Meeting Ireland’s energy needs


Sir, – Whatever about the technical pros and cons, given the level of emotion that the subject arouses there is simply no chance of a nuclear power station being built in Ireland in the foreseeable future. However, that does not stop us from having an entertaining debate on the subject, not least because it gives a good opportunity for the study of argumentation. In this context the letter from Cllr Mark Dearey (February 25th) is a good case study.

Mr Dearey makes three points and it is the first and third of these that are of most interest from this perspective. His first point is about the cost of building a nuclear plant. Here we see a common tactic. Take a large and extremely expensive plant such as the proposed new Hinkley Point reactor, take a high estimate of the cost of building this and get that cost fixed in the reader’s mind. Psychologists call this anchoring and it is an extremely effective technique; one well known to estate agents the world over.

Using figures from the World Nuclear Association for current technology, the cost of building a plant to replace Moneypoint (915 MW) comes out at about $4.5 billion (about $4 billion).

While this is still a large (and possibly quite uneconomic) cost, it is rather less than £17 billion (about €22 billion).

The third argument is about accidents. Here Mr Dearey tries throwing some sand in the reader’s eye by claiming that the Chernobyl death statistics are disputed.

This is true, but even the worst (credible) estimates for post-Chernobyl deaths are dwarfed by the known number of deaths from other forms of electric power creation, never mind the potentially mind-blowing mortality capabilities of carbon-induced global warming. How, then, is this an argument against nuclear power?

Which leaves the second argument about waste. The same tactic used in argument number one is redeployed here (ie take the total storage costs for the UK which has had a nuclear programme, including a military one, running for many decades and hey, we have another big number).

The more solid part of the argument is that that the waste problem has not yet been solved.

Maybe, as David Robert Grimes claims, it will be solved soon, but for now it has not and that remains a problem for nuclear energy’s proponents.

It would indeed be good to see this debate continue, but without the kind of rhetoric that so often accompanies it. – Yours, etc,


Dublin 4.