Nuclear power and climate change

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Sir, – We read with real interest William Reville’s opinion piece on Ireland needing nuclear power to manage climate change (“We need nuclear power to manage climate change”, Science, April 15th).

For Ireland to go for nuclear power would require not just spending billions on the technology, but also considerable resource in setting up an independent regulator and a waste agency for dealing with the radioactive waste that comes from the nuclear fission process.

Small modular nuclear reactors are being put forward as the panacea for the nuclear industry, but there is currently no agreed design that has been approved in Europe. They would only be cost-effective if being done in bulk and such reactors have safety, emergency planning and waste issues that all need to be considered. Instead, there is a growing number of peer-reviewed academic and industry reports that show that a 100 per cent renewable energy system is feasible. Ireland has been slower than other European countries in its energy transformation, but there is growing evidence that it is moving in the right direction. With the 35th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster this month, we urge the Government in Dublin and the Northern Ireland Executive to move fast on a renewable energy transition and ignore any call for nuclear power. – Yours, etc,

Cllr DAVID HEALY,

Cllr KAREN McKEVITT,

Co-Chairs,

NFLA All Ireland

Sustainable Energy Forum,

Newry.

Sir, – I welcome the piece in which Prof William Reville raises the question of the inclusion of a nuclear element in the Irish energy supply chain. As he points out, the safety record in Europe is remarkably good with “zero severe accidents and zero fatalities” since 1970. France produces more than 70 per cent of its energy from nuclear plants. Furthermore, Prof Reville also highlights the merit of new nuclear construction technology, small modular reactors (SMRs). Recent reports have also suggested that the data centres (completed or planned) will gobble up 25 per cent of Irish electricity in a short few years and challenge national supply provision using fossil fuels, wind and wave energy. In addition to short construction lead-times with SMRs, nuclear power is a low emitter of greenhouse gases. Thus I would strongly support the suggestion that nuclear power merits a serious review as an element of Irish national energy and climate strategy. – Yours, etc,

Prof TIM McGLOUGHLIN,

Professor Emeritus,

Biomedical Engineering,

University of Limerick.

Sir, – William Reville’s article is welcome. As a student of renewable energy over the past 25 years, I was pleased to note, from the Eirgrid website, that renewable energy, predominantly wind, supplied more than half of our island’s electricity in February. But on a beautiful April morning last week, we learn that renewables supplied barely 20 per cent of demand in the past week.

Herein lies the promise and the challenge of renewable energy. Output can be predicted quite accurately, but average power, in the case of wind, is only around 35 per cent of capacity. It follows that achieving the oft-quoted 2030 target of 70 per cent of electricity from renewables would require a capacity around double the average demand. There would be significant over-supply at times of high winds. Our British neighbours, with similar weather, may not welcome our surplus. Also, storage on the scale required would be hugely intrusive and expensive.

The demand for electricity is likely to increase significantly over the coming decade. If we want a green but resilient electricity supply at reasonable cost, the nuclear alternative merits consideration. – Yours, etc,

BRENDAN FOX,

Emeritus Professor,

Queen’s University, Belfast.

Sir, – William Reville is correct that the only way to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement is for Ireland to join other countries in developing nuclear power. Ireland will be in good company. Fifty nuclear reactors are currently under construction in 15 countries. China is building 14 of them, with another 42 planned.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body for assessing climate change science, has shown that on a lifecycle basis – the only meaningful measure – greenhouse gas emissions from offshore wind and nuclear are identical. For comparison, commercial solar panels produce four times the quantity of greenhouse gases. – Yours, etc,

Dr JOHN DOHERTY

Gaoth Dobhair

Co Dhún na nGall.

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