Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 26 Oct 1976

Vol. 293 No. 3

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Radioactive Materials.


asked the Minister for Transport and Power if he is satisfied that the quantities of radioactive materials being transported over Ireland and through Shannon Airport do not endanger the health and lives of the people of this country.


asked the Minister for Transport and Power the number of flights and landings of radioactive materials in the past three years.


asked the Minister for Transport and Power if he will make a statement on the recent revelation that nuclear materials are being shipped through Shannon Airport on American cargo plans; and the steps he proposes to take to prohibit these flights.


asked the Minister for Transport and Power if he will make a statement regarding the transport of highly dangerous nuclear materials through Shannon Airport and over this country generally; the regulations governing the carriage of such materials and the packaging requirements; and if he is satisfied that such flights do not present a serious hazard to Shannon Airport and to this country.

With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 to 12 together.

The regulations governing carriage of dangerous substances, including radioactive and fissile materials, in Irish airspace, are the international regulations drawn up by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) which have been given the force of law here by a directive issued under Article 7 of the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order, 1973. The packages which may be carried on an aircraft are strictly prescribed and must conform to very exacting packaging requirements. The regulations as to carriage and packaging are too comprehensive and technical for me to detail now. On the advice of the Nuclear Energy Board, I am satisfied that the carriage by air of packages of fissile and radioactive materials conforming to IATA regulations should not result in a public hazard. In addition, airlines are required to notify my Department in advance when it is proposed to carry fissile materials. Over the past three years seven such notifications have been received and only one aircraft made a transit stop at Shannon. That particular aircraft carried 100 1bs of uranium hexafluoride. In the case of the six over-flights the amounts of material on board were very small. There is no evidence to indicate that large quantities are being transported through Shannon Airport or over this country.

I am satisfied that there is no need to change the existing arrangements for the passage of aircraft carrying fissile and radioactive materials through Irish-controlled airspace or for landings by such aircraft at Irish airports. I have, however, arranged that the question will be kept under continuous review in consultation with the Nuclear Energy Board, who are the expert body established to advise the Government on nuclear energy and matters connected therewith.

I should add that recent newspaper reports greatly exaggerated the factual position about the carriage of radio-active and fissile materials through Shannon as to the incidence of such landings, the quantities involved and the likely effects of an incident involving the carriage of such substances.

Is the Minister aware that these aircraft are not permitted to land at Kennedy Airport and because of this alone surely there is a strong case for not permitting them to land at Shannon? Would the Minister not agree?

This is not so; they are allowed to land at Kennedy Airport.

According to the newspapers they are not.

That is not the fact.

In order to set aside people's fear and concern would it not be better if these aircraft were obliged to refuel or land at service airports, either United States or British, on the Continent rather than at an international civil airport?

I do not agree. The implication of the question is that standards of security and safety at civil airports are less than at other airports. I would not accept that, particularly in the case of Shannon, where I think the personnel are extremely vigilant about these matters. When the plane in question landed it was guarded all the time it was on the ground by gardaí.

I did not mean to convey anything about safety standards; I was dealing with the concern of the people. Is it not reasonable to expect these planes to refuel at US or British airforce bases in Western Europe because these airports are experienced in dealing with these materials in their military capacity? I am not saying anything about safety precautions at Shannon but I am dealing with the concern of the people caused by these landings, despite what the Minister says.

These aircraft land and take off from airports in France and from Kennedy Airport in New York and Chicago Airport which is, I believe, the busiest airport in the world.

That may be so. But it will not create a great problem to ask them to land at service air bases in view of the fact that we are not a nuclear power at present and that people are concerned about newspaper reports even though these may not be entirely accurate.

This is repetition.

This is greatly exaggerated. The packing regulations are so detailed in regard to the carriage of goods like these that frequently the packaging weighs eight, nine or ten times as much as the material involved. It is not economic to carry these goods by air except in very small quantities. It is believed that the 100 lbs. referred to which was landed there involved a weight of about a half-ton. Except in small quantities the cost of transporting such goods by air is prohibitive. The IATA regulations, to which we subscribe, are subscribed to by many countries and are stringent. In fact the American Government impose even more stringent regulations and they allow these goods into civil aviation bases.

Newspaper reports can do a great deal of harm in that they cause much anxiety where there is no necessity for it. People who pose as experts and give interviews to newspapers without having the full facts cause far more harm to people mentally and this is unnecessary if people would accept the facts as they are. The regulations are stringent. It is recognised that these are dangerous materials. The Government have an agency, the Nuclear Energy Board, which advises them as regards the safety precautions involved. Not only this Government but all governments have combined to ensure that when these goods are transported from one point to another anywhere in the world it is done under strict supervision and there are very high standards of packaging.

Is the Minister aware or is he concerned that these packets are only supposed to withstand a 30-foot fall?

No. This all stems, like the questions here and the newspaper comments, from one question put to the Minister for Foreign Affairs while he was lecturing in New York by some lady who was obviously totally unaware of the facts and greatly exaggerated what was going on.

She is a scientist.

I shall be forgiven for saying so but I do not think she has any conception of what is going on. She said that this material was being transported in large quantities and landed at Shannon. This is all incorrect. There are regulations, to which many countries subscribe, to ensure that if this material is transported-and this has benefits-from one point to another it shall be done safely. We subscribe to these regulations. They are part of an order made under an Act of the Oireachtas and the Nuclear Energy Board are there to advise me or any other member of the Government as to what is necessary to ensure that there is no danger to anybody in this country.

Would the Minister confirm that these potentially very dangerous substances are in transit and that the only benefit to this country might be the landing fee? Does he think in these circumstances it is worth our while taking this risk? Would we not be better off without this traffic?

I do not agree. What was landed in Shannon involved a minimum hazard.

But a hazard.

There is more danger in walking down a street in Dublin than is involved there. I think we must make facilities available to people who want to land in this country to refuel aircraft from a safety point of view provided we are sure that the rules laid down by international bodies for the transport of these goods are adhered to. We are quite satisfied they are adhered to in every case involved here. Also, a plane flying over the country or a plane crashing outside our airports could be as much of a hazard as one landing—or perhaps more.

We will not buy that. The Minister knows that planes are in the greatest danger when landing or taking off. Over—flying the country is not involved in this at all.

I would think that in 40 years of flying—and it must be that now—the number of planes that have crashed is fairly minimal.

Would the Minister circulate the IATA regulations to us?

And despite what the Minister has said about the minimal hazard and all the regulations involved, does he not recall such a plane crashing off the Spanish coast which created a terrible problem in Spain and ended up with the local mayor having to go swimming to prove that the water was not radio-active? They still create a problem despite the regulations.

I think the Deputy has answered his own question. A person who is in a position to know did this then.

But the American Government paid millions in compensation.

I do not recall the facts and therefore I do not want to go into the matter.

But it did happen and it created some problems.

Next question, No. 13.