Last week’s announcement by the British Government that they are likely to build a new nuclear plant on the Wylfa peninsula in Wales will give no comfort to people living in the east and southeast of Ireland, according to Tramore Town Councillor Joe Conway.
The proposed site, about 70 miles east of our shorelines, is currently occupied by an old Magnox-type nuclear power station that became operational in 1971. The Irish Government was informed by the authorities in the UK of the decision to close Wylfa from 2010, and the news was publicly welcomed by then Minister for the Environment Dick Roche.
“But, in recent times, there has been a growing mood in the British government that the nuclear option is to figure prominently in future power generation, and culminated in this announcement that 11 possible sites for new-generation reactors have been identified,” Cllr Conway says. “One of the main criteria is the status quo, as it is believed that less local opposition will emerge when a reactor is already in place in a locality.”
The promotion of the nuclear option by the UK authorities “is a controversial move, when judged against public opinion,” he asserts. “It spells the effective end of the stated Tony Blair preference to promote wind, wave, tidal and biomass power generation.
“The findings of an official Eurobarometer 2006 survey, for example, in relation to nuclear energy found that of the 25,000 European citizens questioned, 37% were opposed to nuclear power, while only 20% were in favour. The poll also found that nuclear was the least popular of the nine energy options surveyed.”
Cllr Conway, who is aiming to retain his seat as an Independent in the upcoming local elections, says “this poll indicates clearly that Irish and European citizens remain sceptical of the use of nuclear energy.”
The Irish Government has consistently and continuously highlighted the dangers and the risks of nuclear power. Cllr Conway points out that little more than two years ago, the British Nuclear Group Sellafield Ltd (BNGSL), who operate the Sellafield plant were fined stg£500,000, plus stg£68,000 costs by Carlisle Crown Court.
They had already pleaded guilty to criminal charges brought against them by the UK’s Nuclear watchdog, the Health and Safety Executive. The charges had been brought as a result of the leak of 83,400 litres of radioactive liquid into secondary containment at the THORP plant in Sellafield in April 2005.
Substantial local opposition has arisen since the moves began to build the new reactor – called Wylfa B – and is largely organized by PAWB, People Against Wylfa B. “Happily for this group, the word ‘pawb’ in Welsh means ‘everyone'”.
Noting that there is a fairly restrictive public response period of one month allowed to make objections, Cllr Conway feels “it’s important that we here use our public representatives to urge the Irish Government to make it known to the British authorities how great a distaste people here have for a gigantic nuclear reactor so close to our shores. There is a message to be sent, and sent urgently.”