Should nuclear power be generated in Ireland?

‘I believe that we have adopted a policy from the dark ages’

Should nuclear power be generated in Ireland? – that is the question posed by two councillors at a Meath County Council meeting.

Independent Cllr Trevor Golden, supported by Fine Gael Cllr Alan Tobin posed the question at the December meeting of the council held at the EU Commission offices at Grange. They suggested the council call on the Government to amend the Electricity Regulation Act and associated legislation to allow for the consideration and possible implementation of nuclear power generation in Ireland.

The councillors said they wanted to have an honest debate about nuclear energy and its possible role in Ireland’s transition to low carbon electricity generation. There was a difficult transition ahead and “crucially, we don’t have the time”. They believed that a mix of nuclear and renewables was a viable solution for Ireland.

Cllr Golden said that while he was not a nuclear engineer he wanted the Government to hear from nuclear engineers. “I am someone who believes that we as a nation have adopted a policy that belongs to the dark ages”.

Giving a historical background, he said that the world was facing an energy crisis in the 1970s. In the early 1970s Ireland had enacted the Nuclear Energy Act and this produced the Nuclear Energy Board set up to advise the Government or any other persons or group engaged in training or research science on the acquisition of nuclear reactors or radioactive devices on the acquisition of nuclear reactors or radioactive devices for training or research purposes. It would also advise on the location, installation, operation and supervision of reactors.

The Government, through the ESB, planned a nuclear power plant for Carnsore Point, Co Wexford but there was opposition to this and those who protested won out. “A decade after the Act the proposal for Carnsore Point was abandoned. We pivoted to coal and opened Moneypoint power station”, Cllr Golden said.

“We all sit in this room today with Moneypoint in our lungs”, he told fellow councillors.

While acknowledging the events people were living through at the time people needed to be honest enough that, perhaps, the debate did not do justice to the matter at hand, he said. “We must also accept the consequences of those actions in the problems we face today”.

He recalled his remarks during debates on the new county development plan when he said that the use of gas was a poor choice for many reasons. Natural gas was a fossil fuel. Methane was 80 times more potent over 20 years than Co2 – a third of methane comes from fossil fuels.

The cllr said that current policy meant that renewables were heavily subsidised and this in turn meant that we were tightly coupled to the availability of cheap gas.

“We need to see the full transition to renewables over a greater period, maybe 50 to 100 years. Nuclear power could give us the time to improve the technology and build out our grid”, he said. “We’re not asking the Government to build a nuclear power station but we’re asking it to look at the technology”.

Cllr Tobin said everyone could see the effects of climate change, especially in the high temperatures in the past month. This country was one of the biggest deliverers of carbon dioxide in the world per head of population and we had to change our ways. Power generation was the top polluter. We were on the cusp of “an energy gold rush” in this country. Speaking about wind turbines and solar panels he said that when the wind did not blow and the sun did not show, we had to have something that would bring us down to a carbon-neutral society.

Social Democrat Cllr Ronan Moore said that the recent agreement between Ireland and France on an electricity interconnector would increase our energy security. Labour Cllr Elaine McGinty said the law wasn’t there to support nuclear generation, Ireland had a long history of supporting the children affected by the Chernobyl disaster and we did that for a reason, because there was an accident and we were still dealing with it. It (the question of nuclear generation) was so divisive that it would have to go to a referendum. She was interested in debate on the subject but thought that nuclear was not the best option for this country.

Fine Gael Cllr Gerry O’Connor said that he would have gone on a “journey” in relation to the subject. He had campaigned against the Carnsore Point project (he said to laughter “I had a great weekend down there”) but he said that with 20-20 hindsight there had been a fire at the Windscale plant in the UK in 1957. The report on that had come out in 1968 which had shown some of the consequences of that on the Irish Sea. The Government had put out iodine tablets and there was a real fear factor at the time, he said. He had come on that journey and we had to look at what other countries were doing. France and Britain had energy security because of their nuclear capability. “One of the last things that Boris Johnson announced was that he was committing to build a nuclear plant a year”. He was talking about one of these small modular reactors.

Cllr Golden asked that his motion, which was agreed by the council, be circulated among county councils throughout the country.