Without considering nuclear, our climate policies are more reflective of promise and patter than of concrete, effective action.
The simple truth of the matter is that nuclear energy is the only low carbon technology that exists at the scale needed to meet our energy requirements during seasonal lulls in wind and solar generation.
And yet, the 1999 Electricity Regulation Act doesn’t permit nuclear power stations to be built in Ireland and effectively censors open assessment of its potential; a particularly reckless position to maintain given that the Corrib gas field will be largely depleted by 2025, leaving 30% of our electricity being generated from British gas by 2030 – assuming we can get gas from them at all.
Our hydroelectricity potential is also already almost fully exploited and new storage technologies still need to be developed.
We’ve seen electricity bills increase relentlessly despite falling renewable energy prices and our electricity is amongst the dirtiest in Europe, especially on calm days when wind energy output falls dramatically.
Our 2030 target for emissions from electricity is over twice the level already achieved through a mix of nuclear, hydro and renewables in Sweden (40% nuclear) and France (70% nuclear), whose electricity is amongst the cheapest in Western Europe.
Nuclear energy could help us increase our energy security, ensure the reliability of our energy supply, and drive down domestic energy prices.
Nuclear stations emit no greenhouse gases during operation and need 90% less mined materials and concrete than other clean energy technologies. Nuclear has unrivalled fuel security, needing only one fuel delivery every five years, meaning Irish consumers won’t have to worry about prices spiking every time there’s an emergency on the continent.
It also has the lowest physical footprint of any power technology, which provides additional space for re-wilding, reforesting, and biodiversity.
And, despite the way nuclear power has been presented in TV shows and films, it is the safest form of power production, with the lowest deaths per unit of energy produced. Modern reactors, of the type we suggest should be considered for Ireland, are as different from Chernobyl and Fukushima as Irish Sea ferries are to the Titanic.
Some critics say that waste from nuclear power is a reason to shy away from adopting the technology, but permanent nuclear waste storage facilities being built around the world indicate that social acceptability is the only significant waste management challenge remaining.
Radioactive material is a key part of numerous everyday devices which we consider to be perfectly safe, including the smoke alarms we count on to keep ourselves and our families safe whilst we sleep.
As our well-being and life expectancy depends on retaining a reliable and affordable power supply, it’s little wonder that terminating our extensive reliance on fossil fuels is proving very difficult.
Greta Thunberg says our “house is on fire”, but we’re throwing occasional buckets of water at the problem while studiously ignoring the fire truck that can douse the fire effectively.
Smaller nuclear can suit our electricity infrastructure, reduce total power costs and allow a just transition to an affordable low carbon economy.
It’s time that Ireland starts to seriously talk about a move towards nuclear energy.
This article was written by Victor Murphy and Denis Duff of 18 for 0, a “voluntary group of professionals concerned about the credibility of current proposals to achieve net zero emissions in Ireland by 2050”.
Denis Duff is a chartered engineer with global experience in electrical utilities and electricity trading systems, including wind energy, gas and oil fired thermal and Combined Cycle Power Plants.
Victor Murphy holds an MSc in Climate Change from UCD, a BSc in Mathematics and a BEng in Marine Mechanical Engineering. He is interested in using Machine Learning in climate data analysis.