Press Conference on State’s failure to consult Irish people on UK nuclear expansion

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Concerns about the UK’s nuclear expansion program and Ireland’s failures to consult with the Irish public were raised today by TDs and Senators from across the political spectrum, together with environmental NGOs, academics and the agricultural sector.

The broad grouping came together for a briefing at Buswell’s Hotel at 11AM this morning organised by the Environmental Pillar and co-convened by the Leaders of the Green Party, Labour Party and Social Democrats. [1]

Attendees heard that there are eight new nuclear plants proposed in the UK, five of which are to be located on the west coast of the UK facing Ireland.

The UK is also considering the development of geological underground or undersea storage for radioactive waste, including locations in Northern Ireland and under marine waters.

The clear implication here is that dumping of radioactive waste on the island of Ireland or its surrounding waters is under active consideration.

The extension of the operating lifetime of older nuclear plants is also on the table, with a number of key public consultations undertaken by the UK Government in relation to the above issues. [2]

However, controversially, these key consultations have not been brought to the attention of the Irish public in the Republic of Ireland despite repeated calls from environmental groups for the Irish people to have their say on such developments. [3]

The UK also failed in its duty in relation to another public consultation on the planned Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, located less than 250km from Rosslare.

After five years of intense legal battle, in which Irish environmental groups such as An Taisce and Friends of the Irish Environment and the Environmental Pillar fought to uphold the rights of the Irish public, a long overdue consultation began recently and is set to close on 17 April 2018. [4][5]

Similar public consultations will be increasingly important in the future to address transboundary impacts of UK projects, especially post-Brexit. [6]

Pandora’s Box of Problems

The proposed nuclear developments on the UK’s west coast open up a Pandora’s Box of potential problems for our island particularly in the event of an accident at any of the planned facilities.

The ESRI recently estimated that the cost of a single nuclear accident in northwest Europe to human life and well-being are incalculable, with losses estimated at over €160 billion. [7]

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, and access to uncontaminated water would be a huge issue.

There is also concern with the absence of solutions to 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. [8]

There is also an issue with a lack of emergency response planning and capacity in Ireland to effectively deal with any potential accidents. [9]

It was recently revealed the HSE warned the Government that the State has no capacity at present to deal with a nuclear accident. [10]

Professor John Sweeney, Emeritus Professor of Geography at the National University of Ireland, said:

“There were serious issues with the modelling done by the UK in assessing the risk of transboundary impacts from Hinkley Point C on Ireland in the event of an accident, and these issues are still valid today.

“Accidents by their very nature are accidental and catch us by surprise, exploiting unexpected consolidations of events, errors or omissions.

“Our promotion of these consultations 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.

“We want to ensure that both the UK and Irish Government don’t ignore these issues, and adequately consider our risks including the fact we don’t have a covered water supply.

“One of the basic principles of international relations is that good neighbours talk to each other about developments which may have serious implications for each other. The Irish Government’s lack of proactive engagement to secure consultation rights and proactively promote our interests on these issues is now a real concern.”

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

“It is imperative that politicians, organisations, state agencies, and individuals engage with the consultation on Hinkley Point C to highlight their concerns, what they don’t understand or haven’t been provided information on, and what additional safety and mitigation they require.

“It is important that the Irish people should have a voice in the matter of this new nuclear power plant. Our own ESRI produced a very important report that estimated that the worst case scenario would amount to more than €160 billion in economic losses and that’s dwarfs the recent bank bailout.

“It also acknowledged agriculture would be wiped out, and our ability to recover from such an event would be severely compromised with long term contamination of land and water.

“We are also urging our Government to be more proactive in engaging and securing consultation rights on the UK’s nuclear expansion program at the earliest stages when all options are open to protect our health, as well as economic and environmental interests.

“The consultation precedent and commitment that has been now established and so hard won in relation to Hinkley Point C will apply and the Irish people will have a chance to say something about those in the future.

“But we need to ensure that our Government is also vigilant on associated nuclear infrastructure such as dumps for radioactive waste – a direct consequence of the UK’s nuclear power plants. We have serious concerns about its approach to these.”

Patrick Kent, President of the Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), said: 

“Hard questions need to be asked about our ability to deal with a nuclear incident, and our right to comment on the adequacy of the UK’s plans to dot their Western coast with nuclear stations, some of which would be within 250km of Ireland.

“A nuclear accident would devastate agriculture for many years so I think we have a right as a people to be consulted as to whether the plans that are being made for these power stations are robust enough and whether they address legitimate concerns that the Irish people might want to express.

“You only have to consider the difficulties for farmers and livestock in the recent snow storm to see how vulnerable we are and what practical problems arise when access to water is restricted. Matters become critical in 24 hours.

“However, the combined impact of Storm Ophelia and the Beast from the East would pale in comparison to what we can expect from a single nuclear accident which would be Armageddon for Irish agriculture and the fishing industry.

“Livestock, grains, fish stocks, and our soils could be devastated, forcing the farming community to leave the country for pastures new, and taking with it the central pillar of the Irish economy.”

ENDS

[1] List of Oireachtas Co-conveners and Speakers:

*  Green Party Senator Grace O’Sullivan (Chair)

* Eamon Ryan, TD, Green Party Leader (Co-convener)

* Brendan Howlin, TD, Labour Party Leader (Co-convener)

* Catherine Murphy, TD, Co-leader of Social Democrats (Co-convener)

* Brian Stanley TD, Sinn Féin (Co-convener)

* Clare Daly, TD, Independents 4 Change (Co-convener)

*  Attracta Uí Bhroin, Environmental Law Implementation Group, Irish Environmental Network

* Professor John Sweeney, Emeritus Professor of Geography at  National University of Ireland

*   Patrick Kent, President of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association

 

[2] List of UK Public Consultations:

* Consultation with Northern Irish communities on proposals for radioactive waste in geological and underground or undersea storage facilities. https://goo.gl/HCe3Tm 

* Consultations with Welsh communities Wales on the same matter; https://goo.gl/Zum7X5

* Proposals for geological disposal of radioactive waste: https://goo.gl/iFa9S2 

* Revisiting criteria for siting new plants to be deployed post-2025. Five of the eight locations are on the UK’s west coast facing Ireland : https://goo.gl/zEBCRc 

 

[3] 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 likely significant environmental impact across boundaries.

 

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 

 

[4] 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 had 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, and in light of the two UNECE Conventions which underpinned this article.
  • The UK Supreme Court refused the appeal on paper stating incorrectly that the CJEU had already ruled on the matter.
  • Subsequently a German Member of Parliament, Ms Sylivia Kotting-Uhl and 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 other complaints were also raised by Ms Kotting-Uhl and a German citizen Ms Brigitte Artman to another UNECE convention.
  • Both of these UNECE committees ultimately found the UK to be non-compliant with its consultation obligations in respect of Hinkley Point C.
  • The Implementation Committee for the Espoo convention recommended consultation should be conducted to address the UK’s failure, and a round of public consultation on Hinkley between July and October last year which was taken up by Germany (https://goo.gl/Ao5gsF), the Netherlands (https://goo.gl/ex1C7S) and Denmark (https://goo.gl/N8gFda) and extended to their public, but not so in Ireland.
  • The Implementation Committee of the Espoo Convention then wrote to the Irish Government to invite it to uphold the right of the Irish public to be consulted. following the further escalation by the Environmental Pillar, given the Irish Government failed to respond to its requests to seek an extension to ensure the Irish public were consulted.
[5] Details of the Irish Transboundary Environmental Public Consultation were published 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

 

[6] The UK’s exit from the EU will trigger its withdrawal from the EURATOM treaty on nuclear waste and safety. Ireland will also not be able to rely on key EU law environmental principles like the polluter pays and precautionary principals set out in the EU Treaties when the UK withdraws from them under Brexit.

 

[7] 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 

 

[8] Leading Irish climate expert, Emeritus Professor John Sweeney, NUIM has assessed the reports the UK prepared under Article 37 of the EURATOM treaty and which the UK relied up on in determining its view on the potential for transboundary impacts from Hinkley Point C in the event of an accident. Below he has provided a brief summary of his technical report, with very stark and strong conclusion regarding the confidence on the competence of key elements of the Article 37 submission. Some of the key points:

  • The risk of extreme meteorological events coinciding with an accident occurring at Hinkley is calculated on an unsound basis. The weather database used to estimate e.g. an event which might occur e.g. once in 10,000 years cannot be calculated with any confidence from the short run of data used by the Hinkley proposers.
  • Similar concerns arise when calculating water levels at this coastal site. Existing tide gauges indicate sea level is rising all along the south coast of England. Current estimates are that sea level will continue to rise into the 22nd Century at least, with ultimate rises of several metres likely.
  • Uncertainty exists as regards future storm surge changes. Combined with sea level rise this poses additional risks which are not handled using the precautionary principle by the Hinkley proposers. Water level considerations are crucial since spent fuel is to be stored for over a century at this coastal site.
  • Ireland, unlike France and the Channel Islands, was excluded from any accident impact assessment. The Irish coast and the Channel Islands are equidistant from Hinkley. This raises issues of confidence about the extent to which the report can be considered competent.
[9] 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

 

[10] Martin Wall. The Irish Times. 22 January 2018. HSE has ‘no capacity’ to deal with nuclear or biological incident: https://goo.gl/i1rZrN 

 

 

Contact Details:

 

Attracta Uí Bhroin

Environmental Law Implementation Group, Irish Environmental Network

087 291 4061

attracta@ien.ie

 

Niall Sargent

Communications Manager, Environmental Pillar

0894160141

niall@ien.ie

 

 

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