The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) welcomes Stephen Agnew MLA submitting an Assembly question in to the Northern Ireland Government seeking its views on a recent Irish Government commissioned report which suggested a potential huge economic impact to the island of Ireland in the event of a nuclear accident at a British or French nuclear facility.
The report by ESRI was originally pushed for by the NFLA’s representative to the Environment Protection Agency’s Radiation Issues Committee, Dr Paul Dorfman. Key parts of the report include:
- In the worse case scenario, a nuclear disaster in northwest Europe could cost Ireland €161 billion.
- Agricultural production would grind to a halt, with the tourism industry and exports also incurring substantial financial damage.
- Even under the most benign scenario considered by ESRI, where no radioactive contamination occurs – total loss is estimated at €4 billion.
- The report analysis may actually underestimate the true extent of its cost to the Irish economy.
- Health risks from high levels of contamination could put a significant strain on the health service.
- Total cost of a low-level contamination scenario, which requires the imposition of food controls to reassure the public, would cause restrictions on food imports from Ireland, would be €18 billion.
- The impact on tourism would also be significant, with long-term reputational damage resulting in an economic cost of as much as €80 billion.
- Not only would exports be decimated but the need to import much of the country’s food would lead to far higher domestic costs.
- There could also be significant emigration from the island. (1)
NFLA have called for the Northern Ireland Government to both consider the ESRI report and commission its own research that may look at more specific potential impacts to the Northern Ireland economy. NFLA hopes the Government will respond positively to Stephen Agnew’s request and take this issue as seriously as the Republic of Ireland Government does.
On another energy matter, NFLA is concerned with the revelations made recently by the BBC ‘Spotlight’ documentary which argued that the Department of the Economy repeatedly ignored pleas from a whistleblower highlighting that the tariff for its Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI) was set too high. This error, and other mistakes, made by government officials may have led to an overspend of £400 million and the early closure of this energy efficiency scheme.
After a 2013 meeting with officials had not seen any change to the policy, the whistleblower emailed the department in 2014 noting: “What we are seeing on the ground in Northern Ireland is that buildings are using more energy than before because it pays them to do so. The flat rate means there is no incentive at all to be efficient, so the heat in buildings is on all year round with the windows open everywhere. When we had spoken (referring to the autumn 2013 meeting) you did not believe that people would do this. But believe me it’s happening. It’s got to a stage where it cannot be ignored any longer.” (2)
For that email to again not be actioned upon, and for such a huge overspend of a scheme which has a critical role for Northern Ireland in transferring to becoming a low carbon economy, is of real concern. NFLA strongly support and advocate positive actions to increase renewable energy, heat and transport in Northern Ireland and is now worried these could be negatively impacted by these policy errors.
NFLA support the need for a full open and transparent inquiry into this issue. NFLA’s recent assessment of Northern Ireland low carbon energy policy outlined concerns that progress was already slowing down in this area. It is highly concerned this expensive series of blunders could now damage the move towards supporting renewables even further. (3)
NFLA All Ireland Forum Co Chair Councillor John Trainor said:
I call on the Government to carefully consider the ESRI report and consider its major implications for Northern Ireland. Ministers and officials need to talk to the UK Government and the EPA in the south to challenge the development of new nuclear facilities across the Irish Sea and support actions to reduce the risks of a nuclear accident to Northern Ireland.
I am also very concerned about the revelations over the huge overspend of the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme. This could have many negative effects on Northern Ireland moving towards becoming a low carbon economy. It beggars belief that the scheme should cost the taxpayer so much more than was envisaged. I call on the Government to urgently resolve this matter and hope it does not damage support for other areas of low carbon policy.”
In reference to the ESRI report, Dr Paul Dorfman said:
This key report commissioned by the Republic of Ireland’s Government has found that a nuclear accident on the continent, including the UK, would bankrupt Ireland to the tune of £161 billion. The people of Northern Ireland are not immune to radioactive fallout, and should take note. I urge the Northern Ireland Government to take account of the report and commission its own research on what the impact of a nuclear accident across the Irish Sea could have on Northern Ireland.”
For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on either 00 44 (0)161 234 3244 or 00 44 (0)7771 930196.
Notes for editors:
(1) Economic Social Research Institute, ‘The Potential Economic Impact of a Nuclear Accident – An Irish Case Study’, November 2016
(2) BBC News, 7th December 2016 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-38229535
(3) NFLA Policy Briefing on Irish Energy Policy and Futures, November 2016 https://www.nuclearpolicy.info/briefings/nfla-policy-briefing-151-irish-energy-policy