Ireland needs to consider nuclear option, says minister

05 January 2015

Alex White, energy minister for the Republic of Ireland, has said that nuclear power ought to be considered in a debate on the country's future energy needs.

"I have the view that if you're having a serious debate about energy, you cannot exclude nuclear," White told the Irish Independent in an interview published on 31 December 2014. "We have a dependence on damaging carbon-based energy sources which are effectively destroying the planet. You cannot preside over a full debate by excluding anything."

The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is currently working on a long-term energy strategy which will set out the role for conventional power generation from oil and gas; renewables including wind and energy; along with nuclear and other energy sources, according to the newspaper.

A green paper on energy issued by the Irish government last May noted that it would be "technically possible" to construct a small nuclear reactor to replace the coal-burning Moneypoint plant in County Clare, which is expected to close in 2025.

"We're not at any stage near having a proposal for a nuclear power plant, but we may also be too small (a country for nuclear power)," White said.

A report from the National Economic and Social Council (NESC), which advises the Taoiseach, recently noted that engagement with affected communities and getting their "buy-in" was crucial to developing an indigenous supply. The Taoiseach is the head of the Irish government, currently Enda Kenny.

However, White said that real engagement was needed in order to chart a sustainable future for the country's energy needs.

A 2012 International Energy Agency (IEA) report said that Ireland is highly dependent on imported oil and gas. While the push to develop renewable energies is commendable, it will result in an increased reliance on natural gas, as gas-fired power plants will be required to provide flexibility in electricity supply when wind power is unavailable. Two-thirds of Ireland's electricity already comes from gas-fired generation, which adds to energy security concerns, particularly as 93% of its gas supplies come from a single transit point in Scotland. The country must successfully develop a range of gas and electricity infrastructure projects and market solutions while continuing to integrate its energy markets with regional neighbours, meaning the UK, according to IEA.

In 1981 the government considered building a 650 MWe nuclear power plant at Carnsore Point, but the plan was dropped as energy demand flattened. It would have required a link across the Irish Sea to the UK to be viable, due to its large size relative to the Irish grid then. Also, the Electricity Regulation Act prohibits the use of nuclear fission.

A government-commissioned report by Forfas in April 2006 pointed to the need for Ireland again to consider nuclear power in order "to secure its long-run energy security". Relatively small-scale nuclear plants were envisaged. The report also suggested accelerating plans for greater east-west interconnection with the UK, which would draw on its nuclear capacity and also provide an export channel for any Irish nuclear power development.

In 2007 Ireland's Electricity Supply Board made it known that it would consider a joint venture with a major EU energy company to build nuclear capacity. In April 2008 the Irish Energy Regulator proposed a nationwide debate on the issue of nuclear power to address the country's pending energy crisis. It referred to the need to find an alternative to meet future energy needs since neither wind power or any other renewable energy sources could satisfy demand. These calls have continued into 2013 as the EPA has pointed to the country's failure to be on track to meet emission reduction targets of 20% by 2020.

The green paper of last May suggested that the 915 MWe Moneypoint coal-fired power station might be replaced by a nuclear reactor there, especially given that the 440 kV transmission infrastructure is in place.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News