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.