Nuclear incident off our coast has potential to bankrupt Ireland

Expert model shows best-case consequence of minor episode implies €4bn cost to State

The most severe scenario is where high levels of contamination reach us that demand imposition of food controls and agriculture protective actions extending over 60 years. Photograph: Getty Images

The most severe scenario is where high levels of contamination reach us that demand imposition of food controls and agriculture protective actions extending over 60 years. Photograph: Getty Images

 

A bad nuclear incident near our shores has the potential to bankrupt Ireland, according to a research scientist at University College London (UCL).

Even a relatively minor incident that does not cause any radioactive fallout here could still cost the State €4 billion, about as much as the annual yield from corporate taxation, said Dr Paul Dorfman who is based in UCL’s Energy Institute. He also sits on an Environmental Protection Agency advisory committee looking at radiological protection.

The worst case, where Ireland experiences high levels of radioactivity contaminating food and water, could cost in excess of €161 billion. It would wipe out our significant export capacity for agricultural products and require us to import safe foodstuffs from outside a toxic zone.

Empirical study

Dr Dorfman bases his comments on a research study by the Economic and Social Research Institute released by the Department of Climate Action and Environment on November 21st.

The research, “The Potential Economic Impact of a Nuclear Accident – An Irish Case Study”, attempts to assess the costs if a nuclear incident occurred in northwestern Europe.

It proposes four scenarios and sets costs for each, while acknowledging that estimating these costs “is fraught with difficulty”. It also says that these estimates are all probably on the low side.

In scenario one an accident near us causing no actual contamination in Ireland would still cost us €4.4 billion in reputational losses linked to tourism and export markets, the ESRI study says.

Scenario two assumes that some low-level contamination reaches us, requiring subsequent food controls. The cost of €18 billion includes damage to our reputation but actual losses in export markets and the cost of testing. The costs also persist for a longer period of time.

The third scenario describes costs if there was moderate environmental contamination, causing food controls. Exports would be hit hard and consumers would turn against Irish products in favour of imports. The radiation would remain in place over long periods, extending the impact.

The most severe scenario is where high levels of contamination reach us that demand the imposition of food controls and agriculture protective actions extending over an estimated 60 years.

It assumes agricultural production is lost, stopping exports and forcing consumers to buy more expensive imported foodstuffs. Our reputation for a clean environment would be lost, damaging tourism and Irish food products. Here the cost would reach a minimum of €161.2 billion.

‘Health impact’

Dr Dorfman sits on the Radiological Protection Advisory Committee within the EPA. “This study to my mind makes perfect sense, the numbers make perfect sense and the study itself says these values underestimate the costs because of downstream health impacts,” he said.

The worst case scenario would be enough to “bankrupt the Irish economy”.

“The point is for the Irish Government to reflect on this in the context of its own energy future. The Government may need to reflect very clearly about future plans for a UK nuclear renaissance given the risks to Ireland are substantial,” he said.

The Government must live up to its responsibility to attempt to block the UK nuclear expansion “give the colossal impact these events could have”.

Ireland should not become an “imprisoned rider” on this. “It should empower itself.”

Major incidents are rare but relying on a low probability doesn’t help. “It doesn’t cater for the reality that accidents arise accidentally. The nuclear engineers justify the plant is safe, but all major accidents so far have been beyond their design base and are cascading. Once they go wrong they keep on going wrong,” he said.