Nuclear power and climate crisis
A chara, – As a life-long anti-nuclear campaigner, I was intrigued to read William Reville’s opinion piece in which he calls for the construction of nuclear plants on our island (“We need nuclear power to manage climate change”, Science, April 15th).
In just one sentence, Prof Reville dismisses the serious environmental concerns raised by the prospect of storing tonnes of nuclear waste for future generations to contend with.
Oddly, despite noting that “operational safety is no longer an issue”, not once is the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster mentioned. Yet just one week ago the Japanese government announced it would dump over a million tonnes of contaminated water into the sea in the aftermath of such an operational safety failure.
The same legacy has been left by the abject failure to adequately store waste from nuclear weapons tests, as seen in the case of the leaking Runit Dome nuclear storage facility in the Marshall Islands, where I campaigned directly during my time with Greenpeace.
Arguments in favour of nuclear energy exclusively focus on the climate emergency, without consideration of the broader ecological and biodiversity emergency we are in.
The just transition we seek must be truly sustainable. Producing tonnes of toxic waste to be stored in steel barrels, injected into the earth, or poured into the sea, is not the answer. – Is mise,
(Green Party, Ireland South)
Sir, – The idea that nuclear power is needed to achieve our climate goals is claimed by William Reville and is certainly worth considering.
However, we need to reduce our emissions as soon as possible. Starting a nuclear programme in Ireland would take a considerable number of years and would need a change to the current law, which prohibits its development in Ireland. He says that small modular reactors (SMRs) are of a size that suits Ireland and that he “believes” that waste can be safely and securely stored but this is not a proven technology yet.
He is correct to stress the safety of nuclear power but the safety of SMRs is not known at this stage. The use of the word “small” to describe these reactors is questionable in some cases. The SMR being developed by Rolls-Royce in the UK is projected to be 440MW, which is bigger than most of the power stations in Ireland.
One of the theoretical advantages of SMRs is supposed to be the price. If SMRs are to achieve the savings possible with this technology, there would need to be a standardised design and at the moment there are dozens. Some companies are moving away from SMRs. For example, Westinghouse had worked on SMR design for a decade and it gave up in 2014, and a design from Babcock and Wilcox was abandoned in 2017. Both of these companies have a long history in the nuclear industry. It is unlikely that SMRs can make any contribution to electricity production in Ireland for a long time, if ever.
The alternative is to continue the increase in renewable energy systems, energy storage (eg electro-fuels like hydrogen), smart-grid and demand management.
All of these technologies are developing at a rapid pace and are likely to deliver results far sooner than nuclear power using SMRs could. – Yours, etc,