have the best technical, regulatory and safe practices, must be considerate of the concerns of other countries and must not attempt to hide the details of their various nuclear programmes and plans.

I am delighted and fully supportive of the setting up of the new radiological protection institute but I plead with the Minister for Energy to use this opportunity to the full. I think he has given us that indication here tonight. The institute must comprise independent, scientifically aware and, equally important, politically aware people. Nuclear energy is big business and I am pleased the Minister took this on board on Committee Stage in the Dáil and the institute will be all the better for it.

Theraison d'être for the new radiological protection institute must be the protection of the Irish people and the environment from any nuclear disasters particularly the nuclear threat of Sellafield. The institute needs to produce no reports. We have the facts and it is time to take action. Considering the enormous implications of an accident at Sellafield for the Irish economy the action I propose is that the institute, as its first task, should ask the Central Review Committee of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress to look closely at the consequences for Ireland of this threat to the economy in particular in relation to the Irish Sea and the effects on fishing, one of our major industries. The unions and employers should be called in to consolidate and build their contacts to exercise pressure on Brussels through EURATOM to do something immediately to get rid of Sellafield.

To deal with the main features of the Bill it is the establishment of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland to replace the Nuclear Energy Board and the transfer of assets and liabilities of the board to the institute. The main functions of the institute are to carry out monitoring of radiation of the environment and to advise the Government on radiological matters and safety matters, to assist in emergency planning and response, to monitor developments of radiation matters in order to keep the Government informed and to carry out research. The budget for the institute will be provided by the Exchequer. Again, I would agree with Senator Cosgrave here. It is essential that sufficient funds are made available for it to function efficiently. We all believe we need a modern, up-to-date body but we must ensure that we make the funds available.

Having listened both to the Minister, Deputy Burke, who initially set up this legislation and the present Minister, Deputy Molloy, I firmly believe that this new organisation will be allowed to run as an independent body. On Committee Stage the Minister has gone out of his way to ensure that this will be so. I am pleased the Minister has said that the institute will have full professional freedom to exercise its functions as it sees fit. It is only with that freedom that an organisation such as this can perform its very onerous duties. I welcome this Bill and hope it receives a speedy passage through this House.

I welcome the Minister. Tá sé déanach ach tá fáilte roimhe. Tá súil agam nach gcoimeádfaimid ródhéanach anocht é nó rófhada amárach. Níl a fhios againn cad a tharlóidh mar is ceist chonspóideach í seo a bhfuil iarmhairtí anaithnide ag baint leis. Tá cuid mhaith sa Bhille seo, cuid mhaith atá tábhachtach, ach is é an rud is bunúsaí ná a laghad eolais atá againn fós faoi radaíocht agus rudaí mar sin. Is teicneolaíocht an-nua atá againn nach ndearnadh é a thriail i gceart fós, nach bhfuil a fhios againn fós teorainn na rudaí seo nó an damáiste a dhéantar. Níl aon eolas againn maidir le trí nó ceathair de rudaí agus ní fheadar an mbeidh mé ábalta iad go léir a lua.

Ar an gcéad dul síos, caithfimid a thuiscint i gcónaí gur cheisteanna airm agus cheisteanna míleata ba mhó ba chúis le bunú na gluaiseachta síochánta, agus san áireamh freisin tá an chumhacht núicléach agus páirt an Stáit sna ceisteanna seo. As sin a d'eascair cuid mhaith de na trioblóidí atá tar éis tarlú sa tionscal fuinnimh núicléach. Chomh maith leis sin tá sórt mystique ag baint le ceisteanna núicléacha. Sna leabhair a foilsíodh sna caogaidí agus sna seascaidí bhí trácht ar atomic-powered cars, atomic-powered aeroplanes agus mar sin. Bhí an chumhacht núicléach le bheith mar réiteach ar an chonspóid faoi fhuinneamh, ach is ceist chonspóideach í fós ar fud an domhain. Níor tuigeadh ceisteanna comhshaoil ná ábhar truaillithe. Mar a dúirt an Seanadóir Ormonde, ba dhaoine cróga iadsan a rinne an chéad taighde faoi chúrsaí an atom agus chúrsaí núicléacha. Fuair siad amach i slí an-chrua cé chomh dainséarach is a bhí an taighde sin, mar ba iadsan a bhí thíos leis an cheannródaíocht. Níorbh fheasach dóibh an baol nuair a thosaigh siad ar an taighde. Ní hé sin an bealach is fearr chun na dainséir a aimsiú, trí dhaoine bheith i mbaol báis de dheasca a saothair.

There are other reasons. In the whole area of ionising radiation there have been enormous benefits. I am not even going to begin to recite them in the presence of a professional of Senator Ormonde's knowledge in this area. We are aware of them and we all recognise them. I take issue with some of my friends in the environmental movement in a somewhat blanket denunciation of all forms of radiation and the effects thereof but I think we have great reason to be grateful to the same environmental movement in this country, in particular. We would want to remember, in terms of the whole area of nuclear energy, the atmosphere in this country in the middle to late seventies on this and other issues. We would want to remember the gung-ho attitude of the ESB, the Government of the time, and indeed the somewhat less than specific objections of the major Opposition parties at the time to the whole issue. We almost got bounced into a frightful situation, into a situation in which we would have not one but possibly two nuclear reactors in south Wexford. There are certain questions to do with the minimum scale of what would be, even by a rather conventional and rather trite economic analysis, a viable nuclear power station that would suggest we would have to have two reactors to cover the possibility of one being out of action; we would have to have as much reserve power available as the largest single reactor taken out of the system in order to ensure that there was some sort of maintenance programme going ahead. Since a nuclear station would have to be of the order of about 1,000 megawatts to be viable, you would need two in order to make sure there was not a gap of immense proportions in the service when one was out for maintenance. That would have left us in a particularly dreadful situation. I will come back to nuclear power in a while.

There are, of course, many good things in this legislation. There are the Conventions and I will not recite them all again. The Minister listed them. Who could argue with their intent and who could but welcome particularly the Convention on the nofication of accidents etc. It is a welcome though regrettable necessity and perhaps belated recognition of the possibility of accidents. You must remember until Three Mile Island and Chernobyl we had a categoric assurance from the nuclear industry, a technologically quite dishonest and scientifically quite dishonest assurance that nuclear power was absolutely safe, and it was on the basis of that assurance of absolute safety that many people accepted the validity of the case for nuclear power.

There is no such thing as absolutely safe technology. At the centre of a great deal of the extraordinary race towards nuclear power the State, the whole of Western Europe, North America and the eastern bloc was the belief that nuclear power could be made absolutely safe. Nobody could argue about what could happen in the event of a nuclear accident and nobody knows what would happen in such an event.

We had an accident of some significance in Chernobyl but we never had an accident on the scale of what might be possible and I hope we never have. Until we have one, we will never know what the consequences are because science, however fine it is, cannot tell the future. Once science moves beyond the realm of experiment, into the realm of forecasting, it is into fortune telling. It can refine its forecasts. It can statistically analyse its forecasts. It cannot give any more guarantees about the future than any of us can. It is not in the business of fortune telling, of untested happenings. Where experimental evidence does not exist, we are as good as the statistical analysis, as good as the probability analysis and no better.

All the talk about the safety of nuclear power and about the minimal risks were based on computer similations and statistical analyses. They were not based on real, hard evidence. It is one of the huge flaws of nuclear power that it has accured in terms of its age and sophistication and also in terms of what we know about it. One of the enormous risks involved in it as a source of energy is that it is relatively unknown.

With regard to new and innovative technology, there are not inconsiderable risks associated with it. In all of those cases we as a society have actually to access those risks. There is nothing as dramatically different in other areas of technology as nuclear power is from all the other sources of energy that are available.

We do not know a lot about radiation. It is amply demonstrated in the area of radiation alone that what were regarded as acceptable standards of exposure to low level radiation have had to be revised at least once, if not twice, because of the experience from the two horrific occasions on which large numbers of people were exposed to nuclear radiation, Hiroshima and Nagasake.

One of the few benefits that has come to the world from the horrific events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is that we have sufficiently largescale numbers of people exposed to differing levels of radiation to be able to put together something like decent epidemological studies of what happens to people. As we have moved in time further and further away from Hiroshima and Nagasaki we have begun to learn that the effects of radiation and of the almost frightening decreasing levels of radiation are more severe than was anticipated. There is now an awareness that quite low levels of exposure to radiation are, apparently, in the long term more life threatening and more health threatening than would have been thought 20 years ago.

When we consider the sort of lifetimes of some forms of radioactive material we are talking about half lives of thousands of years. The limited knowledge we have gained over the past 20 to 40 years in terms of the life span of some radioactive material, what it does to us and, indeed, to the future generations, gives us reason to operate what we talked about at great length this afternoon with the Minister's colleague, both in Government and in party politics, the precautionary principle. If ever there was an area where there is a need for a precautionary principle it is in the whole area of nuclear power.

One has to be extremely wary here for the professionals in this area. By and large the professionals in this area here, in Britain, the United States and in eastern Europe, to the extent that they were allowed to have an opinion different from that of the State, all assured their people in a variety of fora that nuclear power and nuclear radiation as regulated under the various regulatory regimes was all right.

I do not think the Nuclear Energy Board ever had a word to say about, or would even be remotely critical of, the decision to instal nuclear power-generating plants in this country. I know that my own professional institution, the Institution of Engineers in Ireland, without much qualification, supported the decision to set up nuclear power-generating stations. The combined expertise of a State body, for whom I have enormous respect, the ESB, had no severe qualms about setting up one.

We have reason to be wary of professionals who, perhaps, have a certain familiarity with the material involved, and which may generate a certain complacency, which the rest of us with a less professional and more detached perspective would not share. That is why I am enormously pleased at the increasingly emphatic way in which all political tendencies in the State have actually committed themselves, as unequivocally as you could ever get in party politics, to the idea that we will not use nuclear power as a source of energy in this State.

One of the benefits of modern democracy.

I do not know why Senator Conroy feels he has to tell me about the benefits of democracy.

Does the Senator not agree?

Of course, I agree. The point is that it was democracy and not the experts which resulted in nuclear power not being——

Let the Senator say it was the lack of shillings. There was no money.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator Ryan, without interruption.

I am not persuaded on that one. I was coming to the question of the economics of nuclear power anyway, because it is an exercise in the futility of a certain kind of very limited free market economics in a subject which has huge environmental and public ramifications and in which certain sums are left out of the equation in order to produce the acceptable result at the end. I will come to that in a minute.

I was simply talking about the health risks involved in nuclear power at this stage. I believe it was Irish public opinion, unaided by most of our scientific establishments, that may have proven that it was financially unattractive at the time, beyond a doubt. Moneypoint was also an enormously expensive undertaking which was taken on around the same time. It was fortuitous that the demand for energy dropped towards the end of the seventies because of the international oil price escalation. That could have operated in two directions. It could have persuaded some people that we had to get into nuclear power for reasons of security of energy supply, or it could have persuaded us, as I think it did, to drop the whole idea.

The problem with nuclear power and why the public have reason to be sceptical even of bodies like the Nuclear Energy Board or the radiological protection institute when established is that people have good reason to be sceptical of experts. I say this not as a scatter-gun in the direction of everybody else but as one who, in certain areas, would be the sort of person who would have been given the title of an expert if I spoke in certain fora wearing certain hats of an academic nature that I wear from time to time. I do not regard myself as much of an expert on much anymore other than the foibles of parliamentary politics, I have learned considerably more about the foibles of parliamentary politics in the past three or four days than I had learned for quite a while before that.

The trouble with nuclear power is that as well as the inherent risk in radiation there is the problem of economics. I do not want to delay the House unnecessarily but the whole issue of nuclear power —the Minister dwelt on it at some length —is also a magnificent statement of the hopeless inadequacy of a lot of what passes for economics. Nuclear power was plucked out of the atmosphere somewhere around the late forties and fifties and became the peaceful use of atomic energy. They wrote the slate clean at that stage and all of the enormous military-related development costs which brought the technology to the sophistication where it could begin to masquerade as a civil or peaceful use of atomic energy, was written off so that the actual development costs of nuclear power has never been a sum in the economics in nuclear energy. Of course that is daft because any agency which develops something has to cost or pay for the development at some stage in the future; at least those of my colleagues in this House who have subscribed to variations of the myths of the market economy would believe that. The more I read on the market economy the more I am convinced that it is a figment of the imagination of academic economists who are safely protected from it. I find that most people who actually have to work in the marketplace spend a lot of their energy making sure they are not affected by the marketplace rather than enthusiastically participating in it.

The most overwhelming argument for this country not having nuclear power is that the economics of nuclear power are wrong. The real economics, as they are discovering in the United Kingdom, is the cost of decommissioning a nuclear power plant station. Do not forget, if we had opened a nuclear power station somewhere in the early eighties, we would be talking about decommissioning it in another 12 years' time. The extraordinary gross underestimation of the cost of decommissioning a nuclear power station has raised for me suspicions about the credentials of those who made those projections. It is in my view a hopelessly misunderstood area, which is proving vastly expensive and which the British Government under Mrs. Thatcher had to actually take out of the whole area of the electricity generating service because they could not privatise the British electricity generating service if the cost of decommissioning nuclear power stations and dealing with nuclear waste had been left to those who were supposed to be taking on the whole area of electricity generation. They are so unquantifiable, so uncertain, so unknown, that nobody with the sense of, say, Senator Conroy, in terms of dealing in the marketplace, would possibly be prepared to risk large sums of money with the margins of error so enormous. They had to actually take the whole area out and underwrite it themselves.


An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator Ryan without interruption.

Unlike the advocates of a free market who seem to believe the free market is infallible, I subscribe to the view that believes that nothing is infallible. I have enough trouble with certain religious heads claiming infallibility without claiming that any system of economics is infallible whether it be that of the market economy or any other variation on it. The people in the area of market economics are the only ones who believe in an infallible system anymore and most market economists, when they are actually put to it, do not not really believe it either.

Let the Senator preach that to the east Europeans.

What am I supposed to preach to the east Europeans now?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator Ryan without interruption and I ask Senator Ryan to address the Chair.

I am not sure that I am dealing with nuclear power at any greater length than the Minister himself dealt with it. I took my cue from the Minister. I would have been a good deal more modest if I had not heard the Minister elaborate at such great length on it. Taking the Minister's point I will move on from nuclear power and simply say I hope nothing of an external nature, including our commitments in the EC, will ever be allowed to change our view on nuclear power. Perhaps in about 100 years time we will have developed ways of dealing with nuclear waste, of dealing with the risk and of understanding the risks of low level radiation. This is relevant to the Bill.

It is quite true that there is some naturally occurring background radiation. It is quite true that in many of the discharges from many man-made users of nuclear power, the background radiation is less than that and that therefore one could argue that that proves that since we have to live with this low level of radiation it is no threat. That is to misunderstand the sort of balances that exist in the human ecosystem, that even minuscule increases in the levels of radiation at which humanity has evolved, may well have enormous effects on the way the human metabolism works. We do not know, but we know that radiation is a thing that can have profound effects on the human metabolism. You cannot just assume that because background radiation of a relatively low level has always existed that we can actually add a little bit more of the same order of magnitude and assume that the effect will be minuscule because we do not know. We do not know yet how sensitive the human organism is to minute changes in nuclear radiation. It is too new, it has not been sufficiently studied and nuclear radiation lasts so long that it will take large-scale studies over generations to understand it. Perhaps when we understand that and when we understand the possible synergism that may exist between background radiation of a natural kind and small increases from man-made sources, we then may be able to talk about the safety of nuclear power. Since we do not need it, therefore, radiation deserves to be kept at a safe distance.

One area in which we are liable to have considerable controversy is where large quantities of radioactive material are apparently to be transported in our coastal waters and in our skies with virtually no security for the people of this island. That, of course, is the whole area of nuclear weapons. There really is a little bit of a self-deception involved in putting together, enormously and justifiably so, elaborate mechanisms of protection for ourselves from areas of fissile material, which is being used for what are called peaceful means, while blissfully ignoring large-scale transportation of equally dangerous, and in some cases potentially more dangerous, fissile material just because it happens to be in a vessel which is designated as being of a military nature. It was a great opportunity lost during the debate on this Bill in the Dáil that the legislation did not extend to guarantee to the people of this island the same security from nuclear weapons being transported around our coasts or across our air space that is guaranteed to them in the case of material used for peaceful means. I do not entirely subscribe to the view that you can seperate non-military and military nuclear material as simply as that, I am still convinced that without the huge nuclear military market an awful lot of other kinds of markets would be totally unviable.

I do not want to go into all the details surrounding the amendments in the Dáil on the question of a nuclear free zone. The Minister said "suffice it to say that the proposals in relation to visits of naval vessels and overflights of military aircraft which might carry nuclear weapons are not feasible". Who said they are not feasible? Who is the authority that decided that it was not feasible to have a prohibition on the transport of nuclear weapons through our air space, into our harbours, through our territorial waters or indeed within any range we choose?

New Zealand implemented a very strict nuclear free zone policy, which not only worked, but I have not heard that the sky fell in on top of them or that they were found to be in breach of international law or any of the other things. Indeed, the then opposition party, now the Government party, found that the policy of the Labour Government on that issue was so popular that they had to change their own view to accommodate the views of their own people on the question of a nuclear free zone. There was much muttering and grumbling from at least one major nuclear power and from their nearest neighbour in Australia but that was all. At the end of it all New Zealand discovered that it is possible for a small nation to say "we are a nuclear free zone, we are going to stay a nuclear free zone and it is a good idea to have a nuclear free zone".

The Minister later on said that we would be in breach of the rules of international law if we did this. He said that a foreign naval vessel has the right of innocent passage through the territorial waters of another state. I invite the Minister to get up where he can get a better platform than here perhaps and tell the Irish people that a naval vessel carrying nuclear weapons is on innocent passage through our waters. I defy anybody in this House to say that the Irish people would accept that a vessel or an aircraft carrying nuclear weapons could be classified as being on innocent passage. It is like saying that if they were carrying loads of highly toxic industrial waste they would be on innocent passage. I know we have legislation to deal with vessels carrying toxic waste, particularly around our coast. We claim all sorts of rights to regulate that, and quite rightly, because we have had a few near accidents and we had a few rather hair raising experiences with ship loads of extremely toxic waste travelling around the North Atlantic from port to port looking for somewhere to put in because nobody wanted them. There is a slight, to say the least, fudge on the weapons issue if, having accepted that we cannot regulate other forms of lethal cargo, we suddenly have to give foreign navies the right to ship whatever they wish wherever they wish, whenever they wish through our territorial waters.

It is not on, I must say that in an otherwise forward looking and very progressive speech on this issue the Minister's arguments carry very little weight at all. I suspect there are issues other than the logic of the argument behind his refusal to deal with these things. I believe there is a reluctance to offend friends in Washington DC by saying "Unless you give us a categorical guarantee that your vessels and your aircraft contain no nuclear weapons, you will have to go around us either by sea or by air". It seems to me that the whole matter of protecting our people, the whole matter of precautions about transporting fissile material, the elaborate process of protection and safety is suddenly pitched aside if it is coming in a vessel that is part of a foreign navy or an aircraft that is part of a foreign air fleet. Leaving out the political neutrality and all the other implications how can you tell people we are protecting them, regulating their safety and guaranteeing their safety from nuclear accidents when the biggest areas of concentrations of fissile material are free to come and go over our air space without as much as a question apparently and without us claiming the legal right to regulate what they do? Quite honestly it is close to being daft.

It may well be true that there is a certain logical argument that the Radiological Protection Bill is not the appropriate medium for proposals like this; but, as I have said before in this House, given the way legislation in this State and perhaps in every state operates, I am never too sure what is the appropriate vehicle for anything. As I said, since we could define a crossbow as a firearm for the purposes of legislation in this House without as much as a blink of an eyelid, I do not think we should have much problem about saying that nuclear weapons are legitimately treatable as fissile materials to be covered by our decisions as a sovereign State on how we want to protect our people from the risks involved. I am enormously and deeply disappointed at the dismissive tone of the Minister's comments on that. It is the least the people could expect. May I say that I was somewhat astonished to read the amendments in the Dáil and discover that Fine Gael were in favour of the prohibition of the transfer of nuclear weapons through the State. I thought, with their ethusiasm for European defence, that they would have some difficulty on the one hand prohibiting nuclear weapons and at the same time launching us into a European army, which presumably would not be non-nuclear. Are they actually deciding they will not campaign for a non-nuclear Ireland but instead it will be a non-nuclear Europe?

Senator Ross will advise the Senators on our policies.

Senator Ross's perceptions of Fine Gael's policies as they stand seem to me to be a little bit off, so on something as obscure as this I am not too sure if he could help me. I will keep in touch with him.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

Senator Ryan should keep in touch with the Bill as well.

As a final note in this, may I say that I hope that in its practice in its dealing with the public and indeed in the whole way we deal with the nuclear business the same principles that apply to a Bill introduced by the Minister's party collegue, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment — that is, openness, disclosure, clear accountability, independence, penalties on a scale which are a deterrent to abuse, and all those things — will be as vigorously espoused by this body as by the Environmental Protection Agency.

I believe, as I said on the other Bill, that this is a vital area of environmental concern. There has to be legislation for a clear link between this institute and the Environmental Protection Agency. I am not too hung up on how it should be or whether it should be a realm of expertise here but it is extremely important that there ought to be a link set up and maintained between the two bodies.

One of the sad chapters of the nuclear industry is its secretiveness, and it was not just Chernobyl. We must remember there was an accident in Windscale in 1957 which was kept secret for God knows how many years and in which the health of a large number of people was put at risk. Our friends in the Soviet Union may have a particular capacity for obsessive secrecy, but other countries are not so good either in the area of disclosure of accidents like that. There have been suggestions of a number of accidents in military nuclear reactors in a number of western countries that were never adequately explained or reported upon. Therefore, we have good reason to ask and expect from our own institute the standards of disclosure that I hope we are coming to accept in the whole area of environmental protection.

I will be introducing amendments on Committee Stage, specifically on the issue of weapons and the need to logically extend a protective piece of legislation like this to cover the major area of risk involving the transport of fissile materials. I look forward to the detail the Minister did not want to go into on Second Stage coming up on Committee Stage.

I would like to welcome the Minister and to move the Adjournment.

Debate adjourned.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When is it proposed to sit again?

It is proposed to sit tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.