I am pleased to present the Radiological Protection (Amendment) Bill 2018 to the Upper House. While this Bill is comparatively short and quite technical in nature, it will regularise matters in the area of radiological protection by amending certain sections of the Radiological Protection Act 1991, to effect the transfer of radiological functions from the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment as directed by the Government when the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment was established.
The Bill also includes amendments relating to ministerial powers to make regulations to establish and maintain regulatory oversight of practices involving radiation sources. These amendments will enable the transposition into law of certain articles in Council Directive 2013/59/EURATOM laying down basic safety standards for protection against the dangers arising from exposure to ionising radiation. The Bill also transfers the functions currently vested in the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment under the Containment of Nuclear Weapons Act 2003, which implements the State's obligations under the UN Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
The Bill further provides for an administrative appeals process and the right to appeal to the courts to challenge decisions made by the Environmental Protection Agency on registrations or licences for the carrying out of activities involving radiation sources. This brings Ireland in line with international best practice and addresses the recommendation made by an integrated regulatory review service mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency to Ireland in 2015 to, "ensure legislation provides for appeals against the decisions of the regulatory bodies in relation to radiation safety".
The Bill will additionally provide that a function under the Harbours Act 1996 requiring the consent of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to exempt certain vessels carrying nuclear material otherwise prohibited from entering an Irish harbour will also be transferred by the Bill to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment as it is appropriate to that Minister. Finally, the Bill will provide for amendments to update the terminology in the 1991 Act to account for developments since that Act came into effect.
Before speaking on the details of the Bill, I will outline by way of background the functions of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, in regulating this area. The EPA is responsible under the Radiological Protection Acts for providing advice to the Government, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment and other Ministers on matters relating to the following: radiological safety including monitoring developments abroad relating to nuclear installations and radiological safety; monitoring, measuring and assessing radioactivity contamination of the environment, including the seas around Ireland; controlling by way of licence the custody, use, manufacture, importation, transportation, distribution, exportation and disposal of radiation sources; informing the public on any matters relating to radiological safety; and supporting the development and implementation of national plans for nuclear and radiological emergencies. The EPA has a key role as regulator in ensuring that acceptable standards of practice are maintained.
Sections 8 and 9 of the Bill will provide the legal basis for the evolution of a one-size-fits-all system of licensing currently operated by the EPA to a risk-based graded approach to the regulatory control of radiation sources, making it a far more streamlined and appropriate system. The provisions on a graded approach to regulation are in line with the requirements of Council Directive 2013/59/EURATOM, referred to as the basic safety standards directive, which lays down basic safety standards for protection against the dangers arising from ionising radiation and with international best practice in the field of radiological protection.
The provisions also address the recommendation made by an integrated regulatory review service mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency to Ireland in 2015 to introduce a graded approach to the regulatory control of radiation sources. The new graded approach to authorisation of practices involving the use of radiation sources will provide a new system of registration for low-risk activities resulting in a reduction of the regulatory, financial and administrative burden for practitioners and companies engaged in such practices.
It will also allow for a more efficient use of the regulatory resources of the EPA.
Section 10 of the Bill amends and clarifies the Minister’s powers to make regulations to regulate activities involving the use of radiation sources, including in response to European legislation. Specifically, the amendments provide that the Minister may make regulations for a registration and licensing system to be established and maintained by the EPA to regulate radiation sources based on the magnitude and likelihood of exposures resulting from the intended practice. Further to this, the Minister may make regulations setting out the following: safety and security requirements and conditions that must be met by the applicant seeking a registration or a licence; the procedures to be followed in the application process for the grant, renewal or amendment of a registration or licence; an administrative appeals process to ensure that clients can appeal decisions of the EPA without the expense of having to go to court to make such a challenge as is currently the case; and for the fixing of fees payable in respect of the application process.
Sections 11 and 12 clarify the consultation process on certain matters to account for the change in ministerial functions arising from various Government decisions since the enactment of the 1991 Act.
Part 3 of the Bill provides for the transfer of functions under the Radiological Protection Acts and the Containment of Nuclear Weapons Act 2003 from the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment and consequential amendments to ensure the orderly transfer of associated administration and business. These are technical amendments and constitute no change in policy in this area.
Part 4 of the Bill transfers a function under the Harbours Act 1996 requiring the consent of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to exempt certain vessels carrying nuclear material otherwise prohibited from entering an Irish harbour to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment as it is appropriate to that Minister. Again, this is a technical amendment to account for a transfer of a function and does not constitute any change in existing policy.
The Bill completed Final Stage in Dáil Éireann on 8 May 2018. The Dáil discussion provided the opportunity for a useful exploration of the various issues regarding radiological protection generally. A particular focus was on the danger posed by radon gas. While not addressed in the Bill, I am pleased to advise that I recently launched a pilot study on the subject to inform a future legislative scheme to address the issue. I share the concerns of many Deputies about radon gas, which is an issue that has been raised in the past by colleagues here in this House. I am fully committed to introducing measures to address this serious issue and reduce the number of deaths resulting from radon. For me to introduce a scheme, I need to bring forward legislation that repeals the existing legislation set out in statute. To have robust legislation that can work in practical terms, I need to complete that pilot study in the coming months to ensure that I can bring forward legislation to ensure we have a proper radiological retrofitting scheme put in place throughout the country.
This Bill will complete the transfer of functions related to radiological protection to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment and will establish the legal basis for Ireland to fulfil its international obligations to ensure robust and reliable regulatory oversight of radiation sources in Ireland. Additionally, the risk-based graded approach to regulation underpinned by the provisions in this Bill will provide for a simpler, less costly and less administratively burdensome regulatory framework for both the regulator and practitioners engaged in activities involving radiation sources. I commend the Bill to the House and look forward to hearing the contributions of Senators.