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Engineers urge dropping of nuclear power ban as energy crisis persists

  • Oct 19, 2022
Irish Independent

THE ban on nuclear power in Ireland should be lifted, the country’s engineers have said.

Engineers Ireland said the current climate and energy crises made it necessary to review national policy.

“It’s time to reawaken this discussion on nuclear energy in an informed, mature, and balanced manner,” said John Power, president of the organisation which represents 25,000 members.

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“Ireland needs to be pragmatic in relation to our decarbonisation goals, and this should include re-examining legislative restrictions that preclude the generation of nuclear energy in this country.

“Innovative approaches like the use of small modular nuclear reactors need to be given real consideration if we are serious about mitigating the real prospect of energy shortages in the years ahead.”

But an expert said it was necessary to “manage our expectations” about what nuclear could deliver for Ireland and the time and cost it involved.

Dr Paul Deane of University College Cork said traditional nuclear power plants were too big and costly for Ireland while the technology behind small modular reactors would not be refined until at least 2030-35.

“These reactors are conceptual, not commercially available,” he said.

“We should keep our minds open and keep an eye on that, but we should not let the long-term optimism around this technology blind us to our current vulnerabilities.”

A single sentence in the Electricity Regulation Act of 1999 has prevented development of nuclear power in Ireland.

Proponents of nuclear energy say that means the ban could be lifted easily and allow for a fresh debate on the issue.

They have also long pointed out that electricity imported from Britain, and that which will soon come via interconnector from France, may be nuclear-generated so nuclear power is already likely being used here.

John Power was addressing an Engineers Ireland conference on energy options in Dublin which also heard from Paul Stein, chairman of the Small Modular Reactors (SMR) division of Rolls Royce.

“The demand for electricity will continue to grow in any reasonable future scenario, and fossil fuel waste demonstrably impacts our climate negatively as we all know,” Mr Stein said.

“By comparison the amount of nuclear waste from an SMR is minute and is managed safely and securely.

“Wind and solar are intermittent renewables that require a back-up source of energy such as storage, but this option is technically challenging, at scale.

“In a nutshell, with public and political support, nuclear has got to be in the energy mix if we are to reduce the global use of fossil fuels, which is critical for decarbonisation.”

Dr Deane was attending the Oireachtas European Affairs Committee which was also focused on the energy crisis.

He said he was open to nuclear as a potential energy source but said the emphasis now needed to be on speeding up what was known to work, which was wind and solar.

“When it comes to permitting, licencing and planning, the time it takes is completely at odds with the crisis we are in,” he said.

“Nuclear should not become a distraction from the other things we need to do. It is at best case scenario for Ireland 15 years away. What’s crucial is what we do over the next 15 months.”

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