Sellafield: should we be concerned?
Presidential hopeful and Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness voiced concerns about the Sellafield reprocessing plant during a recent European Parliament debate on nuclear safety in the aftermath of the Japanese disaster.
Ms McGuinness said the accident at Fukushima in Japan had prompted the European Commission to decide to carry out safety assessments on all nuclear facilities across the European Union.
“It’s a particular issue for Ireland because of our proximity to Sellafield and because of our ongoing concerns about how that facility is being managed by the authorities,” she told The Irish Times after the Strasbourg session.
Ms McGuinness said 30 per cent of energy in the European Union came from nuclear power, so a public debate about the EU’s “energy mix” was vital. She said not only power plants but also reprocessing and storage facilities should be checked and decisive action should be taken in the event of facilities not meeting the required standards.
She said there was more than 140 nuclear facilities across the EU and therefore nuclear was a very significant part of the “energy mix”, even though Ireland produced none of it.
“So we sit here in this parliament and we’re powered by nuclear. We’ve had a cup of coffee that was made from nuclear energy, so to suggest that we can switch off immediately, while it sounds good, is not practical. So therefore safety and getting it right is very, very important,” she said.
Ms McGuinness also said there was a need for better co-ordination on energy matters at EU level and called for a debate on how to increase the share of renewable energy, although she stressed renewables did not provide “the easy answer”.
I was reminded that during Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s first Leaders’ Questions session in the Dail last month, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said there had been two small earthquakes in England recently, one of which was in Cumbria, where Sellafield is located. Mr Adams asked Mr Kenny to raise this issue with the British authorities. The Taoiseach said he did not have full details of the incident, but much to everyone’s surprise (especially Mr Adams’, I thought!) said he would be happy to raise it with British Prime Minister David Cameron when he met him.
In fairness, Environment Minister Phil Hogan raised the contentious issue when he met his British counterpart Chris Huhne recently. But I wonder if it’s high on Mr Kenny’s agenda as he attends his first formal bilateral meeting with Mr Cameron at 10 Downing Street today, as part of what the Government is calling its ongoing “diplomatic offensive” (what an unfortunate term!).