Given carbon emissions failure, should Ireland look at small nuclear reactors? Some leading nuclear countries, including Canada and the US, have SMR projects working their way through the planning process. Ireland is struggling to reduce its greenhouse gases even while making great strides in harnessing wind power, so is there a case for looking at developing carbon-free nuclear power here, especially small nuclear reactors? It’s a confusing picture. Ireland is a world leader in tapping its renewable wind resource, with about one quarter of our electricity now wind-generated, but it lies next to bottom of the EU table when it comes to carbon emissions. Ireland’s energy policy is focused on developing better ways to harness clean power from renewables and biomass. Yet this approach is failing to produce enough energy to satisfy the nation’s power needs or electricity “baseload”; the daily minimum demand for power from the national grid. The storage of energy generated from renewables is a problem engineers have yet to solve. So when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine the only way to ensure baseload demand is met is to bridge the power gap by burning fossil fuels in dirty, carbon-emitting plants like Moneypoint in Co Clare (using coal), Edenderry in Co Offaly (peat) and Huntstown in Co Dublin (gas). “While renewables are useful – especially wind in Ireland and solar in brighter countries – they cannot on their own solve the growing energy and emissions problems,” says Denis Duff, co-founder of voluntary pro-nuclear body Better Environment with Nuclear Energy. “Small, modular reactors are possibly the most important response by the energy and science communities to humanity’s increasing difficulty in guaranteeing a supply of clean affordable energy for the planet.” The claims that SMRs are safer than existing nuclear reactors, that the waste they produce is not a major safety concern, and that they can produce plenty of reliable, cheap electricity is challenged by some. “There is no evidence that SMRs as a class will be safer than larger reactors,” says Dr Edwin Lyman, a physicist and spokeswoman for the Washington DC-based Union of Concerned Scientists. “SMR designers, in an attempt to cut capital and operating costs, are proposing exemptions from safety and security standards that could render SMRs even more of a threat to public health, safety and the environment than larger reactors,” Lyman says.
Irish Times 7th March 2019 read more »