Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Radioactive Irish Sea.


asked the Minister for Energy if he will comment on the view that the Irish Sea is the most radioactive stretch of water in the world; if he will express clearly his concern at this issue and outline the action he proposes to take in this respect.

As a result of discharges from Sellafield, the Irish Sea has a higher level of radioactive contamination than any other sea. However it must be emphasised that the levels are extremely small in so far as Ireland is concerned.

This has been confirmed by the ongoing monitor programme carried out by the Nuclear Energy Board and the universities to measure levels of radioactivity in the Irish Sea. This programme includes the regular testing of sea-water, seaweed, sediment, fish and shellfish collected from the Irish Sea and the Irish coastline. The results of these programmes show that for the average consumer of seafood the dose would be less than 1 per cent of the European Community dose limit for members of the public. The Nuclear Energy Board have advised that such doses are negligible and do not represent a significant health hazard.

Nevertheless, every opportunity has been taken to express to the UK Authorities the Government's concern about radioactive discharges from Sellafield. The Government are totally opposed to any discharge of radioactive waste from Sellafield into the Irish Sea and want to see these discharges minimised and eliminated as soon as possible using the best available technology.

Furthermore, the frequency of incidents at Sellafield has caused a loss of confidence in the operation of the plant. The view of the Government is that this is an international rather than a bilateral issue and that it should be resolved under the provisions of the Euratom Treaty. The Government consider that a European Health and Safety Inspection Force is necessary to assess the safety of nuclear installations generally. Such a force could assess independently whether Sellafield can operate safely or whether operations should be suspended or cease until it could be rendered safe. The Government are vigorously pursuing the question of such a force at European level.

Will the Minister state clearly the Government's fundamental opposition to the principle of dumping waste of a toxic or radioactive nature into the Irish Sea? I gather that there are some nine establishments in Britain from which such waste is discharged. Secondly, will the Minister undertake to galvanise some form of international diplomatic initiative to bring pressure on the British Government to cease this dumping as a matter of principle unacceptable to the Government?

Since I became Minister for Energy and prior to that as Minister for the Environment I took an interest in all matters relating to the environment and to radioactive effluent. The matter has been raised at numerous bilateral meetings with British Ministers and at Council level in Europe. I can assure the Deputy that it is the determined and considered policy of the Government to ensure as soon as is both practicable and possible the elimination of radioactive contamination of the Irish Sea or any other of our waters.

I gather from the Minister's reply that he still pins his hopes on European action. Does the Minister think that there is any possibility of having a suitable and effective inspection machinery instituted by the Community? Would he not agree that the possibility of getting anything of that nature into operation is very slight or has there been some change in the situation recently?

It is not so much a change in the situation as that the Government and I on behalf of the Government initiated a procedure at European Council level. A number of meetings have taken place in this regard and the commissioner with responsibility has visited this country for meetings to hear our concerns at first-hand. The position is that the matter is for discussion at ministerial level. Not only is the method which the Government have pursued as a matter of policy the best possible method but also it has the best prospect of providing the solution we are seeking. Notwithstanding the fact that there are some countries in Europe which obviously have a large reliance on nuclear installations who would have their objections to the nuclear inspectorate, this is the best method and we shall be able to get agreement from our partners to establish under the Euratom Treaty a nuclear inspection force.

Does the Minister accept that what is being sought in the question and what is the request of most people in this country is not a force to monitor continuing discharges which inevitably by their nature will increase the level of radioactivity but a principled decision that dumping dangerous waste into the sea anywhere, particularly the Irish Sea, is fundamentally wrong and not the way to do business? In view of the Minister's repeated appeals, requests and supplications over many years which have apparently fallen on deaf ears would the Minister now propose some form of determined action by a European forum to have this dumping ceased? We are not interested in having it monitored; we want it stopped.

I am sure the Deputy even in his short period as Minister of State is aware that we have certain powers conferred on us as both Ministers and Ministers of State and, indeed, as Governments. The nuclear installations the Deputy is referring to are located in Britain. Britain, as the Deputy is well aware, is a sovereign state just like we in the 26 Counties are a sovereign state and I have to say to him that if he has any ideas in relation to how we can determine that the British Government should close plants which are the property of various companies within Britain I should gladly listen to them. The position at present is that we have made the case at bilateral meetings and at European Council level. We shall continue to do so in an effort to end the discharges of radioactive materials into the Irish Sea. We shall continue to do that to the best of our ability but we must recognise that it is a matter for another sovereign Government.

Finally, would the Minister——

I am calling on Deputy Haughey. This is a very big topic and if I were to allow everybody to pursue it as far as they wanted to, it would end Question Time.

I am not disobeying your ruling.

I am saying that for everybody.

Would the Minister in all sincerity not agree that there is no possibility of having anything effective done through Europe and that to the extent that that issue is still on the table it is only a deflection of effort and that our real thrust should be through bilateral discussions and negotiations with the British Government? In view of the very often proclaimed new era of friendship and co-operation which exists, we are told, between the British and Irish Governments——

I have heard that one before.

——would the Minister not make this very important fundamental matter a major bilateral issue and a test of this new friendship and co-operation which is supposed to exist between the two Governments?

Notwithstanding the totality of relationships which exist between our two countries——

Just answer the question.

I have answered the question——

This is a serious question.

——and not for the first time I find myself in disagreement with the Deputy.

May I ask the Minister if a report I read some time ago is true, that this item was taken off the agenda for the relevant Council of Ministers meeting last June, and if so why.

To the best of my knowledge the matter is on the agenda.

Was it taken off the June agenda?

I cannot recollect if that is so, but I can inquire about it. It is on the agenda.

When is the next meeting?

We would have preferred if the Minister had gone to that meeting.

I would hate the Deputy to miss me.