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Nuclear fusion and nuclear fission

Sir, – If the Government’s “staunch anti-nuclear stance” (“Government contributing to nuclear fusion reactor development”, Front Page, January 6th) extends to nuclear fusion, then the sun itself is Ireland’s enemy.

Your report is possibly trying to generate a little frisson by blurring the lines between fusion and fission. It is perfectly consistent to be anti-Sellafield and pro-fusion. – Yours, etc,

GERRY CHRISTIE,

Monalee,

Tralee,

Co Kerry.

Sir, – I accept that the development of fusion reactors, which will produce electricity on a commercial scale, involves some as yet not fully resolved challenges and that the time lines for meeting these challenges remains uncertain. However nuclear fusion reactors when they become a commercial reality will be intrinsically safer and cheaper to operate primarily because:

1. The fuel they burn (normally a mixture of two isotopes of hydrogen) is intrinsically safer to handle than uranium and of no interest to terrorists;

2. The quantities and types of radioactive wastes they produce are much smaller in quantity and much less hazardous than those associated with fission reactors;

3. The fusion reaction, which involves the fusion of atoms rather than their fission, is very easily controlled – switching off the electric current that supplies the large magnets that confine the ionised atoms in the fusion process stops the reaction in its tracks.

For this reason most scientists and governments, including, I believe, the Irish Government, are supportive of nuclear fusion research as is being undertaken in Cadarache in France.

Turning briefly to the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), while it certainly true that this includes promoting the peaceful development of nuclear energy, it also plays a pivotal role in the inspection of nuclear weapons and potential nuclear weapons manufacturing facilities.

Perhaps less widely known is the role of the IAEA in the safe use of radiation in a wide range of applications, for example in agriculture, industry and medicine and also in upgrading radiation protection standards in these areas, especially in developing countries. I have worked for the IAEA on its radiation protection programme and so consider myself well placed to point this out.

The Government’s contribution to both nuclear fusion research and to the IAEA reflect a maturity and ability to think beyond the Sellafield issue. – Yours, etc,

CHRISTOPHER HONE,

Green Isle Road,

Clondalkin,

Dublin 22.