Can nuclear energy truly be ‘green’?


Sir, – Ireland is not unique in having differing opinions about the sustainability of nuclear energy and whether, along with natural gas, it should be classified as “green” for investment purposes.

The European Commission itself, under the guidance of European Commissioner Mairead McGuinness, faced the quandary over a year ago when such disagreements risked delaying publication of the original EU green energy taxonomy that was to drive investment towards achieving the European Union’s goals of carbon neutrality by 2050.

To resolve the impasse, the commission asked its science and knowledge service, the Joint Research Centre, to assess nuclear energy generation under the “do no significant harm” criteria, considering the effects of the whole nuclear energy lifecycle in terms of its full environmental impacts, with emphasis on the management of nuclear and radioactive waste.

It reported that nuclear energy, even accounting for the entire lifecycle from mining the ore through to disposal of the waste, had an environment impact equivalent to that from offshore wind energy. Furthermore, it did not find “any science-based evidence that nuclear energy does more harm to human health or to the environment than other electricity production technologies already included in the taxonomy as activities supporting climate change mitigation”.

That many people are surprised by this finding, and some are even disappointed by it, doesn’t alter its conclusion that nuclear is as sustainable as other technologies already included in the taxonomy.

Only this week, Ireland’s most senior energy researchers advised of the need to plan better for the future, despite recent successes with renewable energy, and to look to scientific evidence on how we transition away from fossil fuels, and our most senior climate researchers advised that the Government needs to make immediate hard choices, as the carbon budgets recommended by the Climate Change Advisory Committee do not go far enough to achieve the emissions reductions contained in the programme for government.

If Ireland is to address its blind spot when it comes to electricity supply security, we must heed the advice given, pay attention to the science, and openly and fully consider whether our prospects of eliminating emissions from our energy system would be improved by including a portion of modern nuclear energy to supplement renewables in the 2030s. Four EU nations, along with Canada, are already planning to install small reactors by the early 2030s, and we could follow shortly afterwards if we put our minds to it. We can always refuse nuclear if there is a better way.

What we can’t afford is for our leaders to continue to close their minds to nuclear energy in the hope that other new technologies develop along the extremely optimistic trajectory needed to fill the void left by their antipathy toward nuclear, the EU’s largest source of clean energy. By opening their minds, they would lead the transformational change that they say is required to effectively tackle the declared climate emergency.

Whether our energy future will be sufficiently clean, reliable and affordable depends on their decision. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.