Thursday, 4 November 2004

Questions (16)

Olivia Mitchell


13 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the latest communication he has had with the British authorities on the issue of Sellafield; the outcome of that communication; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27574/04]

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

Ongoing contact through correspondence and meetings at ministerial, official and expert level is being maintained with the UK authorities regarding a range of issues in regard to the Sellafield nuclear plant. These contacts are productive and reflect an increasing recognition by the UK Government of the serious concerns held by the Irish Government in regard to Sellafield. There remains, however, a significant difference of views between the Irish and UK Governments regarding the continued operation of Sellafield.

In accordance with the commitment in An Agreed Programme for Government, our policy is to bring about the safe closure of Sellafield. This is based on our concerns in relation to the potential hazards arising from a nuclear accident or incident, the impacts of radioactive discharges on the marine environment, concerns about the generation, management and disposal of radioactive waste and the risk posed by the associated transport of radioactive materials through the Irish Sea. The UK response to these concerns is that radioactive discharges from Sellafield pose no threat to human health or the environment, the Sellafield plant and related transports are safe and secure, and the legacy wastes arising from the UK's nuclear programmes are being addressed through the establishment of the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency, NDA.

The provisional measures award and orders of the UNCLOS tribunal of 24 June 2003 and 14 November 2003 recommended that Ireland and the UK enter into dialogue to improve co-operation and consultation between the two Governments and report to the tribunal on specified dates. Complex discussions, confidential to the tribunal and the parties pending outcomes, are at present continuing, in line with the obligation on both parties to improve co-operation and co-ordination arrangements. It is my intention to report on progress arising from this process in due course.

As well as contacts with ministerial colleagues, my officials and scientific experts from the RPII continue to meet their UK counterparts on a regular basis during which Ireland's concerns regarding operations at Sellafield are raised. Such contacts continue to be productive. However, there remains a significant difference of views in relation to operations at Sellafield. The UK response to concerns raised by Ireland is that operations at Sellafield are safe and do not adversely impact on the environment. This Government holds a significantly different view and has at every opportunity expressed these views directly to the UK Government and its relevant authorities at all levels. The Government will not hesitate to explore further options in relation to Sellafield as they become available.

I intend to continue to highlight Ireland's concerns on Sellafield and the nuclear industry generally to my UK ministerial counterparts.