Facing up to the inevitable: nuclear energy in Ireland

Earlier this year Trinity College’s Science Gallery published a short piece on its website about nuclear energy, asking the question whether Ireland ‘should go nuclear’. The author put the question to readers, and the interesting thing is that the 10 people who responded all argued in favour of nuclear energy. Of course it is impossible to say whether this is representative of wider opinion, but what is clear is that there is now a much greater acceptance in Ireland of the need for a debate on this. Even the Green Party, which had insisted on a statement in the current coalition’s programme for government committing us to a nuclear-free Ireland, now accepts the benefits of a debate (without necessarily wanting a different outcome).

As we approach or encounter ‘peak oil‘ (the point at which oil extraction starts to decline), it is vital that Ireland seriously considers nuclear energy. Although renewable energy sources generally are to be welcomed and pursued, they will never meet total energy needs. There is, it seems to me, no alternative to nuclear power as a major source of energy. It is time for us to face that reality and plan accordingly.

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12 Comments on “Facing up to the inevitable: nuclear energy in Ireland”

  1. Iain Says:

    Without wishing to rehash the usual arguments against nuclear, it is worth ensuring that people realise that it is a finite resource and with anticipated increase in demand for uranium it will be depleted all the more quickly, so it is merely a potential stop-gap.

    Sadly, the safest and least expensive nuclear power plant is the one that is least exploited, the Sun. And of course Ireland is in severe danger of missing the opportunities afforded by tides, wave and wind. Yes they are expensive and suffer many problems, but as part of a combined supply network (tying in with the new European supergrid proposals) with opportunities for employment in construction, maintenance, etc, they would allow the development of indigenous companies with secure, long-term, skilled employment. Ah well.

  2. Vincent Says:

    At the end of last year I was in Belgium visiting the graves of a few relatives. Along the canal between Zeebrugge and Bruges is a system of wind generators. Now why is there not a such generators on each and every municipal site in this state. Why not give the small towns and villages the ability to rise a bond for the building of such things.

    There is not a river without at least twenty weirs nor a domestic water supply where there is not a head of 500ft and not a power-plant on any of them. And there used to be, on all the rivers. So why not see an opportunity build these things and then via the inter-connectors buy from and sell to Europe. You would never know we may even make a few on the transaction.

  3. Hugh Says:

    “During a storm in 2005, wind power met 100% of Denmark’s electricity demand” (Irish Times Innovation Supplement, 4th Sept, 2009)
    Granted, there are riders to this statement, but it does point to the potential of wind and wave to satisfy ALL our electricity generation needs. Until we get our act together, however, we’re probably going to have to rely on nuclear power to some degree.
    Given their irrational attachments to notions such as “Irish neutrality”, “non-GM foods”, and the absolute inviolability of anything within 30 km. of the Hill of Tara, the serial objectors in our society will inevitably seek to delay this for as long as possible.
    In the meantime, our power stations will continue to blast 20,000 – 30,000 tons of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere every year (http://www.epa.ie/environment/air/emissions/sulphurdioxide/) – but that’s ok because we can’t see it, and anyway, most of it gets blown across to Sweden. Oh, and we’ll also continue to dig up our peat bogs – some of the most efficient carbon sinks on the planet. But that’s ok also because we can’t see the carbon that’s being released back into the atmosphere.
    All this is not to say that there aren’t serious problems with nuclear power; of course there are, but those who try responsibly to describe the dangers are being hijacked and drowned out by the “tree huggers”.
    Makes you wonder what a debate is going to achieve!

    • Wind power could never meet all of our electricity needs, because (even in Ireland) it’s too unpredictable. But I agree that we should have far more wind farms.

      • Vincent Says:

        Yes, it will not supply enough power. But it is better to start from the idea that we are going in the renewable direction and then and only then fill the shortfall with an Atom or four.
        Also, the jungle drumming is arguing for a huge facility, which I feel is not a very good idea in any way.

  4. Eoin Says:

    We had a debate about nuclear energy in an environmental class of mine. Here are some of the facts that came up:

    The largest producer of nuclear energy in the world, the United States, has not had one fatality associated with its use.

    France produces 80% of its electricity through nuclear energy.

    China has just contracted several American companies to extensively augment its nuclear program.

    Both nuclear and renewable forms have been severely underdeveloped in the past, needing significant technological investment. However nuclear has the best potential for energy production in the short term.

    A large proportion of Ireland’s energy needs are bought from the U.K., which operates a nuclear power component. Indirectly, we are already engaged in nuclear power, yet are not reaping the benefits of being energy independent, having high-skilled employment, or reducing our carbon emissions.

    The conclusion of the debate saw the pro side concede that renewable energy was the long-term solution, yet argued that the current technology was not advanced enough to support the energy consumption needs of Ireland. Nuclear, being a carbon-free source, and by far the most powerful source, was concluded to be a fantastic short term option which would put Ireland in an energy-producer position, rather than an energy dependent one.

  5. Richard Says:

    I have to agree with most of the above. Ireland is at the end of a very long pipeline for energy and will be the first to suffer in the event of any shortages. You may find that once the plasma screens start shutting off during the resulting power cuts a substantial portion of the ‘No’ camp may reconsider. With issues such as nuclear power it is not actually whether or not you trust the technology it is about the whether you trust the people responsible for developing, running and maintaining them. The nuclear option however must not preclude the development of other renewable energy options. Up the atom!

  6. John Says:

    Ireland is blessed with vast per-capita wind resources compared to most of the rest of the “1st” world. Look at a wind map.

    We could live in a country that boasts free electricity to all residents and industry, paid for by exports. Imagine what that ,combined with real ubiquitous broadband, would do for our economy.

    I have nothing against sanely engineered and managed nuclear plants but peak uranium is probably not far beyond peak oil/gas.

    I’ll bet we can build a lot more wind generators a lot faster for a fraction of the cost of nuclear plant.

    • Whether we are facing a depletion of uranium is actually a matter of some debate, and apart from some anti-nuclear campaigners, the consensus is that uranium resources (which are fairly ubiquitous are sufficient to last a very long time. It is also likely that we will be able to extract uranium from a wide variety of sources not currently considered part of the planet’s stock. Or so I am told…

    • John, a PS. Electricity cannot be stored in any meaningful way. Even with our wind levels, on more than 150 days per year we would not have enough wind to meet more than 25% of our energy needs. Wind energy is something we should certainly build up, but it could never meet all our needs, or even most of them some of the time.

  7. Iain MacLaren Says:

    the multinational grid proposals have merit however as some of your commenters mention. Last year, for example, the Scottish government tried to sign a joint venture with Norway which would enable wind and wave power collected in Scotland to feed into larger scale norwegian hydro schemes, thus storing the energy, both countries benefiting from interconnection as a prelude to wider European supergrid which ultimately would link with southern europe and northern african solar. Wacky? well technically very feasible and a lot less expensive than the bill that’s going to hit us climatewise!!

    anyway, apologies for slipping Scotland in again, but sadly the project was rebuffed by the UK government who stated that Scotland is not able to negotiate international deals according to the limitations of devolution….

  8. joe gowran Says:

    Dear Ferdinand, have you evaluated the economic, social and environmental costs involved in the building, fueling, running,decommisioning and long term waste management of nuclear plants, plus the risk of human error. i.e.all the variables in the equation versus maximising the use of renewables, including expanding to 33% tree cover, by mid century?
    Also consider reducing our per capita power consumption to match the resources available to us, sometimes called living within our means.

    yours sincerely

    Joe Gowran

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