UN asked Ireland about UK nuclear risk

Deal on construction of €16bn nuclear facility in Somerset to be signed today

The Government has been asked by the United Nations whether it has considered the risks that will be created for Ireland by the construction and operation of a new multibillion euro nuclear power station in England.

A deal on the construction of the €16 billion Hinkley Point in Somerset – backed by €100 billion in subsidies over 35 years from the British taxpayer – will be signed today.

However, the British government did not consult with the Irish Government over the “transboundary” risks from nuclear power before it granted approval earlier this year.

UN committee
The UN's Implementation Committee of the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context wrote to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government earlier this month.


Irish officials were asked to confirm whether the British government had contacted Dublin in advance about the plans and whether the Irish Government had responded.

“Does the Government of Ireland consider that the proposed development at Hinkley Point C is likely to cause significant adverse transboundary impact on the territory of Ireland,” the UN committee asked.

Friends of the Irish Environment director, Tony Lowes said the United Kingdom decided not to consult with any neighbouring country, arguing that “the likely impacts” of Hinkley Point C “do not extend beyond the county of Somerset and the Severn Estuary”.

The involvement of the UN committee was sparked by a complaint from the Irish environmental body, Friends of the Earth, along with separate statements by members of the German and Austrian parliaments unhappy that their national governments were not consulted.

In a report to the Minister for the Environment, Mr Phil Hogan, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland warned of the consequences of anything going wrong there, from food restrictions upwards.

Meanwhile, a judicial review taken by An Taisce against the nuclear plant – the first plant to be commissioned since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan – will be heard in the High Court in London in December.

The legality of the permission granted by the British energy secretary, Liberal Democrat Ed Davey, will form the central pillar of the case being taken by London solicitors Leigh Day on behalf of An Taisce.

The nuclear plant – which would supply five per cent of the UK’s energy needs if built – would lie just 150 miles from the Irish coastline, An Taisce will tell the High Court.

Denying that the judicial review is a PR stunt that has little chance of success, An Taisce told the Observer that, as a charity, it had to carefully weigh up the risks before deciding to take legal action.

“Despite the nuclear power plant being nearer to the coast of Ireland than it is to Leeds, the UK decided not to consult with the Irish public about the decision before it granted consent in March,” it said. “The first time many Irish people learned about the nuclear power plant proposal was when the decision was announced.”

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is Ireland and Britain Editor with The Irish Times