State ready for nuclear disaster - Taoiseach

Ireland’s emergency services are primed and ready for a nuclear disaster, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern told the Dáil today.

Mr Ahern dismissed Opposition concerns on the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident that the state was ill-prepared for any fallout from the Sellafield nuclear plant.

The Taoiseach said the national emergency plan has been carefully developed and tested by the Environment Department, the Radiological Protection Institute and national emergency services.

It has been fully validated by international experts like the UN, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Commission.

The plan, which includes vital early notification mechanisms, was updated as recently as Christmas 2005 and tested last year, he told TDs.

“We are prepared for a nuclear emergency,” Mr Ahern said. “We have followed everything we have been asked to do and continue to validate it against the best international practice.”

However Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny claimed that Ireland’s emergency planning procedures were split between several disparate Government departments, state agencies and sub-groups.

He charged that there was no independent audit of the state’s emergency procedures and also cited recent concerns of firefighters who complained of a lack of equipment and simulated drills.

“Sellafield is a clear and present danger to Ireland because it is only 90 miles off the Irish coast and Britain is a preferred target for international terrorists,” the Mayo TD said.

“If everybody is in charge then nobody is in charge. The recommendations from the Emergency Planning Society is that a single emergency planning authority be formed and underpinned by legislation have been completely ignored by the Government.”

Mr Ahern also told the Dáil that the Environment Minister and Attorney General were actively pursuing the state’s case against Sellafield and the UK authorities in the European Court of Justice.

Mr Ahern went on to say he believed that nuclear energy was not an option for Ireland as it had dangerous consequences in the short, medium and long term.

“As a non-nuclear state, Ireland has played a very strong role by preventing the development of nuclear weapons and forcing the eventual closure of Sellafield.

“Sellafield poses an unacceptable threat to this country on the grounds of ongoing pollution, its poor safety record and the impact of a major terrorist act,” he added.

The Chernobyl Children’s Project today led several nationwide events to mark the 20th anniversary of the Ukraine nuclear disaster.

Referring earlier to the anniversary, Mr Ahern said everybody’s thoughts were with the victims who died and suffered and who are still suffering from the fallout.

He added: “Here in Ireland, thousands of families have become personally involved by hosting children from the region and through the work of Adi Roche and Chernobyl Children’s Project.”

As people gathered around the world to mark the 1986 tragedy, CCP founder Adi Roche paid a courtesy visit on President Mary McAleese at Aras an Uachtarain.

Ms Roche presented the president with a copy of her new book, Chernobyl Heart - 20 Years On, which includes an introduction penned by Mrs McAleese.

Ms Roche later attended a remembrance ceremony in St Patrick’s Park with the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councillor Catherine Byrne, and dignitaries.

Elsewhere, Cork City hosted an ecumenical service and white doves were released from the streets.

A tree-planting ceremony was held in Cahir, Co Tipperary, where local school pupils recited remembrance poems.

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