Ireland’s energy needs
Sir, – Dermot Duff of Better Environment with Nuclear Energy argues for “suitably small and affordable nuclear plants” (Letters, Nuclear power and Ireland’s energy needs,October 11th) after our letter (October 9th) highlighted the enormous scale and burgeoning costs of Hinkley C’s nuclear plant’s construction.
A total of 4,000 people are employed at Hinkley C in constructing one plant. Some 10,000 are employed at Windscale (Sellafield) solely in nuclear fuel reprocessing, nuclear waste storage, and nuclear decommissioning.
The renewable energy and nuclear energy debate has been well laid out on these pages. Our point is that the increasing global investment in nuclear energy shares with fossil fuel interests a common cause in ensuring that renewable energies do not reach global deployment when (as with solar) the price plummets.
We would differ with Better Environment with Nuclear Energy when it states that there are no other “credible existing alternative that can allow us to eliminate emissions”.
Just because of this diversion of energy investment to nuclear, hydrogen fuels, invented in 1839 by the Welsh Sir William Robert Grove, have only begun to appear on the market and only in limited forms (“The burning question: could hydrogen fuel really be the next big thing?”, Science, August 21st). Virtually non-polluting, its use in fuel cells is increasing slowly worldwide, led by Japan.
The true vision here slots into place where solar power installation have more energy than their market requires – as also occurs with wind energy installations. Rather than storing the energy in batteries which must be recharged even if they are not used or pumping water uphill to use in hydropower when needed, electrolysis – sending an electrical current through water to separate those components – is used to produce hydrogen as an artificial fuel which can then be transported through pipelines, used in conjunction for carbon capture and storage, or provided to outlets for fuel cells.
Proven large-scale and low-emission hydrogen production and storage is already here but it lacks anything like the funding that the nuclear industry commands. It is forms of truly renewable energy like hydrogen that are needed, and the nuclear industry (and the fossil-fuel industry) inevitably deny it to us. – Yours, etc,
Friends of the
Sir, – Desmond Gilhooly (Letters, October 12th) calls for a true comparison of carbon emissions from different energy sources.
He argues that the carbon costs of a nuclear plant should include the complete lifecycle from construction to waste disposal.
The same should apply to renewables. Building one megawatt of wind capacity (a single small turbine) requires 103 tonnes of stainless steel, 402 tonnes of carbon-intensive concrete, 6.8 tonnes of fibreglass, three tonnes of copper and 20 tonnes of cast iron. The gearbox of a two-megawatt wind turbine contains 360 kilograms of neodymium and 60 kilogrammes of dysprosium – rare-earth metals.
Mining one tonne of rare-earth minerals produces one tonne of radioactive waste.
The worst place to erect turbines is on peat bogs, as is done all over Ireland. The bogs, which are huge stores of carbon, can decompose for hundreds of metres round every turbine, releasing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Wind farms may eventually emit more carbon than an equivalent coal-fired power station.
On a lifecycle basis, CO2 emissions from nuclear energy can be lower than from “renewables”. – Yours, etc,
Dr JOHN DOHERTY,