Time for the nuclear option

In today’s Sunday Business Post David McWilliams takes a deep breath and, following on from his participation in the Leviathan debate on the topic, puts forward an antidote to the blanket hysteria that surrounds the N word. –

The N word breaks all the rules. So let’s just whisper it. Shush, quietly now. . . nuclear. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Say it again, nuclear. Yes, nuclear power. Is it time to revisit nuclear power? Given the depletion of the world’s resources and the fact that carbon emissions are unsustainable, nuclear power is a logical alternative.

And it is safe. Read the rest here.

  • Tiny

    it seems silly to rule out nuclear power, afterall the present powerstations were designed and built in the sixties and seventies, thinh how effecient, relaible and ‘clean’ the average car engine was then, could we not expect the same improvement in nuclear generation now, in any case is burning coal etc with the resultant increase in global warming a viable option?

  • Comrade Stalin

    It is possible to build nuclear reactors (such as the Pebble Bed type) which basically cannot blow up or go into meltdown, by design.

    However the problems of storing the waste are still serious.

  • dealga

    He hasn’t mentioned that nuclear power relies on uranium ores, which are finite in exactly the same way as oil, which go up in price as the purest seams are exhausted and which require vast quantities of energy to mine and extract. Still agree with him though.

  • aquifer

    Windpower is a lot cheaper and safer, and abundant in Ireland. Wind could prolong the life of fossil fuel reserves indefinitely.

  • simon

    interesting article but he never pointed out that none of the countries mentioned are building anymore reactors

  • looking in

    I would guess a new circa 2010 nuclear power station would be very significantly better than those designed in 50-70’s

    In northern hemisphere we’ve got three options 1. nuclear 2. wind & nuclear or 3. massive cut back on our economic development

    All pretty unpalatable to society but we do not have much time to make the decision

  • Young Fogey

    Wind could prolong the life of fossil fuel reserves indefinitely.

    No it can’t. Wind power just doesn’t produce enough energy, even in Ireland, even if you covered the whole west coast from Derry to Kerry with windmills.

    Sure, wind should be part of the energy mix, but let’s not pretend that renewables can every supply more than a minority of our energy needs.

  • Comrade Stalin

    looking in, nuclear power stations are far better now than they were back then. That’s one reason why China are going to build a large quantity of them. In the longer term, nuclear fusion (once perfected) should address the deficiencies of fission reactors.

    The other thing about wind power is that it’s effects on the environment are not fully understood.

  • looking in

    Comrade – agreed that new nuclear is way forward, wind power impact is only on nimbies.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I don’t care for NIMBYism (and even then, I think wind turbines look futuristic and quite cool on the skyline) but if they are deployed on a large scale, what will the effect be on the atmosphere ? You know what they always say about a butterfly’s wings beating in Australia causing a storm on the opposite side of the globe ..

  • Gonzo

    It would be impossible to prove it one way or the other.

    Sounds like a negligible consideration to me.

  • maca

    “none of the countries mentioned are building anymore reactors”

    I don’t know about any of the other countries but Finland are currently building a new one, their 5th.

  • fearganainm

    Wind power just doesn’t produce enough energy, even in Ireland, even if you covered the whole west coast from Derry to Kerry with windmills – any chance of some facts and figures to back this up?

    the current requirement down south is 4.5GW. there are plans for a .5GW wind farm off arklow (pilot project already up and running). so, by my calculations, 10 more of them and we’re done. make it 20, to allow for future expansion and to power the north (pending reintegration of the national territory!).

    obviously it’s not that simple, but to dismiss the wind option is crazy. it ought to provide the lions share of our energy in the future.

  • Jo

    Some interesting figures, but the prospect of 20 massive windfarms either on or off the coast represents a severe environmental blight.

    Anyone any idea of how many giant windmills would be in each? I would favour smaller sets or individual mills to serve specific areas or businesses, such as the mill at the Antrim hospital. Anyone know if that last one can support the entire hossie or just serve as an emergency back up?
    My understanding is that the French have a very high percentage of their power (70%???) supplied by nukes -while it isn’t “too cheap to meter”, it certainly isnt problematic? Or does anyone know different?

  • fearganainm


    the arklow project will be around 200 windmills 10km offshore (only 7 there now), stretching for 20 odd kilometers. i was being facetious in suggesting 100% of our energy could come from wind, but it is possible and cannot be dismissed by young fogey without supporting data. obviously the wind doesn’t always blow, but the shannon always flows, the sun usually shines, and the tides are fairly reliable. the technologies to convert these resources to electical energy all exist, and it’s merely a question of economics, as to whether it’s cheaper to make the capital investments now, or to keep burning the fossil fuels. one thing that will never be economic is nuclear fission. you are left dealing with the waste (basically forever). the only thing nuclear fission is good for is making nuclear weapons, electricity is a fringe benefit. this is why the brits are in a tizzy about iran.

    unless mr mcwilliams thinks ireland needs the bomb, he’s talking out of his arse.

  • Brighid McBride

    He’s so right. And, since he is so right, he won’t mind if we bury the waste in his neighborhood. ;o}

  • Jocky

    Nuclear is the only solution using current technology that can provide carbon free energy.

    The big problem with renewables such as wind is what happens when the wind doesn’t blow? Just switch on the old coal station? Stations constantly export energy to the antional grid. So even if wind did provide 10-25% of the energy the capacity to produce that amount by other means is still required fo rthe days the wind dont blow at the correct speed.

    Unless people would be happy with blackouts based what the weather was doing? So it cant provide the lions share of our energy.

  • maca

    One thing about nuclear energy. In Finland, even with 4 power stations, among the worlds most efficient, they only provide about 27% of Finlands power … and that for a country of only 5 million.
    The windfarms are not a bad idea. Build a few in Dongeal, sure it’s always feckin windy up there.
    Any uninhabited islands along the west coast? Perfect spot for a few windmills!

  • Alex

    Yes, the back-up capacity is needed, but it’s a false argument that the capacity has to be on line. Gas-fired power stations are gas turbines – essentially jet engines standing still (in fact some of the UK National Grid’s reserve capacity at least used to be made up of Rolls Royce Olympus turbines, similar to the ones on Concorde), which can be fired up quickly and do not have to run continuously.

  • Jocky

    ALex how long does it take to fire up your average gas turbine?

    So you’d rely wholly on natural gas for the base? which is more expensive per unit than nuclear, and the price is gas is only going to a) increase or b) decrease.

    I just cant see how you can rule out nuclear, conisdering the unreliability of renewables, the ever increasing cost of gas coupled with the need to reduce Co2 emissions.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Jocky – go up a mountain some time (try the cavehill). At the top you’ll notice that the wind is blowing quite hard, pretty much all the time.


    “one thing that will never be economic is nuclear fission. you are left dealing with the waste (basically forever).”

    A couple of points. The first is that the way we deal with waste from our existing power plants has an enormous cost – an environmental cost. The trouble is that instead of spending money keeping that crap out of the environment, we merely spew it into the air. If we were required to avoid shovelling this stuff straight into the atmosphere, and instead store it safely, the economics of fossil fuels would be very different.

    Secondly, I don’t believe that the nuclear fission waste will be a permanent problem assuming that fusion gets off the ground – which I think it will within the next 100 years. With the help of the enormous amounts of energy that a fusion reactor can provide, the door is open to technologies which are able to add or remove subatomic particles from radioactive substances to render them stable, by altering the atomic/mass numbers. This is a process which occurs within the sun, albeit with different elements being produced and consumed.

  • Alex

    @Jocky – first point, not very long. The Ferrybridge reserve plant used to start up in minutes (granted that they kept the Olympuses turning with a big electric motor when they weren’t on line).

    Second point, I intend to rely on wind for the base – with combined cycle gas turbines as reserve capacity. Dealing with intermittency requires reserve capacity – when the output from the wind turbines drops, you fire up the CCGTs. I’ve seen a paper suggesting that the UK could draw 65% of its electricity requirement from wind, with the rest coming from either a mixture of marine, solar and coal or gas, or nuclear. Further off, with everyone using small-scale solar and turbines, and developing wind farms further out on the continental shelf, we ought to be the Saudi Arabia of wind energy…you know, utterly corrupt, backwards and riddled with terrorists.

    If you’re not using big nuclear stations that have to run at capacity and/or coal-fired stations that can’t be fired up at will, you don’t need baseload generation – you need reserve capacity. You have to think the other way round!

    We’ve also got to get serious about solar.

    An interesting point is using stationary fuel cells to balance load – you run (for example) a zinc-air cell in the regenerative mode when production is high and run it in the generative mode when it’s low.

  • fearganainm


    point 1) i agree entirely.
    point 2) i also agree entirely. my objection is to fission, which presumably is what mcwilliams was pushing, given that fusion is not currently possible.

    apart from relying on Gas as backup, don’t forget the triumphs that are Turlough Hill and the 200+MW of Hydro in ireland.

    whatever about britain, and its need for the bomb, ireland can be self sufficient in renewables and will never need fission reactors.

  • Jocky

    Alex, 65% seems a very optimistic level to be supplied by wind, I get the concept but what hapens when an area of high pressure plonks itself over Britain for 5 days? In your scenario youd need sufficent reserve capacity to cover the gap. All adds to the cost. Twice as many stations.

    I cant see wind making up more than 25% of the UK’s energy demands. Given that at present wind only exports just over 1000MW (2005) to the national grid or less than 3% (in 2002) of the UK’s energy that’s an awful lot of growth required. And as much as everyone hates nuclear power sations there are relatively few of them.

    At present Nuclear is 25%, with a number of stations due to come offline soon and with the need to lower C02 emisssions something doesnt add up.

    There is no one solution but you cant discount that nuclear will have a large part to play for many years to come.