Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Nuclear Power.


asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy if his attention has been drawn to the recent statements by the Commission of the European Communities at the European Parliament that: (a) EIB and EURATOM loans to the extent of 50 per cent are available for a nuclear power project at Carnsore Point; (b) EIB and ECSC loans to the extent of 50 per cent are available for the Moneypoint power station; (c) radioactive waste from the proposed Carnsore Point nuclear station will have to be reprocessed in the United Kingdom or France; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

I am aware of these statements, which in fact were based on replies by the Commission of the European Communities to various questions tabled in the European Parliament relating to the ESB's proposed nuclear power station at Carnsore. The full texts of the questions and answers are published in the Official Journal of the European Communities of 25 June, 1979—No. C.158/6.

In relation to the first two parts of the Deputy's question, I can tell the House that Community loans to the extent mentioned are available for both projects, to the extent of course that it is decided to go ahead with them. Moreover, I am further advised that each of these projects may ultimately qualify for additional Community loan financing through the newly established Community borrowing and lending instrument, that is, the "Ortoli Facility".

In relation to the third part of the Deputy's question, the EEC Commission did not say that nuclear waste would have to be reprocessed in the UK or France but rather that reprocessing facilities would be available in these countries.

Would the Minister not agree that it is a general assumption on the part of the Commission that since Ireland is highly unlikely to have any reprocessing facility constructed here any such waste would have to be reprocessed in the United Kingdom or in France, and also that all the indications are that the United Kingdom and French authorities are most unlikely to accept any waste from this country?

I would have thought that the indications were the very opposite, that the United Kingdom and French authorities are looking for business. They are very glad to get the Japanese business they have at present.

Surely the Minister is aware that the respective Departments in the United Kingdom and France are extremely reluctant to accept waste from any plant that would be constructed in this country?

No, I have no evidence whatever of that. On the contrary, I would imagine they would welcome it.

Has the Minister any evidence to that effect?

The only evidence I have that they would welcome it is that at present they are out looking for business, looking for spent fuel to reprocess.

Would the Minister not agree that any such acceptance on their part would be on the basis of French or United Kingdom reactors being constructed in this country?

No, absolutely not.

That that is the kind of quid pro quo that is in mind? Would the Minister agree that the only context in which waste would be accepted into the United Kingdom or France would be on the basis of reactors manufactured or constructed in those countries, placed in this country, and must be reaccepted back into those countries?

I have already told the Deputy that that is not my belief or understanding of the situation.

Certainly it is the understanding of the Commission.


asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy if he will outline the terms of reference and membership of the interdepartmental committee on nuclear power referred to by the Taoiseach on 3 July; when this committee were appointed and when their report is likely to be published; and the qualifications and experience of the members appointed.

The first meeting of the inter-departmental committee referred to by the Deputy was held on 12 March 1979 and five meetings have been held to date. The committee's broad terms of reference are to assess in detail all relevant aspects of the ESB's nuclear proposals. These terms of reference would include assessment from the environmental, energy and financial viewpoints and investigation of energy demand forecasts and alternative means of meeting this demand. I would hope to have the committee's report, which will be published, towards the end of this year. As I mentioned in my reply of 2 May 1979 to various questions relating to the ESB nuclear proposals, the committee are representative at senior level of relevant Government Departments.

Will the terms of reference of this interdepartmental committee and of the public inquiry circumvent the planning powers of Wexford County Council and of An Bord Pleanála?

They will not be circumventing them. They will make special provision for planning in relation to this proposal.

In the event of somebody not being satisfied with the findings of the interdepartmental committee or of the public inquiry, will some people have the right to object to An Bord Pleanála?

No, they can give evidence to the public inquiry, which will publish its findings.

After the findings have been published, can such a person still continue——

The question relates to the interdepartmental committee, not to the public inquiry.

In the event of a person being dissatisfied with what the interdepartmental committee publish, or in the event of somebody not being satisfied with the procedure——

That must be asked by way of a separate question. We cannot allow all of the matters that may arise. I have been generous with the Deputy.

Could the Minister indicate which Department or Departments provide specialist members to that interdepartmental committee examining, among other things, the environmental impact of the proposed nuclear power station?

Nearly all Departments have at least one representative. There are representatives from the Department of the Environment.

With respect, I appreciate that there are people from different Departments. My question relates to specialist personnel from those Departments.

I am not aware of who the Committee, as it were, are calling before them or from whom they are seeking information but I have no doubt that they are seeking it from appropriate experts in the relevant fields.

Can the Minister give a guarantee that none of the procedures he has mentioned will in any way diminish people's rights to appeal under the Planning Acts?

I announced several months ago in precise terms what provisions were being made in respect of this proposal and there has not been any change in the situation.

Would the Minister agree that any diminution of people's rights under the Planning Acts would require legislation?

Legislation is being introduced. I announced that four or five months ago.


asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy the precise locations at which radioactive wastes are discharged by the UK authorities into the Irish Sea; if these wastes are self-destructing; the length of time they are likely to remain in the sea in a radio-active form; and if Irish authorities are informed in advance or subsequently of each discharge.

The Nuclear Energy Board have advised me that the main source of radioactive liquid waste discharged into the Irish Sea is the fuel reprocessing plant at Windscale in Cumbria. Other minor sources are the nuclear power stations on or near the UK's West coast—Wylfa (Anglesea), Hunterston (Ayrshire), Calder Hall (Windscale), Hinkley Point (Somerset), Oldbury (Somerset) and Berkeley (Gloucestershire),

The different radioisotopes discharged decay at rates which vary from a few minutes to long periods of years. To that extent the wastes are self-destructing.

The Irish authorities are not informed in advance of or subsequent to the discharge of radioactive waste, nor are the British authorities. This is because the discharge is normally continuous and under the UK licensing system the amount which may be discharged by each plant in a specified period of time is regulated.

Radioactivity in the Irish Sea is closely monitored by the UK authorities and the Nuclear Energy Board. The board have estimated that it is unlikely that anyone in Ireland could receive from that source a radiation exposure in excess of 1 per cent of the internationally recommended dose limits.

Approximately what proportion of the waste is in the category that does not self-destruct for a long period of years?

I do not know.

Could the Minister trouble himself to find out?

I will inquire from the Nuclear Energy Board.

Is the Minister aware of evidence given to the Windscale Inquiry indicating that radioactive readings in the sea around Windscale were as much as 16 to 24 times higher than they would be in normal sea water and is that a matter of some concern to him?

Inevitably, they must be higher because the radioactive readings in normal sea water would be very low. I do not know whether they were or were not 16 to 24 times higher, but even if they were the base point is virtually nil so it could be meaningless.

Would the Minister agree that due to the unusual saucer shape of the Irish Sea, it does not tend to be swept out regularly and that inevitably there will be a build-up of materials and that that is a matter of some concern?

We had this argument several times.

Can I ask the Minister——

The Minister's mind is made up about it.

Can I ask the Minister a further supplementary on Question No. 11?

If the Deputy is quick and asks it without a lot of preamble.

Would the Minister investigate the possibility that radioactivity may become concentrated in fish caught in the sea in which radioactive materials have been discharged?

The Nuclear Energy Board have been monitoring that and there is no evidence of it.


asked the Minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy the international agreement or arrangements which exist for the inspection of nuclear plants in one state by officials of a neighbouring state where a possible hazard to residents of the latter state exists, if Ireland has acceded to such arrangements and if not, if he would favour such arrangements and take steps towards making them during his EEC presidency.

I am not aware of any international agreements or arrangements for the formal inspection of nuclear plants in one state by officials of a neighbouring state. In practice, however, a great deal of informal contact, including visits to installations, is maintained between the national authorities responsible for safety arrangements in nuclear plants. I have no grounds for considering that the adoption of formal arrangements is necessary or appropriate and I doubt if an initiative in this matter during the Irish Presidency of the EEC would produce worthwhile results.

Would the Minister agree that it is quite possible that radioactivity, either arising in high concentration as a result of an accident, or on a general basis because of continuing operations, could spread from one country to another? Will the Minister also agree that there should be a definite legal right of inspection by people in countries affected but not benefiting from it?

In practice they do inspect.

Will the Minister tell us the number of times that Irish personnel have inspected the premises in the UK which are nearest to this country?

I do not know.

That is a separate question.

Do they do so regularly?

They have done so from time to time but I do not know the details.

They do not do so regularly?

The British authority are concerned about the British people, too.

They are not directly concerned with us.

They are not but I find it very hard to envisage any form of accident in a power station situated in Britain which would affect Ireland and not Britain.

Does the Minister agree that as a sovereign State we should have the right to inspect these premises in so far as they affect this country?

On the Continent of Europe numerous such stations are located close to land frontiers and the situation is quite different there from that which exists between Britain and Ireland where the nearest station to us is 60 miles away.

In view of the written reply which the Minister gave to me a few weeks ago showing that there is one station 60 miles away, one 85 miles, and several others within a hundred miles or so of the Irish coast, will the Minister agree that we should know exactly what is happening there and what the danger is likely to be, having regard to the alarm which people have expressed at a suggestion that an Irish station would be erected at Carnsore?

We know what is happening.

The Minister said in his reply that no provision was made for inspection but that the Nuclear Energy Commission would look into the matter. If that is the situation, we do not know.

As a matter of principle does the Minister consider it a responsible attitude in relation to the discharging of his responsibilities, to rely almost exclusively on the actions of another Government?

——which have an interest in the manufacturing of nuclear plants.