Government should rescind nuclear power ban, says expert


THE GOVERNMENT should rescind legislation that bans nuclear power, according to a leading energy advocate.

The Fine Gael-Labour Coalition should also form an expert group to advise on nuclear power generation, Prof Philip Walton said yesterday.

Dwindling fossil fuels and the uncertainty about oil prices makes planning for Ireland’s energy future all the more pressing, he said.

Prof Walton, NUI Galway emeritus professor of applied physics, was one of three speakers addressing the issue of “nuclear power: facts and fiction” at a presentation in NUIG last night.

It is one of a series being held throughout the State by the voluntary group Better Environment with Nuclear Energy (BENE), of which he is a key member.

Prof Walton said the domestic and international energy situation has changed “radically” since opposition to a proposed nuclear power plant at Carnsore Point, Co Wexford, was voiced by thousands attending free concerts there in 1978 and 1979. “Global warning was not an issue then, and there was a plentiful supply of oil and gas,” he said. “Ireland is nearly 90 per cent dependent on imported fossil fuels. Italy, which is similarly dependent like us, began and then stopped a nuclear energy development programme after the 1986 accident at Chernobyl.

“However, Italy is currently progressing the first of 10 such nuclear plants,” he added.

Prof Walton said there had been a “big renaissance” in nuclear energy provision in Europe, mirrored by a new development programme in Britain. Fossil fuels would last only 500 years, from the time of first discovery to time of eventual expiration, he calculated – “a minuscule time period when one considers the length of time it took those geological deposits to form”.

Renewables “have a place” in Ireland’s energy provision, but would only provide a partial solution, in his view. “One of the problems with wind is that there is no reliable and cheap way of storage, and the storage reservoirs proposed by the Spirit of Ireland initiative are very expensive and would have a major environmental impact, given the amount of land required. Our tidal resources are limited, and wave energy has not developed sufficiently yet. A nuclear power plant equivalent to the type of natural energy power plant proposed by Spirit of Ireland would occupy an area equivalent in size to one football pitch, and would have a 60-year lifespan – compared to 25 years for natural energy storage,” Prof Walton said.

Prof Walton and colleagues in BENE have described as a “myth” the argument that disposal of nuclear waste is an unresolved issue. The effects of Chernobyl have been “greatly exaggerated”, he says, while acknowledging that some 6,000 children subsequently developed thyroid cancer in Ukraine and neighbouring states.

The Commission for Energy Regulation recently noted there was no economic case for nuclear power here, while acknowledging Ireland was among the European countries most dependent on imported fossil fuels.