Should we go nuclear?

Last week’s British energy review cleared the way for new nuclear power stations in Britain and means that Ireland will now certainly be able to use nuclear generated electricity in the future through interconnectors.

But should we wait? Why don’t we build a nuclear power station right here in Dublin?

There’s a lot of rubbish talked about nuclear power. I think the campaign against Sellafield is one part genuine fear and one part voodoo. 

The arguments against Nuclear are as follows:

1. Nuclear power is unsafe and exposes us to radiation. This is largely false. On a day-to-day basis nuclear power doesn’t kill anybody unlike the fossil fuels of coal, oil and gas.

2. Nuclear waste is an ongoing risk. This is a strong argument. Storage of high level nuclear waste will have to be undertaken for thousands of years. I can’t understand how this can be accounted for in cost estimates for nuclear power.

3. Nuclear power leads to nuclear weapon proliferation. This is not necessarily true although uranium enrichment technology for fuel and for bombs is pretty much the same game. In any case an Irish nuclear facility is unlikely to embark on a bomb making programme. Also, the genie is out of the bottle. Civil nuclear power is everywhere.

The arguments for nuclear power are as follows:

1. Nuclear power is green energy. This is true and a very strong argument. We are facing a global crisis because of the burning of fossil fuels. We could replace every power station now with nuclear power and end our dependence on fossil fuels. It’s a very attractive and compelling option.

2. Nuclear fuel will never run out. Sort of true but uranium will become more difficult to find and mine therefore increasing the risks and environmental impact.

That’s basically it. So should we have one? We could build five or six stations inside ten years which would supply all our electricity needs.

Or we could build just one which could supply about 20 per cent of our needs. This would be more sensible in that it would vary the supply risk somewhat without us becoming dependent on one source again.

But I don’t think we should go down the nuclear road at all. It simply isn’t necessary. We have a number of unexploited resources that can supply all our needs and solve both the green question and the future of supplies.

The first is waste energy. Most of what we produce we emit into the air. We need to completely overhaul the way we construct buildings in order to reduce the energy they use. We need to move to electric transport.

Secondly, we have enough wind power to light up Europe, never mind Ireland. Off-shore wind is the future in a linked grid to reduce the problem of intermittancy. And we need a few more stations like Turlough Hill to even out the supply. This option will be marginally dearer for us but is a long-term rock solid investment.

Thirdly, for the rest of our energy needs we can use biofuel. Ireland is green because it’s good for growing things. Biofuel is in its infancy, but it is a real alternative. It is local and it is carbon neutral.

Anyone for a nuclear power station in Ringsend? If it’s safe then it should be built at Poolbeg. 

But it’s never going to happen. So let’s not spend the next ten years arguing about it – let’s use the alternatives.