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Overwhelming arguments against nuclear power for Ireland

The arguments against nuclear as an energy solution are overwhelming, Irish Examiner, 5 Aug 19,   “……….Tony Lowes, director of Friends of the Irish Environment, accepts that the nuclear question can provoke impassioned responses. “It hits some fundamental terror in people,” he says.

But he says the arguments against nuclear as an energy solution are overwhelming.

“It’s not a renewable fuel for a start — it’s a fossil fuel because you have to mine for uranium — and any efforts made to bring in nuclear energy would be at the expense of actually solving our problems which we have to do through wind and solar.”

Off-shore wind farms are the real answer, Lowes says, both because of the enormous amount of energy available to be harnessed off Ireland’s coasts and because of the growing opposition among local communities to the proliferation of onshore turbines and solar farms.

He is critical of the delays in overhauling the planning and licencing system needed to support offshore. Currently, developers face a mountain of bureaucracy with a multitude of national and local agencies to work through, with sometimes overlapping or duplicated processes.

In late July, the Government finally approved the general scheme of the Marine Planning and Development Management Bill 2019 which promises to clarify and streamline the procedures but, as the official announcement itself pointed out, this replaces the Maritime Area and Foreshore Amendment Bill of 2013.

Six years on and we still have only a general scheme of a bill with a long way to go before legislation is enacted and processes change accordingly.

Meanwhile investors have a number of large-scale project proposals on hold awaiting legislative clarity.

“We’ve known for a long time that off-shore wind is essential. It’s a no-brainer. The blockages to it are just so reprehensible,” Lowes says.

“We don’t have a very clear picture of how the rules for offshore will work and we haven’t addressed it with anything like the urgency we need to which is why we’re talking about nuclear energy. But I think it would be a really fatal mistake to make nuclear part of the energy mix in the long-term.”……

Off-shore wind and solar at times produce a surplus of energy. Battery storage facilities — often looking like a cluster of large office cabinets — can be installed in open spaces to store excess power but already plans for some in this country are facing local opposition.

The excess can also be processed to produce hydrogen that could be used for heating and fuelling vehicles which would take the pressure off the electricity supply at times when the sun is down and winds are light.

The idea works at the experimental level but the challenge is to get it working on a large scale and cheaply enough to make it worthwhile. A breakthrough on that front is imminent, so the energy industry says, but the proof is awaited……

Oisin Coghlan, director of the Friends of the Earth Ireland, however, doesn’t believe a debate on nuclear is necessary or justifiable.

“I think it’s a massive distraction,” he says. “You’d have to change the law and even if Friends of the Earth changed our position and said, you know what, we think nuclear is the solution and we’re going to drop everything and campaign for it for the next 10 years, I don’t think it would make the slightest bit of difference……

Coghlan believes nuclear has as much to do with psychology as technology. “Nuclear appeals to engineers and it appeals to politicians who want big solutions and macho solutions,” he says. ……

“Lagging every attic and double-glazing every window would be far more efficient and far quicker and have none of the hassle but engineers and politicians have been very resistant to this kind of approach.

“They don’t like starting small — putting solar panels on every school and house — because that’s lots of little people doing little things.

But that’s what makes this a societal journey where we all change together. When every school has solar power, while that won’t be enough on its own, it will mean that maybe the parents are less likely to oppose the solar farm planned for down the road because they start to feel like they’re part of the solution.

“I think nuclear is a red herring that appeals to a certain mindset and I think that mindset is outdated. We need to look at decentralised, renewable electricity that many of us are involved in owning, that many of us are involved in supplying and all of us are involved in supporting.”……

For Tony Lowes, here is no argument — nuclear is not an answer. “We were ahead of the game in wind energy 10-15 years ago and we got stuck but we can still transform the energy picture if we get moving again,” he says.

“Bringing nuclear into the conversation is just going to slow us down even more and we don’t have any more time to lose.”

August 6, 2019 - Posted by | Ireland, politics

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