Concerns about the UK’s nuclear expansion program and Ireland’s failures to consult with the Irish public were discussed last night in An Tairseach, Wicklow Town.
The public meeting was organised by Wicklow Public Participation Network and the Irish Environmental Network, in an attempt to brief the public about upcoming deadlines for consultations, and issues surrounding the consultation process. (1)(2)
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. 
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. 
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. 
Similar public consultations will be increasingly important in the future to address transboundary impacts of UK projects, especially post-Brexit. 
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. 
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. 
There is also an issue with a lack of emergency response planning and capacity in Ireland to effectively deal with any potential accidents. 
It was recently revealed the HSE warned the Government that the State has no capacity at present to deal with any nuclear accident. 
Next steps for the Irish public
The briefing highlighted the importance of individuals submitting their views to the consultation for Hinkley Point C. (12) Attendees heard that the Irish government still has a course of action to use in order to gain an extension for the consultation on behalf of the Irish public. Attendees were strongly advised they write to their local councilors and TDs to ask our government to use this course and grant a significant extension to the consultation period. (13)
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.”