The Nuclear Syndrome Victory for the Irish Anti-nuclear Power Movement

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The Nuclear Syndrome

Victory for the Irish Anti-nuclear Power Movement

By Simon Dalby

First published in Dawn Train

No.3 Winter 1984/85

This is the original text of the pamphlet as published, excluding photos and illustrations, with some minor alterations (e.g. removal of typographical errors)

Some original copies of this pamphlet are available from INNATE; please enquire.


Contents 2

The Nuclear Option 4

Post-War Ideology 7

Local Opposition 7

The Nuclear Safety Association 8

Alternative Energy 10

The Intervening Years 11

The Controversy Rekindled... 11

...and Develops 12

Political Opposition 13

A Hot Summer 13

The Amorphous Network 15

The National ANM 15

O'Malley Gives Ground 16

The Controversy Continues 17

A New Year, a New Minister, a New Policy 18

The Radicals 20

Mass Movement or Lobby Group? 21

The Carnsore Rally 23

Motion Sickness 23

Spontaneity vs. Effectivity 24

In Wexford Again 24

To Belfast, Carnsore 25

Leadership and Control 26

A Delicate Structure? 27

Nonviolence 30

A Public Inquiry? 32

ANM Legacy 34

The Anti–Uranium Campaign 34

The CND Revival 36

Summary 37

Conclusions 37

Irish Politics 38

Significant Events 40

This pamphlet is an edited extract from a thesis written by Simon Dalby entitled 'Political Ecology: a study of the Irish anti-nuclear movement' written for the University of Victoria (Canada) in 1982. [The original pamphlet listed the total contents of Simon Dalby’s thesis and what was included or excluded in the pamphlet; this is not included here – Web edition Editor]
We decided against including updated material (e.g. on the rise of Irish CND) in this pamphlet but rather to let Simon Dalby's material stand, with the story taken to 1981-2. Perhaps we will return to more recent disarmament history again...
Repeating mistakes is not something peculiar to Ireland, though we are certainly good at it. And while it is highly unlikely that the prospect of nuclear power will be as close for Ireland in the foreseeable future as it was in the 1970s, being informed and prepared is the starting point of opposition to the contemplation of any such plans in the future.
But it is not just because of the importance of the nuclear issue, and of the victory won against it (more by external circumstances than by actual Irish opposition) that we are publishing an edited version of Simon Dalby's thesis on the Irish anti-nuclear movement Within the movement there were important debates taking place about the shape and variety of opposition that was appropriate; what form of organisation should be adopted, what priorities should be dealt with, etc. These are the kind of organisational questions which occur in any mass political movement.
And since then there has been the rise of the anti-nuclear bomb movement, to which in many ways the anti-nuclear power movement was a precursor. These questions of organisation, strategy and tactics are vital. Simon Dalby's analysis of the way the Irish anti-nuclear movement in the 1970s dealt with these questions is an important one which will repay careful study and consideration. It is as much for the nitty-gritty politics of the movement, then, that we are publishing this pamphlet as for the importance of the issue concerned. A victory was won. And while that victory was more to do with economic questions and the international concern over nuclear power, the Irish anti-nuclear power movement had done an important job in conscientising people as to the dangers. It is good to be able to tell a success story, and we think if you stick with it you'll find it an exiting read. And if we are able to. learn some lessons about organising present and future campaigns then the read will indeed have been a worthwhile one... - Dawn group.

The Nuclear Option

In November 1968 the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) first announced that it was examining nuclear power as a possible method of diversifying electricity supply options. In the late 1960s, contemplating a projected 9% per annum growth rate in electricity demand in the 1970s, and the imminent completion of an interconnection with the Northern Ireland Electricity Service (NIES) grid, a 350 MW nuclear power station was thought to be possible by 1978 at the earliest. At least a 10 year lead time is involved in bringing a nuclear station on stream due to planning and construction and training. Four people went to the UK in 1968 for training in nuclear technology, in accordance with the traditional ESB policy of training their own personnel to operate new technologies.
Since the initial announcement of the possibility of developing nuclear energy, plans have been changed and postponed a number of times. The initial ideas of the late 1960s were postponed in 1972 when the then minister of Transport and Power, Brian Lenihan, argued that it should be postponed until the implications of the newly discovered Kinsale natural gas field were worked out. A new government was elected in 1973 and had to deal with the oil crisis and the subsequent oil price increases. The new administration established a Nuclear Energy Board (NEB) to deal with regulatory matters under the Nuclear Energy Act of 1971. The government encouraged the ESB to push ahead with its plans for a nuclear station at Carnsore Point in the extreme South East of the country. The ESB duly filed for outline planning permission to the Wexford County Council in September 1974. The planning permission was for four 650 MW units, only one of which was to be built immediately. Although at this time no technology was specified the preferred design was a Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR).
A number of objections were received by the County Council and under the section 26 of the 1963 Planning Act the County Council requested more information, some of which was forthcoming. The recession in the mid-1970s caused a decline in electricity demand and in 1975 the ESB reduced its generation construction programme by 45%. This cutback included a postponement of the nuclear plans.
The economic upturn of 1976 led to a renewal of growth in electricity demand. Fianna Fail were re-elected in 1977 and Desmond O'Malley, an enthusiastic proponent of Nuclear technology became minister for Industry, Commerce and Energy, a new portfolio. In 1977 the plans for a station at Carnsore Point were once again put forward.
Nuclear Power has been claimed to be a surrogate form of nationalism. In the Irish case this interpretation is at least partly true too. In the growth mania of the early years of this Fianna Fail government, nuclear power seems to be seen as the consummation of the growing relationship with international capital and advanced technology which started in the late 1950s. It was seen as the symbol of national manhood. Ireland would have a shining nuclear plant too. Controversy soon arose how-ever, both in a Dail debate and at the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis (annual party convention) and also in public forums over the winter of 1977-78. The national anti – nuclear movement dates from the spring of 1978 when the Friends of the Earth group was restarted in Dublin.
Subsequently the government published a discussion document on energy in July 1978 which outlined its case for nuclear power. The rationale outlined in this publication was quite simple and in keeping with the philosophy of government intervention to promote rapid economic growth. The Fianna Fail government elected in 1977 initially forecasted a 7%increase in Gross National Product (GNP) per annum for 1978, 1979 and 1980 with rapid industrial expansion hopefully providing the impetus within the economy to increase employment by 25,000 jobs per annum.
A number of themes came together in the analysis of energy possibilities in the Green Paper. First, although not much emphasised in this document, are concern with financial considerations, cheap energy is deemed essential to maintain the competitiveness of export orientated industry, the king pin of the government's growth strategy.
Our standard of living and continued well being are largely dependent upon the future availability of adequate supplies of energy at reasonable cost. In formulating energy policy we must be conscious of the fact that energy is an important cost factor in our industrial and agricultural production and that excessive energy costs will inevitably have adverse effects on our export business For this reason we can never afford to let our energy costs be significantly higher than the energy costs of our competitors. (Government of Ireland: Energy Ireland, Discussion Document on some Current Energy Problems and Options. Dublin: Government Stationery Office 1978.)
A second theme is the necessity to increase energy usage in the industrial sector, and the lions share of forecasted increased energy demands goes into this sector. Flying in the face of stated EEC policies of de-coupling economic growth from energy consumption increase the Green Paper boldly states:
In the past there has been a close relationship between economic growth and energy consumption and there is every expectation that this pattern will repeat itself in the future. To opt for economic growth in the future as we have done is to opt also for significantly increased energy consumption. Industrial development is energy intensive and increases in GNP are usually accompanied by higher proportional increases in energy consumption. (ibid., p. 23)
The resultant forecasts suggested that by 1990 the industrial sector would be using 57% of the total energy demand. As Friends of the Earth (FoE) were quick to point out this is completely at odds with the experience of other industrialised countries where the industrial sector rarely consumes more than 40% of total energy consumed.
The third theme in the Green Paper is a stated intention to move away from a dependence on imported oil which provided 75% of Ireland's total energy requirements in the late 1970s. This is in line with the EEC policy of reducing imported energy dependence to below 50% by 1985. In addition the effect of large energy imports on the balance of payments deficit is noted as an additional cause of concern. Having said this, however, the projections in fact advocate an increase in the use of imported oil.
The stated intention to reduce oil imports is carried over into the fourth theme; the rapid expansion of electrical power. Having forecasted a large increase in industrial activity and a big increase in energy demand in the future, and compared these projections with the current situation, the authors remark;
What is expected to develop over the coming decade is a large energy gap which must be filled in one way or another. (ibid., page 26)
The bulk of the Green Paper is spent outlining possibilities for filling this 'gap'. Suggesting that the electrical sector can more easily switch away from oil, the Green Paper forecasts an increasing swing towards electricity use. Few concrete suggestions emerge as to what to do with the non-electric sector but two chapters deal specifically with the nuclear option. They argue not only that:
The primary purpose of going ahead with the provision of a nuclear power station in Ireland would be to lessen our level of dependence on imported oil and to diversify our sources of energy supply. (ibid., page 67)
but also that nuclear power is safe and is a financially competitive electricity source. As partial justification of this claim they quote recent U.K. figures on competitive generation costs showing nuclear costs to be significantly cheaper than those for coal or oil fired stations. The fact that these were historic costs and not projected cost estimates for new generation facilities was quite ignored. A figure of £350m (1977 prices) is posited as a reasonable estimate for a 650MW station at Carnsore.
In summary it can be seen that the nuclear project was an integral part of the industrial development strategy being pursued by the government That the reasoning was flawed, the long term economic picture all but ignored, inaccurate figures used to support projected energy use figures and many controversial statements made with no attempt to provide sources of information did not seem to matter. The euphoria of growth mania was infectious and optimism for an economic miracle rampant.

Post-War Ideology

The enthusiasm behind the nuclear power promotional effort in the U.S., and to a lesser extent elsewhere in the 1950s and l960s tapped into the twin features of post-war liberal ideology: the faith in science and technology, and the belief that economic growth, sustained by Keynsian management techniques, would provide the resources to tackle any remaining 'social problems'. Technological development premised on ideas of the domination, or mastery, of nature, found its ultimate expression in the harnessing of the fundamental processes of the universe in the form of atomic power. In turn the projections of economic growth required large inputs of energy, a purpose for which the apparently unlimited potential of atomic power seemed ideally suited.

But this document was in part to be the government's undoing as many critics demolished its arguments, exposed its errors and criticised its assumptions and projections.
The following month a large weekend rally was held at the site of the proposed nuclear plant attended by approximately 25,000 people. From this time until February 1979 when Mr. O’Malley finally announced that there would be a full scale public inquiry into the issue, a constant political campaign of opposition kept up. A government reshuffle in late 1979 following the resignation of Mr. Lynch as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) removed Mr. O'Malley from the energy department and his successor Mr. Colley, announced that there would yet again be a postponement. Ostensibly the reason was to await the results of the reports from the Three Mile Island accident but declining electricity demand growth rates had already weakened the case for the plant. It is worth noting that the pro-nuclear perspective was not the only one taken by government departments and agencies. The Department of Economic Planning and Development was more sympathetic to alternative energy strategies. The Irish National Science Council published a study on solar options. The National Physical Planning Institute (An Foras Forbatha) published a detailed study on insulation, Crutchfield criticised the nuclear option on safety and environmental grounds in a paper published by the Economic and Social Research Institute (1978) while the coalition government commissioned a study on conservation measures.
Demonstrations and protest actions against nuclear power have continued with other issues such as uranium mining, toxic industries, waste disposal and the dumping of nuclear waste off the Irish coast broadening the focus of the movement as the Carnsore proposal became less immediate.
In 1981 nuclear power had faded from the scene and the ESB announced that it no longer figured in its plans while the 1981 coalition government announced that it would not develop nuclear power as long as 'environmental' problems remain.
Local Opposition

'The local opposition' provides a starting place for a number of studies of the opponents of nuclear power. The local opposition has a number of noticeable characteristics which appear to occur with minor variations in most cases. Close parallels can be found with opposition to other large technological projects.

The typical pattern of events is structured into a number of stages. Initial enthusiasm follows an announcement that the plant is going to be built. Local businesses (often with the notable exception of tourist and amenity-related concerns) respond favourably, seeing the influx of jobs and business as an opportunity. Local dignitaries are favourably impressed by the new employment and business prospects and the prestige that go with a major development. Concern is often limited to a few outspoken critics and those whose economic and leisure interests will be disrupted. A group labelled 'Parochial Opponents' may oppose the projected development because of fears of the impact on the social life of the community. (Nuclear plants are often sited in rural areas with small and conservative settlements.) The opposition coalesces gradually around a group of concerned citizens who are unsatisfied by the assurances given by the utilities and government spokespeople. These people hold meetings, organise a committee and do their own research. A common method of getting information is to organise public debates on the issue. Polarisation rather than consensus is often the result of public debates. Initially at least, the opponents are often the more experienced and educated people with a sense of political acumen who challenge the received wisdom of the conventional viewpoint.
Contact with other groups reveals others opposed to nuclear development and supplements the information gleaned from newspaper clippings and the local library. They also find a few scientists and experts who are critical of the development and this adds acrimony to the public debates and meetings. Participation in regulatory hearings in many cases occupies a lot of opposition groups' time and effort and they are often forced to use graduate students and less well known experts at hearings. They also run into problems getting legal representation. The limited opportunities for public input in the siting decisions and licensing hearings lead to a questioning of the political basis of the decision-making processes and reveals a duplicity of interests and a system heavily stacked in favour of the nuclear industry. These groups tend to cling to the view that enough information widely enough disseminated will vindicate their stand arid ensure that the industry is controlled. Public petitioning and demonstrations often accompany the local opposition's attempts to gain leverage on the process through court and legislative action.
In the late 1970s in the U.S. and earlier in Europe the larger movement against nuclear power became involved in local issues. These ideological opponents often used direct action tactics and site occupations in their campaigns, which are sometimes ambiguously supported by the local opposition who prefer non-confrontational and legal interventions to protest. In most cases, however, the local community contains considerable segments who are not opposed to the nuclear plans.
The local opposition in Wexford in Ireland has many of the above features although allowance must be made for the specific historical situation.
The Nuclear Safety Association

In early 1971 it was learned in Wexford that Carnsore Point was one of the possible sites for the ESBs planned nuclear power plant. A group of people from the South Eastern Science Council, the local branch of An Taisce, the Junior Chamber of Commerce and local development associations formed a study group in July 1971 to investigate the effects that the plant might have on the area. The group included a doctor and a number of scientifically qualified people. They studied the literature on Nuclear Power, visited the Wylfa nuclear power station in Wales, studied the Carnsore Point site and its main amenities, and had discussions with the ESBs nuclear project team. They published their findings in 1972 in a 55 page report (A.M. O'Sullivan, ed.: A Nuclear Power Station at Carnsore Point Co Wexford: The Socio-economic and Environmental Implications, Wexford 1972.) which concluded that a well planned nuclear power station should be supported by the community. They opined that stringent safeguards would ensure that there would be no danger to the public from radiation and that apart from a shortage of fresh water, the site is an excellent one. They argued that the provision of 800 construction jobs and 200 long term jobs in addition to the multiplier effect would provide a significant boost to the local economy. They went as far as to suggest that this new technology could provide a focal point for tourists! While the bibliography following the first chapter shows that the study group was aware that literature critical of nuclear power existed, they concluded that the inherent problems could be overcome by good design.

In April 1974 the ESB announced that Carnsore was their preferred site for the project, subject to: the successful completion of their studies on the site, to Government approval, licensing by the NEB and their receiving of planning permission from Wexford County Council. The then current County development plan had already reserved the area for a nuclear power station so it is clear that the County council favoured its development. In the subsequent months opposition began to be heard in the Wexford area. Doubts had existed before this time and a few informal meetings between people in the Rosslare area had occurred late in 1973.
The initial focus of concern was based in the Rosslare Development Association who held a meeting soon after the ESBs announcement of Carnsore as its preferred site. The Association contacted local organisations in the south of the County to organise a debate on the whole issue. The Association insisted that the action was not a protest against the station but merely an attempt to hear the negative side of the debate which they thought had been glossed over. The chairperson argued that the 200 full time jobs would be for highly skilled technicians and hence would probably not employ local people.
The planned meeting took place a few weeks later in the Gulf Hotel in Rosslare with an attendance of 100 people and was chaired by Harvey Boxwell. After this meeting Harvey Boxwell, a member of the Rosslare development association took the first steps to establish the Nuclear Safety Committee (NSC).
This committee started researching safety and environmental concerns which they considered the original study group had dealt with inadequately. An influential debate was held in June 1974 between Sean Coakley of the ESB project department and Dr. McAuley of the physics department in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in the Talbot Hotel. The speeches were followed by a series of questions from the floor which indicated a deep suspicion of the proposed plant The morality of nuclear power was questioned and the reply is indicative of why the clash of ideologies in the controversy is so heated.
Question: Is it fair to hand down the poisonous waste to our grandchildren and future generations for thousands of years?
Mr. Coakley: That is a moral question and ethical question. Our job is to make electricity.
In the summer of 1974 the NSC organised a number of other meetings in the south of the county and Harvey Boxwell, who was then the chairperson of the committee, contributed a stream of letters to the newspapers on the results of his research on technical aspects of nuclear reactors. Local organisations took stands on the issue in public.
During 1974 the NSC outlined its aims and the organisational format which converted the group into an association (The Nuclear Safety Association (NSA)) with regular meetings, an elected working committee, membership dues, etc. Despite this formal setup the committee continued to operate on an ad hoc basis and the newsletters were infrequent. The NSC made a strong statement against the nuclear plans at a major seminar organised by the ESB in July, but the audience which included four T.D.s and many community leaders were apparently unimpressed, favouring the project because of perceived employment opportunities. The two political parties in the coalition government, Labour and Fine Gael continued to support the Carnsore proposals. The NSA had by now developed many of the attributes of a small pressure group with a lobbying and information dissemination function. The radical criticism of the system which are part and parcel of the larger ANM had not yet emerged. The political dimensions were to emerge later.
At the end of August the ESB took the formal step of applying for planning permission. They published the required notice in The Irish Press on 23 August 1974 and the NSA called a special meeting a week later to discuss its response. At that meeting the secretary, Helen Scrine, argued that the 1963 Planning Act was inadequate to cover the moral and ethical objections to the nuclear technology. The NSA decided to object to the granting of outline planning permission on eight grounds.

  • A nuclear plant conflicted with the high amenity nature of the area.

  • Cancer and leukemia risks to the local population.

  • The bird sanctuary at Lady's Island Lake would be disrupted.

  • Radioactive waste continued a national security risk which the 1963 act was not capable of dealing with.

  • The added fresh water consumption would aggravate the already limited local supplies.

  • The build up of radiation in local ecosystems presented a long-term hazard.

  • Tourism would be severely disrupted.

  • No provision is made for the long term storage of radioactive waste if export proved impossible.

The debate continued through the winter of 1974-1975 with the highlight for the NSA coming in February 1975 when two local students collected over 2,200 signatures against the nuclear plant in two weeks and presented them to the County secretary.

In October of 1975 the ESB announced that it was postponing the development of the plant due to the economic situation which had reduced the increase in demand for electricity. This marks the end of the first distinct phase of the controversy. The possibility of renewed debate when the economy recovered from the economic slump of the mid 1970s remained and the NSA remained intact and continued its watching brief on nuclear developments.

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