Still no need to go nuclear

The nuclear debate is hotting up again. The ICTU has thrown its weight in saying that the debate should be opened up – meaning that nuclear power should be considered.

Dublin has been living with nuclear power for many years. The Wylfa reactor on the island of Anglesey is a mere 70 miles from O’Connell Street. That’s as near as Newry, Cavan, Athlone or Wexford. The planned 1970’s nuclear station in Carnsore Point was further away. So it’s close. But still out of mind. 

I don’t have any hang-ups about nuclear power. If it solves our problems then let’s use it. However, my opposition to nuclear is based on just that basis – it won’t solve our problems and it’s unnecessary.

I have three main problems with nuclear power.

Firstly, if our new nuclear power station was the last one to be built, we’d be laughing. It would sort us out into the future. However, the problem is that uranium is in the same basic position as oil – it’s running out.

At the moment nuclear power provides around 6 per cent of world electricity. Clearly, to make a dent in future energy demand the number of nuclear reactors would have to increase by at least fivefold. At the present use there is just decades left of commercial uranium supply. You do the maths.

The nuclear industry says that we will get better at finding uranium as it becomes more valuable. That’s a polite way of saying ‘become more desperate’. Can we build a future on these terms?

Secondly, what are we going to do with the waste? All of the waste produced since nuclear power started in the 1950s is being stored in temporary facilities. The long-term solution is to bury the waste in deep underground depositories.

How many of these are there in the world? None. Not one.

When they are built they will have to be minded and protected for at least the next 10,000 years. I am at a total loss as to how the real cost of nuclear power can be calculated given this long-term commitment.

Thirdly, pretty much anybody who can generate nuclear power can make nuclear weapons. If you don’t believe this ask yourself why the Americans don’t want Iran to have nuclear power. Why are they closing the North Korean reactor? 

I probably don’t sound that objective about nuclear power. But I’m a realist. At present we are mortgaging our future for a carbon economy. Nuclear would be a better alternative than that. That’s true.

But that doesn’t have to be. North Wales also holds the alternative as well. Just 40 miles down the road from Wylfa is Dinorwig Power Station which is one of the largest pumped storage power stations in the world. It can supply 1700MW, bigger than any power station in Ireland. What Dinorwig does is store electricity by pumping water from a lower reservoir to an upper one and then releasing the water to generate electricity when it is needed.

If we had just two or three of these stations (we have one already at Turlough Hill) we could power our electricity system entirely by wind on land and off-shore, with practically no emissions, no waste and no danger. And then there’s biofuels, wave power, solar power, conservation, etc, etc, etc, etc.

Those who say there is no better alternative to nuclear power are simply wrong.