I would like to welcome the Minister to the House.
Radiological Protection Bill, 1990: Second Stage (Resumed).
I would like to return to what I started on the last day, that is dealing with a specific area of the Bill and amendments which I can assure the Minister will be pressed. There is one in the name of Senator Brendan Ryan and I will be placing one on the Order Paper as well dealing with visits to this country of foreign military aircraft and shipping carrying nuclear weapons. The absence of a provision in this regard is the most glaring omission from the Bill and one that must be rectified if the Bill is not to be a total and absolute nonsense.
It is worth putting a few definitions on the record of the House. Air space controlled by a State is defined internationally under the Chicago Convention, which was ratified by Ireland in 1946, as that area of the sky over a country which can be attained by the national aircraft of that country. In the case of Ireland that is 60,000 feet. Therefore, that is what we are dealing with in a definition of Irish air space as being controlled by any protocol or legislation we might pass. It is very important that we include an element in this Bill which will protect this country against the danger of nuclear accidents occurring either in our air space or in our territorial waters.
I would like to anticipate one of the Minister's arguments which I believe he may make with regard to territorial waters because he may produce the notion of the right of innocent passage in international law although, in my opinion, this right could be challenged in international legal fora. However, I do not expect the Minister will bother setting out on that course. In my amendment I have re-defined the area which the Bill ought to regulate as encompassing the harbours, inlets, ports and inland waters of the country. I hope the Minister will not disappoint me by trotting out in response this notion of innocent passage even though, as I maintain, the right of innocent passage could be subject to challenge internationally.
In terms of over-flights we ought to realise how regular an occurrence these area. There are 20 military over-flights every day, about 7,000 per year. That puts clearly on the record the fact that there is a very considerable persistent entry into Irish air space of aircraft which are clearly military and 70 per cent of these are from the United States of America. Just as with the question of nuclear submarines and warships carrying either nuclear generators or nuclear warheads, the Irish Government take the guileless view that it is sufficient merely to notify the country of origin of the aircraft of our policy. This policy goes back to the days of Frank Aiken and it is that, without the specific permission in writing of the Government, there should be no entry into Irish air space of aircraft carrying weapons or dangerous materials.
The Government in recent years and for some considerable time have simply notified and expected as a matter of honour that neither our air space nor our territorial waters are violated by foreign governments. However, the record shows quite clearly that this happens. It happens regularly, persistently and, I am sorry to say, with the connivance of the Government.
With regard to the sea it is perfectly obvious that this situation is a dangerous one and one which the majority of the Irish people would not welcome. I could read into the record at this stage very considerable massive documentation which demonstrates clearly and incontrovertibly that American warships fully armed with nuclear weapons have visted this country, and that the United States Government acknowledge this fact. I will give an example, not from a technical journal because I will leave that for the time when I will be pressing these amendments. I would like to advise the Minister that I will be putting extensive material from the report by Hans M. Kristinsen into the record in urging the acceptance of my amendment. I would like to read into the record a report fromThe Irish Times of 28 July, 1988 where the reporter says:
Since the USSConyngham is a guided missile destroyer, this correspondent asked the Navy spokesmen whether it was armed with nuclear weapons when in Irish waters. He gave the standard reply “We neither confirm nor deny that our ships have nuclear weapons”. However, a source close to the INS said that this matter came up at an INS staff meeting on Tuesday in a report which said that the State Department was keeping the incident under wraps because the destroyer had nuclear capacity, nuclear capability and should not have been in Irish waters.
Could anything be clearer than that?
Later on I can, if the Minister so requires, read documented evidence into the record where time after time warships have visited this country fully armed with nuclear weapons. One easy way of verifying this is to look at the fact that when they left their port of origin in the United States they were checked and they were certified as being armed with nuclear weapons. I would like to ask the Minister is he satisfied that this is in the interests of the Irish people. I ask that because of the very large number of incidents there have been of naval accidents involving this kind of shipping. Since 1945 there has been one such incident per week. That is a very considerable number of major accidents involving sinking, fire, grounding, shipwreck or something like that. There is a much more worrying statistic that I would like the Minister to take on board; of these accidents 30 per cent take place in port. It is only a matter of time, maybe a long time, but the statistical evidence would indicate that there is a real possibility of a nuclear accident taking place in Irish waters.
I would like to ask the Minister, as a resident of the inner city of Dublin, precisely what plans has he got or what role does he envizage the Raidiological Protection Institute playing in the event of a nuclear accident in Dublin bay? I would point out that warships penetrate right into the heartland of the city. If something occurred in one of these ships right in the centre of our largest city, with a population of over a million people, what role does the Minister see the Radiological Institute playing? Will it have anything to do with it at all or will it just stand idly by while the city is affected? I do not suggest that I think there will be a meltdown or that there will be a massive nuclear explosion. I would certainly hope there would not be — but there could quite easily be a fire in a generator, which would involve the release of a cloud of radioactive dust. I do not believe for one second that we have the capacity to deal with any such incident and it is grossly irresponsible for us to pass up this opportunity to deal with the situation.
May I say that the Minister's colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Harney, who has just left the Chamber, when she was steering the Environmental Protection Agency Bill through the House, drew our attention very firmly to her support for what was called the precautionary principle. If we are going to take precautions about pig slurry, effluent and sewage, why should we not take precautionary measures against a most dangerous and insidious form of pollution from nuclear radiation? Surely we have the example of Chernobyl? Surely we will take a lesson from that?
One of the worst aspects of this kind of accident is that its impact is not immediately visible. The source of the problem can be quite locally contained, there may be no visible explosion, and yet, insidiously, the surrounding area can be contaminated to a very considerable extent by radiation. I do not have to tell the Minister that radioactivity of this kind has a very, very long half-life. I want to put it on the record that it is not satisfactory for us to remain in a situation where we merely notify foreign Governments of our policy and innocently expect them to accede to it, whereas their response is the equally sinister response that they will neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons on board. What kind of fools are we?
New Zealand has declared itself a nuclear free zone and there has been no substantial impact on their relations with the United States. I know that we in this country tend to lick-spittle to the Americans and to feel that we cannot really push an independent line even in terms of the welfare and health of our own citizens. Let us look to the example of New Zealand. Relations were broken off but they are now warmer than they ever were and their trade has actually increased. Let us not be put off by this mercenary attitude of thinking we are pushing our own economic self interest.
Let us take a leaf out of the book of Sweden, for example. The Social Democratic Party in Sweden have agreed that they will get rid of this, neither confirm nor deny response. They will not allow it, they will not regard it as acceptable by 1992 at the latest. In the event that foreign Governments do not accede to this, they will require certification. I believe we can expect no less of our Government. May I point out that I mentioned the Greenpeace report the last day. A similar report was done in Sweden. Of the 71 warships, which were covered in that report, 31 were carrying nuclear weapons. Even with the existence of this "neither confirm nor deny" policy, they confirmed that 31 out of the 71 vessels were carrying nuclear weapons in defiance of the domestic policy of the state of Sweden. That ought to cause us to worry. Let me say, this was not just worked out by implication, by looking at the manuals in the United States of America under the Freedom of Information Act. It was also confirmed by an on-the-spot check of the deck logs of those ships. We must bear in mind that this is the case.
I would like to draw the Minister's fangs a bit, to anticipate a possible argument that could be made — I know this because it was made in the other House — that Greenpeace reports are not 100 per cent accurate. There was a report concerning the US battleship called theTiconderoga. It was alleged that it was carrying a nuclear arsenal and this was wrong. It was wrong because the nuclear arsenal was removed the month previous to its arrival in Dublin. However, Greenpeace itself drew the attention of the public to this fact. I would like to ask the Minister, since I gather he quoted this in the Dáil, why does he believe Greenpeace when they admit one mistake? Why does he not believe them when they continually tell the truth? They have always told the truth and when one error was unearthed, they unearthed it themselves and publicly acknowledged it because they have a specific investment in veracity, in their reputation for telling the truth and for being accurate in all their pronouncements.
I am also very worried by the attitude of the United States Department of Defense because it does not gladden my heart to read what their position is with regard to the possibility which they acknowledge, even if we will not, of a nuclear accident of some kind taking place in the waters or the air space of a friendly country. This is a statement from them in 1981:
In the event of an accident involving nuclear weapons their presence may or may not be divulged at the time depending on the possibility of public hazard or alarm. Furthermore, due to diplomatic considerations, it is not possible to specify the location of the accidents that occurred overseas.
That ought to make us worry a bit. Even when an accident does occur in our air space or in our waters the U.S. Defense Department will make the decision as to whether they inform us subsequently of the location, the site of this accident.
I would like the Minister to tell me if he is happy with that or whether he thinks this is a matter that should be covered by the Radiological Protection Bill. Precisely what the Minister is proposing to protect this country against is radon gas. I a not sure of the figure but up to 60 or 70 people each year are affected seriously by this gas. That is very important but it is nothing when compared with the scale of damage that would be caused by a nuclear accident. That is why it is essential that this is taken on board.
I could give a list to the Minister of incidents that have taken place already in Irish air space. Mercifully there was not any nuclear discharge. There was a very clear case of a near miss when a bomber almost brought down a Laker Airways passenger aircraft. There were several incidents when planes developed engine trouble or leaks and had to jettison fuel. We all know what has happened in the seas on numerous occasions. When pressing the amendment I may be tempted to read all this directly into the record of the House but I do not want to be tedious at this point. Neither it would be appropriate to go into the very specific elements at this stage in the progress of the Bill.
We can all recall incidents in which trawlers, for example, fishing peacefully in the Irish Sea suddenly found themselves being pulled backwards at up to 70 miles per hour. People were killed in some of these incidents which were caused by nuclear submarines going through our waters. If there can be such accidents with trawlers is there not a danger to other vessels, too? The Minister knows that there are seven nuclear submarines on the bottom of the ocean bed. What are they doing there? What will happen when the metal corrodes and the nuclear core is exposed?
There is a very serious case to be answered here. The Minister owes it to the House to let us know whether he intends to do anything about it and I will not accept being fobbed off with a reply that the matter is not his responsibility. If it is not his responsibility I want to know whose responsibility it is. I do not believe that it can be shifted to the shoulders of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In section 31 of the Bill, for example, the Minister goes into the areas of a number of Ministers, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, the Minister for the Marine, the Minister for Finance etc. There is a whole long list of them. Why can he not take on this responsibility, acknowledging a primary role in determining general foreign policy for the Minister for Foreign Affairs but in this instance taking Irish waters into the protection of this legislation?
I hope I have made the case with sufficient strength. I look forward with great interest to what the Minister says. I hope he will accede to my request in view of the very clear and incontrovertible case I have mounted to demonstrate that our policy is not adequate — that while we state we do not permit nuclear weapons to be brought into this country, many of the ships that visit here carry them. We would want to be pretty guillible not to realise that but in any event it can be independently confirmed by way of the many accidents that do occur — one a week — that 30 per cent of these occur in port, that these ships visit right into the heart of our capital city and that there is a statistical possibility of a major nuclear accident in our waters. I will be utterly bemused if the Minister feels that a Radiological Protection Bill which is supposed to reassure the public that we are adequately coping with the dangers of nuclear radiation omits this most important aspect.
That is all I wish to say today but I would like to signal, if I have not signalled it already with sufficient clarity, that there is already one amendment in the name of Senator Brendan Ryan, that I have a further one and that these amendments will most definitely be pressed in the event that the Minister shows himself to be unwilling to do what I would regard as his national duty. May I say that that be nothing but a return to what one might refer to as the pre-split days, when everything was happiness and sunlight and all the people on the other side of the House were contentedly browsing in the pastures of Fianna Fáil, when Frank Aiken instituted a number of the protocols on which we ought to depend but on which we are not depending. In my opinion we are betraying Mr. Aiken's fine reputation. There is nothing new in what I am suggesting. We would be simply implementing what 25 or 30 years ago was stated Fianna Fáil Government policy. In addition, this might perhaps appeal to our vanity as politicians — we would acquire a distinct position of moral leadership and authority in the world if we took on board this kind of amendment and forbade the introduction of this kind of weapon of mass destruction into our country. We know it is happening. We know that it is dangerous. We know, obviously from the example of other countries that by accepting the amendments I suggest we will not be damaging our political or economic interests in the long term, rather the reverse. We would actually be acquiring the kind of moral status that we had at the time of the Ministry of Mr. Aiken.
Ba mhaith liom i dtosach fáire fáilte a chur roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach.
The whole question of radiation is very important. It is a subject which raises fears in the minds of many people. In the good old days everything was divided into two parts. You hadres mensa and res extensa: you had matter and mind and it was nice and simple to deal with. The whole question of radiation widens the scope of human experience. The fact that radiation can travel through space, that it does not need a medium to travel, has obvious advantages; otherwise we would not have sunlight but there is also the whole factor that in many cases it is unseen.
The Bill before us seems to concentrate to a larger or lesser extent on ionising radiation. It would appear that in the public consciousness to date, although things are changing, that ionising radiation would seem to be radiation that would need monitoring and that would cause potential hazards to people. If one looks at the historic perspective, it is curious that Madame Curie died from the effects of the experiments she was carrying out and through continued exposure to X-rays. For a long time people have been aware of the danger of ionising radiation and, particularly, of gamma rays. However, it is worthy of note that even experts have changed their attitude dramatically towards radiation over the past 20 years. All of us have been familiar with the situation where the regulation, use and procedures followed, for example, in the use of such everyday things as X-rays have changed dramatically over the years. Therefore, we must look beyond the scientific expertise at any time. We must broaden our horizons. We must always keep in mind the potential hazards from any substance that is used by mankind.
The hazards, as I pointed, from ionising radiation are well documented. There is now a great public awareness of the need to be wary of this type of radiation. Radiation is a good thing. It exists all round us. That is a fact. Radiation has been bombarding this earth, gamma radiation included, from the beginning of time. That it does very little harm to humans is also something I admit. Therefore, one of the problems we face when we talk about radiation is that it is not simply a black and white matter of what is safe and not safe. In simple terms, all radiation is potentially safe, and all radiation is potentially dangerous. In latter times, we have become aware of the potential dangers of non-ionising radiation, depending on the dosage. For example, it is now well recognised that sunlight itself, in overdoses, can cause problems and skin cancer. Sunlight or visible radiation, ultra-violet and infrared radiation are somewhere in the middle of the electro-magnetic spectrum.
We have to accept here that the potential danger from radiation basically depends on four factors. They are the intensity of the emitting signal, the distance the person receiving from it is — and that works to the cube of the distance — the frequency of the signal itself, and the period and the continuity of the exposure itself. One of the problems is that people, by playing down any potential hazard from non-ionising radiation rather than playing down people's fears, increase the fears in the mind of the public. People who deny any potential danger for non-ionising radiation increase their fears. We have around us, in all aspects of everyday life, plenty of examples of non-ionising radiation bombarding us from all sides, some natural as I have pointed out, and some manmade. Most of these provide very good benefits to mankind. Most, I would accept, are in a situation where the benefits far outweight any disadvantages. We have, for example, the use of radar, the use of microwaves, the use of television waves and radio waves. Radiation is emitted from such things as computer VDU screens and televisions. Yet, nobody in their sane senses is proposing that any of these things be done without. What I think some people are looking for, with justification, is that there would be continued monitoring of the levels of exposure to all types of radiation that exist, that that would be done in an open fashion, that information in simple and understandable form be made available to the public, that that information would show the risk terms in terms of people per million per year as best as this can be done and that every type of major radiation source be analysed and monitored on an ongoing basis. When you are talking about public utilities — and we all known about the controversy surrounding the microwave links of the MMDS television service — it is very important that the population would feel there is independent monitoring of it and that this would give a true and accurate figure of the risk involved in any radiation exposure.
It concerns me somewhat that in the definition in the Bill that non-ionising radiation has not received the prominence it should. I accept it is covered under the general provisions of the Bill and is specifically mentioned, but basically the Bill seems to mainly direct its attention towards ionising radiation or activity radiation which is defined as the number of nuclear disintegrations which occur per unit of time in a radioactive substance.
This Bill should, quite clearly, cover all types of radiation from the lowest frequency radiation to the highest frequency radiation. A fact that many lay people would not be aware of is that it is all electro-magnetic radiation and that there is no fundamental difference in speed or anything else between gamma rays and sunlight except the frequency that is involved and therefore, the energy it emits.
On the question of being independent, we have to genuinely recognise that we have a problem here. Obviously, the people who will be doing the research into these things are, in the main, involved in industry, etc. I must say that at times I am concerned about the drift in university circles towards sponsorship in various fields. I would have to say that it worries me at times to find university faculties sponsored by people who might have vested interests in developing certain types of equipment. It creates a question. If we do not have research people clearly independently financed it raises the question as to whether there will be public confidence which is essential.
I am not particularly worried about the levels of radiation around us, but that is not good enough. We are here to serve the people. Telling the people that it is not dangerous, if we do not convince them, is not good enough. It is wrong for us not to do everything in our power to reassure our people that they are not in any danger of exposure from any of the unseen hazards that exist in our world today. Those hazards particularly frighten people, because they were played down so much 20 or 30 years ago. They frighten people because they see radiation as something unseen stealing through their atmosphere, as something that can get them in their homes and in their workplaces and that they would not be conscious of in the normal way. I have time and again said — and I stick by this — that in real terms the hazard we face from chemicals is much greater than the hazard we face from any radioactive or non-radioactive radiation in our atmosphere. I accept that. I accept that we tend to treat chemicals on a very casual basis and then you get people totally scared by the word "radiation." I accept that people use the word "radiation" as a scare word and carefully distort the fact that, as I have pointed out, sunlight itself is a form of electromagnetic radiation. However, it is important that this institute, when set up, is seen to monitor on a continuous basis all common sources of radiation in our atmosphere and in our environment, irrespective of from what source it comes. That would include all the public utilities and also common levels of radiation emitted by VDUs, television and all sorts of equipment in factories, and so on. The monitoring role of this Bill — the role of ensuring that the public have confidence that they are not being polluted, injured or hurt by a hidden source — will become more and more important in the years to come.
Under the Bill all sources of nuclear radiation in our environment have to be accounted for. Therefore, we will have to be ever vigilant that all nuclear devices brought into our environment will be reported to us. I do not know if this Bill is the way to do that. It seems ridiculous to be for ever and ever harping on at least known sources of possible nuclear contamination and risk, and at the same time to shrug our shoulders at unknown sources of possible nuclear risk. It is something I feel very strongly about. It is a matter that should be addressed in the near future. I do not know whether an institution like this could do so. I do not necessarily feel that this Bill is the way to do so, but if we are serious about possible risk from nuclear radiation that is something that will have to be kept in mind for the future.
I welcome the Bill. I welcome the title of the Bill, the Radiological Protection Bill, which replaces the nuclear agency. We have now broadened the remit of this Bill and this agency to cover all types of radiation in the atmosphere. The agency will go a long way, when set up and operational, to ensure that people have more confidence in what is in their environment, and will have some means by which to measure the benefits we all derive from all types of radiation, whether in medicine, pleasure, services, safety, or communications and, on the other hand, the possible dangers that might exist. Also, it will continue in my view the never ending thrust to improve and maintain all the advantages of modern technology, which are tremendous, and at the same time by further technological development ensure that we reach higher and higher standards of safety with new technology. That was not always done in the past. It was something that people were not conscious of always in the past, but something that, for the future, we will have to be very conscious of.
I, too, would like to welcome the Bill. I compliment the Minister for introducing it to the House. It is a very wide-ranging Bill. While I certainly welcome the Bill, I have reservations as to whether it goes far enough and takes care of all the areas that need definite attention.
The Minister clearly outlined the purpose of the Bill. It is no harm to refresh her mind slightly on that. The purpose of it is to provide a framework for a comprehensive system of radiological protection for the general public. That is, in itself, an extremely desirable objective, one that nobody could quibble with. It is something we must support. The Bill, as indicated, sets out to establish the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland. At the same time we will have the dissolution of the Nuclear Energy Board and the transfer of all the assets of the board and their liabilities to the new institute. That is a correct introduction to this important activity which our Minister for Energy has taken on board.
In addition, there are included in the Bill a wide-ranging set of protection measures which will be and can be adopted by different Ministers from time to time, in normal circumstances and, indeed, in emergencies where there is fear of radiation and radioactive effects. That is very important. It cannot be overstated that radiation in its various forms cannot be quantified. It cannot be measured. For that reason, it has to be frequently monitored and controlled so that the slightest element of risk receives attention and, above all, so that the people are made aware of what is happening and what the various testing agencies have come forward with.
The enactment of this Bill will enable Ireland to ratify three important international conventions in the nuclear field. Some of its provisions derive from the requirements of these various conventions. These are referred to at length in the Bill and I do not intend to go into them at this point.
We are concerned here with international situations. Frankly, we are not free agents when it comes to radiological protection measures and radiation generally because radiation knows no barriers or bounds and, depending on the direction of the wind and so on, we have little or no control over it. We want, therefore, to make sure we are conscious of the fact that we are dealing with an international position and not one we can lightly tinker around with. We are an island but we are not certainly an island in the context of radiation or radioactive material.
Of course, many people on the international scene are presenting, as a solution to environmental damage and global warming, radiological protection. I do not entirely agree with this. People make an argument quite effectively on one side favouring nuclear energy in a controlled fashion as against the use of non-nuclear energy materials and the effects on them. As a nation, we, however, are totally opposed to any question of establishing nuclear plant within our shores. Some years ago consideration was given to a plant at Carnsore Point County Wexford. I believe that everybody in this country is fully agreed now that there is no place here for the establishment of any type of nuclear energy plant. Therefore, nuclear energy is not an option for us under any circumstances at this time.
This view, is of course, shared by many other states. We are not the only State that holds that particular point of view; other states hold it as well, although some states hold an opposite view. Regardless of any difficulties that might arise from oil or other sources, there is no doubt that we must continue to avoid resorting to nuclear energy as an acceptable solution to our energy problems. With nuclear energy there are positive, serious health and environmental risks which are intrinsic to the nuclear energy industry. Safety measures and the risk of serious accidents are at the core of the nuclear question.
Reference was made earlier to the risk of accidents. Frankly, the risk of accidents is high and we must be conscious of this. Regardless of the arrangements made by Ireland while holding the Presidency of the EC and the international Atomic Energy Agency Conference on Nuclear Energy in September 1991, I believe that nuclear energy has to be left to one side regardless of the outcome of that conference, regardless of what safety measures might be assured and regardless of what we are guaranteed. We must seek, and we will get and enjoy international co-operation. Ratification of the assistance, and notification and protection conventions which have been referred to in the explanatory memorandum are extremely important.
There have been a few very unpleasant and sad incidents in the area of nuclear energy in recent times. In particular, we have had the Chernobyl disaster where it is likely — and nobody can be definite on this — that the events took place several days before we or other countries were made aware of those happenings. This is where I revert again to the importance of information and the transmission of information immediately to all concerned. We also have Sellafield. Our eastern shore is quite near Sellafield and is likely to be affected by fallout from the Sellafield plant.
Reverting to Chernobyl, I believe that many thousands of people suffered death there, and others suffered grave injury, shortterm and long term, in that disaster. We have never been given an absolute account by the Russians what precisely happened there. This is a great pity. Our Nuclear Energy Board, in my view, are, to a certain degree, to be blamed for not informing the people of this country more rapidly of what happened at Chernobyl. I do not believe the Nuclear Energy Board, even if they had the full facts, could have created a scare by telling people to stay in their homes. Perhaps they could have advised people, indirectly, that it might be prudent for them to stay indoors over a number of days, but this was not done. The Nuclear Energy Board must have been in possession of a great deal of information they did not pass on directly to the people. Any modicum of radiation can be lethal in many respects. It has been stated already that radiation, or radium, is good and bad. It can kill and it can cure. Even the mildest form of radiation, and even not very intensive sun, can and does cause major skin cancer problems. This is a problem throughout the world. We have had this problem in recent years because fortunately, we had pretty good summers and long periods of sunshine.
There is, as I perceive it, a certain lack of co-operation between countries on the whole question of nuclear energy. There are countries that are firmly and adamantly in favour of nuclear energy as a means of producing energy.
As I have said already, I welcome this Bill as far as it goes but I believe it should extend a little further. Hopefully, on Committee Stage, we may have an opportunity to make some comments in that direction.
I referred earlier to the plans to establish a nuclear station at Carnsore Point which coincided with the setting up of the Nuclear Energy Board and, rightly or wrongly, it was suggested that the Nuclear Energy Board were pro-nuclear energy. I am not saying that that was the case but in some people's minds — and it was indicated earlier that very often it is what people believe that is important very often and not the facts — the Nuclear Energy Board were pro-nuclear energy. There are still some European countries and some EC members arguing in favour of nuclear energy. There are other countries, like ourselves, that positively are not going down that road. That, in my view, leads to a lack of co-operation that otherwise might be there. In the OECD countries one out of every four light bulbs is powered by nuclear energy. That gives us a fair indication that nuclear energy is not just a matter of form and something that we can take too lightly. Estimates at present are that up to the year 2000 there will be an annual increase of 23 per cent of requirements for electricity, all of which will not be produced by means other than the nuclear plants. With this substantial increase in energy requirements a lot of that will come from nuclear plants. It gets to the point of our having more and more control mechanisms, more and more monitoring of the whole operation, more relaying of information from one country to another.
There is nothing seriously wrong with nuclear energy as a source of energy except the risk that it presents when accidents occur. Many OECD countries are lobbying very strongly for nuclear energy at present. Arguments have been put forward that pollution will be minimised or reduced by the introduction of nuclear energy, that the pollution created by fossils — turf, coal, timber and so on — is leading to the greenhouse effect. It is argued that that is far more serious than the possibility of a nuclear accident. I would have difficulty in agreeing with that because a nuclear accident, even of a minor nature, would be extremely serious and is something I hope we will never see in this country or in any country throughout the world. It is inevitable that it is going to happen at some stage through perhaps no fault of operators or anybody else but of the actual system itself.
We do not realise the enormity of the effects a nuclear accident could have on our country or any other country that is affected. We must get a better hearing for our representationsvis-à-vis Sellafield which affects our country very significantly, particularly the eastern side. We are not taken sufficiently seriously by those in Sellafield when we protest in this regard. It is incumbent on the British to have a far better monitoring system at Sellafield. From our point of view it is essential that accidents do not occur at Sellafield. If one does occur it will have very serious consequences here.
Section 32 provides for regulations of control to be introduced if the levels rise above a certain point. Why not have these regulations in place beforehand rather than waiting for the possibility of a major or minor accident? That is one point I would emphatically put to the Minister. The regulations mentioned in section 32 should in fact be put in place beforehand and not when some accident has occurred.
I have already talked about Chernobyl and matters there are very serious and will be serious for generations to come. The fall-out there was certainly far greater than we were led to believe. We are reminded of the situation, on a larger scale, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki where 50 years after the atomic bombs were dropped during the war the effects of radiation are still felt among the population. Freaks of nature continue to be born in these areas. We should be aware of the terrible animal that radioactive substances can be. There are innumerable hazards from the effects of radiation and we should never underestimate the effects. There must be a fresh start on radiation and the protection of people at this time. I want to emphasise again that we are talking about an unseen substance, something that cannot be felt and something we do not know about.
Senators have referred to the number of aeroplanes that pass over our country daily or weekly and the amount of highly radioactive substance that crosses this country. We must also be mindful of our shores and our ports where ships that are highly radioactive are from time to time stationed and the slightest mishap in these places could cause something of a horror. I thoroughly agree with the point made by Senator Ó Cuív with regard to chemicals — the various chemicals we use so freely in agriculture and other areas such as weedicides, pesticides and so on — all these and many others we do not know about are probably as lethal, if not more so, in their effects as the real radioactive materials that are at least labelled as such. The problem is that we do not known the danger areas. We cannot be sure what points we have to be mindful of. We cannot be sure what exactly is a dangerous substance. This brings me back, at the risk of being repetitive, to the importance of our having a very sophisticated, elaborate and indepth monitoring system so that nothing will go unheeded. I share the viewvis-à-vis our airspace, our harbours and our inlets, that we must not allow them to be open country to highly radioactive aeroplanes, ships or whatever. We must ensure that we guard them. Protecting our air space would ensure that aircraft do not come into that arena.
I do not have figures to back up the point I am going to make but I believe the incidence of cancer in our community is at higher level than ever before. I would be inclined to link that horrible situation of high cancer incidence, very often in people in their teens, twenties and thirties, with radiation. Radiation, or some other unknown substance, has caused this dreadful situation. Radiation has been of great benefit to our community in so far as radium treatment has helped many people in our society. On the other hand, it is lethal when it is being absorbed by members of our community without their knowledge or sometimes with their knowledge.
Unless we make certain that all radio-active substances are monitored on a frequent basis the consequences for this country could be serious. I am sure all Members in this House and people outside will agree that we must at all costs avoid unnecessary risks. I must compliment the Minister for introducing this Bill and ask him if he will consider making regulations with regard to monitoring beforehand rather than when excessive levels of radiation appear.
I should like to begin my reply by thanking those Senators who have contributed to the debate in such a constructive way.
May I first turn to an issue raised by a number of Senators, the problem of Sellafield. The ongoing basis for Ireland's call for the closure of Sellafield is that the Government believe that the plant is inherently unsafe. The questionable safety standards at the plant, its history of mismanagement and the frequency of accidents and other incidents there confirm the Government's view that the only way to resolve concerns about Sellafield is to close the plant. Chernobyl demonstrated the transboundary nature of nuclear accidents, and the need for countries with nuclear power programmes to take account of the legitimate concerns of their neighbours.
While the Sellafield plant continues to operate, it continues to discharge radio-active waste into the Irish Sea. Although the level of discharges has dropped considerably in recent years, this situation still remains unacceptable to the Irish Government.
A further concern of the Government is that the transport of radioactive materials to and from Sellafield gives rise to continuing risk of accidents involving shipping carrying such materials. The coming on stream of the THORP, the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant, will increase the scale of Sellafield's operations and further increase the risks including those arising from transport.
Senator Doyle sought an up-date on UK plans regarding nuclear power reactors at Sellafield. The position is that a study has been carried out for British Nuclear Fuels on building two 1,500 megawatt nuclear reactors, one at Sellafield and one in south-west Scotland. It is envisaged that the existing Calderhall plant, which supplies steam to Sellafield, and Chapelcross in Scotland, each containing Magnox reactors, would be replaced by the new units. However, I understand that there will be no decision on these reactors before the mid-nineties.
The British Government have deferred decisions to build any new nuclear stations until it has undertaken a review of civil nuclear power in 1994. The Chief Executive of British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. has said that BNFL is in no way committed to the construction of the new reactors and further study would have to be carried out before such a decision could be considered.
Senator Cosgrave called, in his contribution, for the phased closure of Sellafield. I have been looking at the legal options open to me since taking office. Recently, officials from my Department and the Attorney General's Office met with representatives of Greenpeace at my request and their legal advisers. The various legal options were discussed, in particular the procedural avenues open under the International Court of Justice. The details supplied by Greenpeace are very interesting but purely in the context of procedures and my officials will examine them carefully. However, nothing new has emerged in respect of the actual legal and case basis on which we can pursue this matter. I will nevertheless continue to keep the issue under close scrutiny.
On another point which the Senator raised I can state that I am satisfied that my Department are satisfactorily briefed on aspects of the Sellafield operation by the officials of the Nuclear Energy Board who visited the facility and have briefed me on the position on the ground. The House can be assured that the UK authorities are regularly made fully aware of our concerns regarding Sellafield.
On the question of the selection of board members of the new institute, I have already consulted with the existing board members of the Nuclear Energy Board and the board of management in this regard. I will be having further discussions with the Ministers for Health, Labour and Environment and other bodies with an interest in radiology safety, before making any decision on the final composition of the institute's board.
The Senator also sought some additional information on radon monitoring. The position is that the UCD survey identified western counties as being a greater risk of having high levels. Consequently the NEB undertook more detailed surveys in Galway, Clare and Mayo. This confirmed the earlier indications of the UCD survey. The board found that about 10 per cent of the houses had levels exceeding 200 becquerels per cubic metre. The householders concerned have been notified and further investigations are in progress. Schools have also been studied but only a few had levels above the reference level. Further studies are also in progress at these schools.
Regarding the transportations of radio-active materials, the IAEA transport regulations lay down detailed rules governing all aspects of the transport of radioactive materials. Those regulations provide a high degree of safety and they are continually updated in the light of improved knowledge. In Ireland the NEB monitor implementation of these regulations and indeed where appropriate, impose special further conditions and ensure a rigid response for any possible incident. As a result of the international acceptance of the IAEA regulations, the international transport of radioative materials take place with a high degree of safety. This does not mean that we must not be vigilant. I am satisfied that our emergency plan will be capable of mounting an effective response to a transport incident should one occur.
Finally, on the local authorities involvement in the emergency plan, this will be achieved via the Department of the Environment who are represented in the interdepartmental committee. Communications between the Department of the Environment and locl authorities are ongoing in this area.
Senator Doyle, and other Senators raised a question mark as to whether my Department should have responsibility for the new institute. I ask the question, would the new institute be any more independent under another Minister? I have ensured the independence of the institute by modifying the Bill and I would challenge any inference that the Department of Energy could be faced with a division of loyalties because our clear and unambiguous policy is that we oppose nuclear energy as a solution to our energy problems.
This whole issue was dealt with in the Dáil at some length and the Government have carefully considered the matter. It was deemed inappropriate that the Minister for Health, for example, as a provider of health services, including services involving radioactive substances, should also have responsibility for the supply of these substances to health institutions. Effectively, he would become both licenser and user. Senators, I think will agree that it would be much better if two functions were separated and the health services could be provided with independent advice on these materials. This opinion would be given in isolation from their use in the medical area.
There is also the consideration that at European Community level, nuclear matters encompass a wide range of energy policy issues which are normally dealt with by the Minister for Energy. It would be inadvisable to separate the nuclear power issue and associated safety matters from the overall energy area because we need a definitive strategy encompassing both.
As I mentioned in my Second Stage speech, the various amendments to the Bill have ensured that the institute and their board will be able to act in an independent and professional manner under the Department of Energy. Given the independence of the new institute and the undoubted expertise now in the NEB with regard to radiological protection and nuclear safety generally, I believe that they are best placed to assume this role. The new institute will inherit a well equipped laboratory and an expert staff from NEB and will be in a position to effectively carry out the functions as contained in the Bill from day one.
Senator Ryan rightly pointed to the inherent dangers in the nuclear fuel cycle. In that context, it might be appropriate to dwell briefly on research which is taking place on what could be a safer form of nuclear energy — nuclear fusion, a subject also raised by Senator Doyle and Raftery.
The Joint European Torus — JET — is the largest project in the EC's research programme on controlled thermonuclear fusion, which is aimed at proving the feasibility of using nuclear fusion as a source of energy. The JET device, located at Abingdon, Oxfordshire, commenced operations in 1983. There are 22 Irish persons on the staff of JET, seconded from the public service or originally employed in the private sector, in administrative, technical and professional grades.
One of the major advantages claimed for fusion is that it has the potential to be inherently safe in that it will not have the major problems associated with the present day fission reactors — e.g., risk of runaway chain reactions, production of long lived spent nuclear fuel, which can involve reprocessing, security problems associated with the possible diversion of uranium and plutonium for military purposes. However, the fusion reactor will involve a certain amount of radioactivity and the structure of the reactor will become radioactive after use.
The European fusion programme is a long term co-operative project embracing all the work carried out in member states of fusion — Sweden and Switzerland also participate. It is designed to lead in due course to the joint construction of prototype reactors. It is divided roughly into three stages — the demonstration of scientific feasibility, then of technological feasibility and, finally, of commercial feasibility. The programme is still at the first stage, with JET and other smaller devices being developed and used to demonstrate scientific feasibility. Preparations for the second stage, "the Next Step" or NET —"the Next European Torus" are also in progress. It is envisaged that construction on the Next Step might commence in the late 1990s.
Expenditure on fusion research through the EC budget is currently about 200 million ECU per year. When national funding is added the total expenditure on the programme is about 450 million ECU per year.
Ireland would, of course, prefer that the bulk of expenditure, within the nuclear research budget, be allocated to nuclear safety but we will continue to observe any progress in this whole area.
Turning briefly to other matters raised by Senator Doyle and Senator Cosgrave on the establishment of an independent nuclear inspectorate, this issue 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 Communities 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 peoples 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. As I mentioned in my Second Stage speech 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 the latest move, it is imperative that a much more radical approach is adopted.
Senator Doyle asked about the relationship between the new institute and the 1977 order. The Nuclear Energy Order, 1977, 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 radio-active substances is prohibited except under licence from the board. Conditions may be attached to such licenses.
To clarify the question of the chief executive, I had originally intended to appoint the first chief executive officer, purely on the basis that it would ensure the immediate executive operation of the institute as and from establishment day. However, in order to reinforce the independence of the institute, I have amended the Bill so that the board will appoint the chief executive officer, subject to my consent, even though there will be a time lapse before the first chief executive officer takes up duty. Section 11 (5) was amended accordingly.
To clarify the position regarding the international conventions, the new institute will play the lead role in the implementation of these conventions. The institute will be the competent authority and the contact point and this is set out in section 27 of the Bill.
Regarding the Paris, Oslo and London Dumping Conventions, these are separate conventions dealing with pollution of the seas. Various Government Departments have involvement, including the Department of Energy, who are advised by the Nuclear Energy Board and will continue to be so by the institute regarding pollution by radioactive materials. Ireland strongly opposes dumping at sea of any radioactive substances.
Regarding some of the points raised by Senator Conroy about the Chernobyl accident, it has been reported, although the actual data has not reached us yet in Ireland, that increases in the occurrence of leukaemia have been recently detected in Soviet Republics. It is expected that this will become more evident in the coming years when it is likely that other cancers will begin to appear. There is a great deal unknown about the effects of the Chernobyl accident and many studies, i.e. epidemiological studies, need to be done. The EC is discussing with Soviet authorities, both all-union and individual republics institutes, what assistance can be given to the Soviets in helping to study the many problems still existing after the Chernobyl accident. The Nuclear Energy Board have been active in these discussions and we in Ireland are encouraging and supporting this collaboration as far as possible.
Senator Honan asked why so many Ministers were involved, particularly under section 32. The position is that other Ministers are to be involved in making regulations under this Bill where there could be a contamination risk to the food chain in the event of an accident — these measures are envisaged in an emergency situation and are required because of "legislative weaknesses" in this area at present. Many Ministers have responsibility for different aspects of the food chain, e.g. Agriculture — for food, meat, etc., the Marine — for fish, etc. The appropriate Minister is best placed to regulate his own area. There would be co-ordination of all measures by a nuclear accident committee in an emergency situation comprising representatives of all relevant Departments.
Turning to the issue of overflights and the passage of foreign ships which have the potential to carry nuclear weapons, this is the subject of an amendment for Committee Stage and I will go into the appropriate detail on this matter when we are dealing with those amendments. For the moment if I could just respond to a number of points. Senator Ryan, and maybe Senator Norris, seemed to have suggested that the Government are ignoring this whole issue. Senator Ryan went so far as to say that the Government blissfully ignore the passage of nuclear weapons through our airspace and into our coastal waters. In this House last week and in the Dáil, at all Stages, I have repeatedly asserted and emphasised the Government's position on the issue. It is a clear and unequivocal position: there is a prohibition on the carriage of nuclear weapons through our airspace; there is a prohibition on the entry of nuclear weapons into our ports. That is the categoric position.
Senator Ryan also questioned our commitment to complying with our obligations under international law. I must make the point that we just cannot run willy-nilly away from the obligations imposed on us under international treaties. The fact is that under the present requirements of international law our territorial waters — indeed the territorial waters of all states — are subject to the internationally recognised principle of innocent passage. This principle, for example, is recognised and adhered to by the Government quoted as a model by Senator Ryan and, I think, Senator Norris — New Zealand — because it is an international obligation and the question of prohibiting entry into territorial waters simply does not arise. I have been accused of passing the buck to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Some Members have glibly stated that they do not care who deals with the matter as long as someone does. I would take issue with that simplistic point of view. What we are talking about here is our respect for international obligations; and, whether we like it or not, this involves contact at the highest diplomatic level.
Finally, Senator Conroy and other Senators expressed concern about nuclear submarines. I can assure the House that the Government share that concern and are very aware of the dangers posed to fishing trawlers by nuclear submarines. The Government are continuing to focus international attention on the problem at every level and at every available opportunity, including the International Maritime Organisation where we launched a successful initiative in 1987. At the United Nations, the Minister for Foreign Affairs again raised the problem in September of last year, and in that forum the Government have called for a new sense of responsibility on the part of those who operate submarines.
Senator Norris questioned the role of the institute in the event of an emergency. I would refer him to section 7 of the Bill, where subsection (1) (e) says that the institute "would be involved in assisting the planning and implementation of measures to deal with radiological emergencies". I want to add to that that it will be a function of the institute to assist in the planning and implementation of measures to deal with radiological emergencies, if they ever arise. God forbid that they would. Because of the nature of radio-active substances and nuclear devices, proper emergency planning to enable swift and adequate measures to be taken to minimise the effect of a release of radioactive material as a result of a nuclear accident or other occurrence is very important.
Following the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 a national emergency plan for nuclear accidents was drafted by an interdepartmental committee chaired by my Department. The plan involves the deployment of a network of radiation monitoring devices around the country in order to detect any increases in radiation, a system to enable notification of an accident abroad to be received, the rapid calling together of a nuclear accident committee following a notification or detection of raised radiation levels and directing the response and the identification of the roles and functions of the various Government Departments, agencies and other bodies in the response to the emergency. The Government approved expenditure of approximately £900,000 in 1988 to be phased over four years on resources for the plan, including equipment and also approved staff and other running costs arising from the plan. Much of the necessary equipment for the operation of the plan has been purchased and it is now operational. Some further work on the elaboration by Government Departments and other agencies of their role is in progress. A limited test of the plan has taken place and further tests will be held from time to time.
The institute, when established, will take over the functions and resources of the board in relation to this plan. Under the national plan for a radiological emergency the Department of Energy have been designated as the co-ordinating body for the work of all relevant State agencies, such as the present Nuclear Energy Board. The Radiological Protection Institute will continue to fulfil the important role of assisting in the planning and implementation of measures to deal with the radiological emergency.
Senator Eamon Ó Cuív referred to the question of non-ionising radiation. This is covered to a certain extent in the Bill under section 9, which enables the Minister to extend by order the institute's activities to non-ionising radiation such as microwaves, as distinct from microwave ovens, and also to radio waves. There is at present no central authority in Ireland in relation to the assessment of the effects of non-ionising radiation, the laying down of protection measures and the regulation of its occurrence. There is as yet no clear evidence of any adverse effects from this radiation, but the matter is receiving greater attention worldwide.
There is concern in some circles, for example, about the effects of the radiation from electricity cables and from MMDS television signals. Therefore, I feel that it is necessary for the new institute to be in a position to take on this new function and to acquire the necessary expertise and resources to do so. Before any decisions to extend the institute's responsibilities to non-ionising radiation can be taken, it will be necessary to examine, in consultation with relevant Government agencies such as the Department of Communications, the Department of Health and other bodies such as the ESB, what needs to be done and to which body's responsibility it should be assigned.
I intend to have this question examined as soon as possible by my Department in consultation with the other relevant agencies. The difficulty at the moment is to determine what is necessary and what hazards are to be dealt with. The scope of non-ionising radiation is that the hazards, if any, are not at present clearly identified nor are the control measures that could be appropriate or useful. Section 9 (1) (c) of the Bill, therefore, is worded so that it can be specific to any one type of radiation considered hazardous and outlines the powers and functions necessary to cope with a specific problem.
I recommend the Bill to the House.