Thursday 23 May 2019

Fears grow over nuclear power agreements with UK after Brexit

Reports reveal 'high operational risk' if UK no longer has to adhere to EU rules on power plant

POWER TO THE PEOPLE: Protesters march at Bridgwater, Somerset, over plans to invest £18 billion in the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
POWER TO THE PEOPLE: Protesters march at Bridgwater, Somerset, over plans to invest £18 billion in the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

senior Government officials have raised serious concerns over the impact Brexit will have on Ireland and Britain's nuclear power agreements, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

A risk assessment compiled by the Department of the Environment in the wake of the Brexit referendum warns of a "high operational risk" to arrangements Ireland has with the UK on nuclear policy.

The briefing document says environmental assessments and mandatory consultation processes "may prove more difficult" to enforce when Britain leaves the European Union (EU).

Ireland has bilateral agreements with Britain which entitle the government to information on the UK's nuclear programme.

The UK will no longer be tied down by strict EU laws which underpin these agreements once it officially leaves the union.

Documents released following a Freedom of Information request reveal high-ranking civil servants fear information exchanges will be under threat once Britain leaves the EU.

Concerns were first raised two years ago in a risk assessment compiled by the Department of the Environment for the Taoiseach's Office.

"There could be some issues for Ireland in the event of a change in the current EU/UK relationship in the area of nuclear policy," the report said.

The briefing document noted "good progress" has been made in recent years in the area of information exchanges relating to Sellafield - the controversial nuclear power plant in the north west of England.

"By and large this has been done outside of our common membership of the EU but undoubtedly the common membership has been a factor," the report added.

The report also raised concerns over the impact of Britain's plans to build more nuclear power plants. The UK was recently given the green light to build two new power plants after years of negotiations with other EU member states.

However, the British government last week decided to pull back from a €21bn deal to begin construction on the first nuclear power plant to be built in Britain for more than 20 years.

The Hinkley Point power station in Somerset was to be built in conjunction with France's state-owned energy company EDF and the Chinese government. But the new Conservative government decided to review the project.

Britain has 15 nuclear reactors which provide more than 18pc of the country's energy.

There have always been concerns in Ireland over Britain's use of nuclear energy as we do not have nuclear power plants in this country.

The Sellafield site's close proximity to the Irish Sea has proven controversial in the past.

However, a 2012 report compiled on behalf of the Irish government by international experts said a leak at the plant would give rise to "no observable health effects in Ireland".

A review carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency also examined the potential radiological impacts on Ireland from the construction of new nuclear power plants in the UK, including the Hinkley Point project.

This assessment considered both routine operations and a range of possible accident scenarios at the plants.

The report, published in May 2013, concluded that the routine operation of the proposed nuclear power plants will have "no measurable radiological impact on Ireland or the Irish marine environment".

There is currently confusion over which Government department oversees Ireland's interest in the UK's nuclear energy programmes.

Simon Coveney's Department of Housing Planning and Local Government was responsible for the environment before his appointment.

However, issues relating to the environment have now been moved to Denis Naughten's Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

Sunday Independent

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