Thursday, 4 November 2004

Questions (109, 110)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

100 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the efforts made to ensure that a shipment of nuclear waste shipped from the US to France in September 2004 did not pass through Irish waters; the Government’s position in relation to shipments of such waste passing through Irish waters in view of the potential risk of nuclear shipments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27318/04]

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Pádraic McCormack

Question:

106 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has complained to the British Government regarding the transportation of hazardous toxic waste through the Irish Sea on a vessel (details supplied) and other ships; the risk to Irish persons were such a ship to sink or be attacked; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27546/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 100 and 106 together.

This recent shipment between the United States and France arose from an agreement between the US and Russia in regard to the decommissioning of nuclear weapons. The weapons grade plutonium arising from the decommissioning process was shipped from the US to France for fabrication into MOX nuclear fuel for application in US nuclear reactors.

The shipment passed through international and French territorial waters at the European end. My officials sought and received assurances from the US and France that the shipment would not enter Irish territorial waters. In addition to the information received from the US and France, the United Kingdom Government advised my officials of the dispatch of the two ships from the UK to collect the shipment from the US for transport to France. This communication was on a government to government basis and no direct communication took place with British Nuclear Fuels Limited.

The Irish Government has long been concerned about the shipment of nuclear materials. It is also concerned about the risk of a major accident or security incident and about the potential for damage to public health, the environment and the economy arising from any such accident or incident.

The question of imposing a ban on the passage of ships carrying nuclear materials in international waters has proved difficult given the right of passage enshrined in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Irish Government's opposition to such shipments of radioactive material will continue to be voiced in the appropriate international arena and it will continue to press for detailed information about such shipments. Such information is vital in regard to national emergency preparedness and response in the event of any accident or incident.

The concerns of the Irish Government about nuclear shipments in general have been highlighted on numerous occasions at meetings of relevant international organisations such as the International Maritime Organisation and the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, and also at the EU. Ireland, along with a number of like-minded coastal states, has been particularly active in recent years at annual meetings of the IAEA general conference in promoting the adoption by the IAEA of resolutions on the shipment of radioactive materials. These resolutions acknowledge the concerns of a number of states about the potential for damage arising from an accident or incident involving shipments of radioactive materials. In promoting these resolutions, Ireland and like-minded states have sought detailed information from the shipping states on all movements of nuclear materials on the international seas.

The 2004 general conference of the IAEA again saw Ireland adopting a key role in the drafting of the resolution on transport safety, which addresses the issue of communication on shipments between shipping and coastal states. I am pleased to say that this resolution was ultimately sponsored by Chile, France, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Peru, the UK, the USA and Turkey. It received widespread support from all of the other member states of the EU as well as numerous other delegations at the conference. It was adopted at the plenary session of the general conference by consensus on 24 September last. While the issue will continue to prove difficult, I believe this resolution provides a basis on which to address the concerns of coastal states and Ireland with like-minded states will continue to pursue these issues at the IAEA and other relevant international fora.

Question No. 101 answered with QuestionNo. 25.
Question No. 102 answered with QuestionNo. 22.
Question No. 103 answered with QuestionNo. 20.