Environmental groups welcome long overdue public consultation on proposed UK Nuclear Power Plant

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Immediate Release

The launch of a public consultation on the UK’s planned Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, less than 250km from Rosslare, is welcome but long overdue, leading environmental groups said today.

An Taisce, Friends of the Irish Environment, and the Environmental Pillar said that it is vital that the Irish people now raise their concerns before the 17 April 2018 deadline as we stand to bear the brunt of any accident at the proposed facility. [1]

While welcoming the consultation, the groups are keen to stress that our Government should have opened a consultation five years ago as required under various international conventions. [2]

It is only through consistent pressure from An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment that this consultation has come about.

Such public consultations will be increasingly important to address transboundary impacts of UK projects, especially post-Brexit, with five nuclear plants on the UK’s west coast in the pipeline, as well as controversial extensions to the operating lifetime of older plants.

Environmental NGO Concerns

The €23 billion project is set to be located just 242km from Rosslare, opening up a Pandora ‘s Box of potential problems for our island in the event of a failure at the facility.

The ESRI recently estimated that the cost of a nuclear accident in northwest Europe to human life and well-being are incalculable, and would leave Ireland with a bill of over €160 billion. [3]

The impact of any accident would be especially devastating for Ireland’s agriculture, especially if it occurred around April. In this scenario, animals would need to be kept inside without food or water at a time when winter fodder is exhausted.

We are also concerned with the absence of solutions to effectively deal with nuclear waste from UK facilities, as well as serious deficits in the UK’s climate modelling for transboundary impacts in the event of an accident. [4]

The Pillar also raises issue with the lack of emergency response planning in Ireland to deal with any potential accidents, as well as recent complications offered by Brexit. [5][6]

We are equally concerned that even minor leakages into the Irish Sea could impact marine life, requiring further investment in monitoring to protect the health of our citizens, fisheries and aquaculture industry.

Consultation Long Overdue

Until now, our Government has ignored its clear obligation under international conventions and European Directives to assist and enable the Irish people to have their say on this project.

This issue came to the fore due to the bold decision of An Taisce to challenge the granting of permission for the facility and the lack of transboundary consultation all the way to the UK Supreme Court. [7]

In the absence of State action, Friends of the Irish Environment went to the Implementation Committee of the Espoo Convention, who in turn wrote to the Irish Government at the end of last year to invite them to uphold the right of the Irish public to be consulted.

The Implementation Committee had earlier called for a round of public consultation on Hinkley between July and October last year. [8][9]

While other concerned countries such as Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands opened public consultations during this period, the Irish State failed to do so. [10]

Pillar spokesperson and An Taisce’s Communication Officer, Charles Stanley Smith, said:

“There were serious issues with the modelling done by the UK in assessing the risk of transboundary impacts from Hinkley and these issues are still valid today.

“Our promotion of this consultation isn’t about panicking the public, but to ensure that the interests of the Irish public, their health, our environment, our economy, and, in particular, our Agri-Food sector, are protected and that both the UK and Irish Government don’t ignore these issues.

“Serious additional concerns arise now in the context of Brexit with the UK’s withdrawal from the governance of EU law and the EU Court of Justice, and the EURATOM treaty, which is concerned with nuclear safety and waste in particular.”

Attracta Uí Bhroin, Environmental Law Implementation Group Facilitator at the Irish Environmental Network, said:

“We welcome the action of the Irish Government today and commend them for addressing this consultation. It is the first step to addressing Ireland’s interests in such matters.

“This is a proud day for Irish environmental NGOs, in particular, An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment, who were at the fore in fighting for this important right for the Irish public. We also owe a debt of gratitude to many European NGOs, German MP Sylvia Kotting-Uhl, and the German citizen Brigitte Artman for their support.

“But, of course, key to upholding this right was the Implementation Committee of the Espoo Convention to whom the Irish public is indebted.”

Tony Lowes, Director of Friends of the Irish Environment, said:

“It is clear that an accident at the Hinkley Point C facility would have devastating consequences for our island. A 2016 ESRI report gave a conservative estimate that Ireland would be hit with a €161 billion bill as a result of a serious nuclear event anywhere in Northwest Europe.

“One also has to ask how feasible is the approach set out in the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland’s 2013 report for people to avoid serious radiological impacts by sheltering indoors when we have no covered water supply for people. What are the emergency plans?

“Regardless of how low the risk of an accident to occur, the Irish people have an interest in knowing how an accident will be handled here and in the UK.”

ENDS

[1] Details of the Irish Transboundary Environmental Public Consultation were published this morning in the Irish Independent, Irish Examiner and the Irish Times. A detailed notice is also available on the website of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government: https://goo.gl/cGDMsQ

[2] Under UN Conventions, the peoples of neighbouring countries that could be affected by a project need to be consulted. For example, the Compliance Committee in ACCC/C/2013/92 of the Aarhus Convention states: “In the case of a formal notification from another country, the Committee considers that when deciding whether to enter into a transboundary procedure under applicable international or EU regimes, a mere awareness by the Party of a strong interest by its own public in the outcome of the decision-making subject to the EIA procedure is a relevant consideration to be taken into account, even without a clear request from its public, when deciding whether to enter into the transboundary procedure in order to facilitate the participation of its public in that decision-making.” https://goo.gl/wfgjBW

[3] Economic and Social Research Institute. 2016. The Potential Economic Impact of a Nuclear Accident – An Irish Case Study: https://www.esri.ie/pubs/BKMNEXT313.pdf

[4] Leading Irish climate expert, Professor John Sweeney, has assessed the reports the UK prepared under Article 37 of the EURATOM treaty and which the UK relied upon in determining its view on the potential for transboundary impacts from Hinkley Point C in the event of an accident.

[5] The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland’s assessment of radiological impacts of proposed UK plants on Ireland finds that the impact to Irish people can be mitigated against by sheltering indoors. However, this assessment fails to address basic considerations of the feasibility of proposed mitigation given issues like the contamination of our largely uncovered water supply. https://goo.gl/MyqKwU

[6]The UK’s exit from the EU will trigger its withdrawal from the EURATOM treaty on nuclear waste and safety, as well relinquishing the UK of the need to follow the polluter pays and precautionary principals set out in the EU treaties.

[7] Brief history of An Taisce Court Cases:

  • Development Consent Order for Hinkley Point C was granted on 19th March 2013.
    An Taisce on learning of the Secretary of State’s decision, mounted a Judicial Review challenge against the decision in the court of England and Wales, taking the matter all the way to the Supreme Court who ultimately ruled against An Taisce.
  • An Taisce has sought a reference to the EU Court of Justice, (CJEU), to clarify the proper interpretation of Article 7 of the EU Environmental Impact Assessment Directive, (2011/92/EU) regarding the test for transboundary impacts, in light of the two UNECE Conventions which underpinned this article.
  • The UK Supreme Court refused the appeal on paper stating that the CJEU had already ruled on the matter.
  • Subsequently Friends of the Irish Environment, (FIE), supported by An Taisce, made a complaint to the implementation committee of one of these conventions The UNECE Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context” (the Espoo Convention),and also by a German Member of Parliament, Ms Sylivia Kotting-Uhl, and other complaints were also made to the Compliance Committee of the UNECE
  • These committees ultimately found the UK to be non-compliant with its consultation obligations in respect of Hinkley Point C.
[8] The Espoo Convention sets out the obligations of Parties to assess the environmental impact of certain activities at an early stage of planning. It also lays down the general obligation of States to notify and consult each other on all major projects under consideration that are likely to have a significant adverse environmental impact across boundaries.

[9]  Paragraph 40 of a September Economic Commission for Europe (EIC) report notes that on 28 July 2017, the United Kingdom had shared information with the above-listed Parties about the activity and offered them “an opportunity to comment in relation to potential transboundary impacts” by 20 October 2017 so as to give the Parties “ample opportunity to consult their public (should they consider it necessary)”.

[10] Please see the following links for the public consultations in Germany (https://goo.gl/Ao5gsF), the Netherlands (https://goo.gl/ex1C7S) and Denmark (https://goo.gl/N8gFda).

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