Saturday, 3 October 2015

Nuclear Energy - A Way Forward For Ireland ?

The following blog post was written by a power generation engineer with extensive Europe-wide experience in all types of generation.

France, Cattenom (Kattenhofen) - the nuclear power plant Cattenom consists of four pressurized water reactors. Operator is the French company EDF
Steam rises from a Pressurized Water Nuclear Reactor in Cattenom, France

2015 was the year the Irish Central Bank commemorated Prof. Ernest Walton’s (Ireland’s only Nobel Laureate in the science arena) contribution to Nuclear Physics by splitting the atom in the 1930s. Nuclear medicine is now an essential part of our everyday life from simple x-rays to advanced CT and PET scans. Yet in 2015 the words ‘nuclear power’ are still surrounded by fear and hysteria in Ireland.

Irish Political Hypocrisy and Nuclear Power

Irish politicians run a mile from the topic, shouting for the closure of Sellafield, yet happy to import nuclear power via interconnectors and planning another one to import more from France. Eamon Ryan (RTE’s favourite energy analyst) says he wants to debate the topic yet refused uranium exploration licenses back in 2007 as it could be used for future nuclear power electricity generation. For someone so concerned with Climate Change, Ryan must be well aware that in the International Energy Agency’s 2 Degree Scenario (2DS), requires the global installed capacity of nuclear power to more than double from current levels of 396 gigawatts (GW) to reach 930 GW in 2050.

Nuclear Power is Unconstitutional

One of the myths often trotted out is that nuclear power is prohibited in Ireland under the constitution and would need a referendum to change it. In fact it’s so much easier. Only the recent Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006 and the Electricity Regulation Act 1999, both of which can be changed by a simple vote in the Oireachtas, prohibit it. Does anyone recall the debate or public vote to ban nuclear in 1999 or 2006?


We don’t have the skills in Ireland

Ireland is a leader in the high tech pharmaceutical and semiconductor industry. Irish companies are now exporting their professional services in these areas across the globe. ESBI have been designing and building power plants overseas for decades. Irish engineers have worked at senior levels in the nuclear industry from operations to decommissioning and are highly regarded and sought after.  You can be sure that many more will succeed in building the next generation of reactors in Britain.

It costs too much

Yes nuclear power has high upfront costs but it has an inexpensive and stable fuel supply.  Study after study shows it’s the most economic form of electricity generation (even compared to the one fueled by ‘free wind’).  Ever wonder why France has such low electricity costs compared to Ireland and Denmark?

How nuclear energy could work in Ireland 

Nuclear provides baseload, dispatchable power which means it provides energy at the flick of a switch. The Irish renewable industry have not come up with a reliable means of providing baseload generation. Most of them seem to be not in favor of biomass, which could potentially work as a source of baseload power. This leaves only one low carbon alternative - nuclear. One can see in France the effect the transition to nuclear has had on carbon emissions :

Graph taken from Euan Mearns Energy Matters website
France mainly uses Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs) which have a capacity of about 900MW. Moneypoint coal power station in Co.Clare has an almost identical generation capacity. Therefore, this type of nuclear reactor would be perfect as a low carbon replacement for Moneypoint. Given that Moneypoint runs in the Irish grid twenty four hours, 365 days a year, this would significantly reduce Ireland's emissions without the need to build extra grids. One would have to install 7,500MW of wind and associated transmission lines to achieve anywhere near the same fuel and emissions savings (based on a capacity credit of 12%)¹.

The future

The rest of the world has moved forward and the construction of new nuclear power plants is at its highest level in 25 years. The renewables project in Ireland has not succeeded. It is only a matter of time before politicians begin to prepare for a massive U-turn.

¹In theory yes, but in practice, given the system constraints, it would still be unlikely to achieve the same savings with any amount of wind.

1 comment:

  1. A nuclear generator is the same in principle as a coal. oil or gas condensing steam turbine except the heat is provided by a nuclear reaction. The technology has come on a long way over the years. The public tend not to trust governments and their advisers on nuclear safety and I can't say I blame them considering the lies they are telling about wind generated electricity. Ireland imports nuclear power from Britain but a law introduced by the Greens in government prohibits its development.