Wind is blowing for nuclear..

By | January 14, 2008

IRISH adults don’t believe in the tooth fairy any more, but they are convinced of the existence of The Electricity Fairy. She conjures up power from fairy dust and sends it to our homes on moonbeams.
Because the Electricity Fairy is so efficient, artists in east Clare have the luxury of opposing a wind farm because the turbines will spoil their view, or “the landscape heritage” as they call it. The Meath Pylon Pressure Group is attracting huge numbers to meetings opposing a 400kilowatt line which will import electricity from Northern Ireland. The pylon is going to cause cancer, they claim, or reduce the value of their houses. Either way, they’re against it.
The Corrib gas field protesters are still causing trouble in Mayo, and the anti-nuclear lobby emits a squawk every now and then. Hysterics in Ringsend don’t even want their rubbish burned in an incinerator to generate some heat. Meanwhile our coal-generation stations belch tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, as the polar ice caps silently melt away. Everyone loves electricity; if only they could abolish the inconvenience of making and transporting it. But here’s something we have to take on board: buying organic vegetables and going to the bottle bank once a week won’t save the planet – reducing our dependency on coal and oil will.
Last week Eamon Ryan, the Green minister for energy, bravely called for a public debate about the legal ban on use of nuclear power. When I first heard him on Morning Ireland on Thursday, I assumed he was prepared to countenance the possibility of using nuclear power in Ireland. By Thursday evening his position was clearer: let’s debate, but there’ll be no nuclear power. As that’s exactly what most people want to hear, Ryan is not being so brave after all. While the minister is against nuclear power, he’s big into wind and, judging by the money those chaps in Airtricity made, so are lots of others. They include the authors of the All-Island Grid Study published last week, which examined how a United Ireland – electrical not political – might meet its demand for energy. Ryan was keen to highlight an option in the study known as Portfolio 5 which would mean 42% of our energy being generated by wind. He reckons we could even export wind energy to Britain via the East-West interconnecter. The advantages of wind are its renewability and cleanliness. It won’t run out, explode or pollute anything – apart from the “landscape heritage”, of course, which sets off knee-jerk protests once an application for a wind farm is submitted. Wind energy, please; just not where we can see the turbines, if you don’t mind.
Wind has two enormous disadvantages – cost and intermittency. Taming it to provide 42% of our energy needs would require massive investment in the network and transmission structure. As well as extra power lines and protests, Portfolio 5 would cost €11 billion. This is compared to €7 billion for Portfolios 2, 3, and 4. That’s not a reason to do it: the operational costs would be cheaper than coal and it would significantly reduce our CO2 emissions. Saving the planet is worth the cost. But who’s going to pay for it? You? Maybe. International companies who can get cheaper energy elsewhere? Not on your nanny.
Here’s another problem which might take the wind out of Minister Ryan’s sails. Having a surplus of energy to export to the UK might just happen on an exceptionally windy day, but how do we cope when there’s not so much as a breeze? You can’t store wind energy, so a back-up source is always needed for when the air is still.
We can’t eliminate our use of coal completely, but the news isn’t all bad. Carbon storage is an option, and researchers are working with experimental technology which will clean up coal. It’s not commercially viable yet but that day may come. In the meantime there’s another source of power which just happens to be the cleanest, safest and most efficient in the world: nuclear.
Britain has done us a favour in the past by helping us deal with some intractable problems, such as unwanted workers (emigration) and foetuses (abortion on demand). Gradually they’re helping us solve our power problems too. There’s an interconnecter running between Ireland and the UK through which we import electricity. We’re pretty sure that most of the power comes from wind farms in Scotland, but electrical power is pooled so some of it has to come from nuclear power stations in England. Last week the British government gave the go-ahead to build 10 new stations, so it’s inevitable that we’ll be using lots more of their nuclear power, especially on calm days. Yet another Irish solution to an Irish problem – maintain a statutory ban on nuclear power in Ireland, but import it as required from Britain.
Still, we wouldn’t be alone in the hypocrisy. The Greens in Germany made it a condition of getting into coalition government that all the country’s nuclear power stations be shut. The process began, but the brakes are being applied. Now they’re planning to increase capacity from the stations not yet closed and will import the shortfall from France, where 80% of electricity is generated by nuclear power.
So the future is nuclear, but there are too many people who’d rather someone else faced up to it.
If you are one of those who hears “nuclear” and thinks “explosions and cancer”, think again. Many environmentalists, such as James Lovelock and Bruno Comby, now accept that saving the planet means going nuclear. Even those who remain opposed, the likes of George Monbiot, accept that nuclear power stations are clean and safe. The last pillar of Monbiot’s arguments is that no-one yet knows the consequences of burying nuclear waste. Yet research into million-year cladding indicates that the waste problem can be handled safely. Climate change caused by carbon emissions from coal and oil is destroying the planet, and will cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands if not millions perhaps within our lifetimes. We simply don’t have time to mess around with irrational fears of a safe technology. Nuclear power is carbon-free and we’ve got 10,000 or possibly 1m years to figure out what to do with the waste. That buys us a lot of time, and much cheaper than unreliable wind.
Once people thought nuclear power would destroy the planet. Actually it can save it. Irish people wishing it wasn’t so are just tilting at windmills.

67 thoughts on “Wind is blowing for nuclear..

  1. Drbuzz0

    Gordon, in regards to fission, you are correct that it is the same process of both nuclear weapons and nuclear plants. I have another cause you may be interested in becoming active in:

    I’d also like to put a few of the safety issues (which have already been addressed) in perspective:

    Nuclear energy has a much better safety record for the surrounding community than another common power source, hydroelectric:

    The complaints about radioactive waste and the potential danger from release of radioactive material or its missuse could be directed to any major hospital or cancer treatment center:

    The “danger” presented to the future by nuclear “waste” pales in comparison to the problems they will likely be dealing with due to CO2 emissions, dioxin, carcogenic organic compounds, coal slag, sulfur dioxide emissions and any number of other things. This is only greater when one considers that greater than 99% of nuclear waste can be recycled with existing technology and that the remaining 1% or so can be diluted and solidified so that it does not pose any long-term radiotoxicity hazard which is any greater than any number of common and naturally occurring.

    As for economic concerns: One needs to realize something about the role energy plays in an economy. Energy is, both literally and figuratively the commodity which enables enterprise and endeavor. An energy shortage is always an economic disaster. An energy bounty is nearly always a force for prosperity.

    More importantly: Limiting energy supply and therefore increasing the price of energy in general is inherently regressive. That is to say, it impacts most on those who have the least. Making energy expensive does not mean Joe Billionare is going to use less fuel. He will still fuel up his yatch and hardly notice that it cost him five euro a gallon and not two. He will still keep the lights on and barely see the electric bill is twice as much. But for those with less, the price increase means they will go cold and will be limited in terms of everything from comfort to transportation.

    Energy is also a universal factor in all goods and services and as such it’s lack or expense is both inflationary and a drag on the overall economic growth and health of an area. And you cannot hope to provide the health, social and educational programs you would like if you have a recession and therefore a complete lack of funding. Furthermore, recessionary effects have a tendency to reduce the quality of life especially for the lower classes and greatly limit upward mobility.

    An energy policy with is sustainable and will promote prosperity in a country should favor clean sources of large amounts of energy. That is what sets nuclear apart. Nuclear offers the bountiful energy without CO2. It is capable of filling the needs for energy and doing so reliably and doing so well.

    And finally. “Scientists only ask questions to which…” No, this is not true at all. Scientists do not do one thing or the other as a group because they are individuals. A scientist goes home at night and takes off his or her jacket and thumbs through the days mail and does all the things that anyone else does.

    What sets a scientist, as a person apart is that they necessarily are educated on the issues and very well versed on the workings and nature of their field. If a scientist who works with nuclear technology and energy systems says that it is the way to go it is not because “that is what scientists say,” it is because they want the same things most want: to see their society progress, to see the environment maintained as well as reasonably possible, to enjoy security, good health and comfort. And they understand why they will advocate nuclear energy.

    They are simply people who know about it.

  2. Drbuzz0


    Is there anything that might convince someone like Gordon that a properly designed nuclear reactor is safe and reliable? Trust their own safety and all their biological needs to it?

    What if thousands of people were willing to stake their life on the proper and safe operation of a nuclear reactor? People who are well versed on how it works and what it is and the history and systems.

    What if they were to do it for months on end?

    What if they were willing to live next to the reactor?

    What if they were sealed in a vessel with that reactor from which they could not necessarily leave if they needed to or the reactor failed?

    What if they would do this at a remote place, who’s exact location was not known to nobody else in the world? Their very friends and family not knowing where they were but knowing that their return depended on the reactor?

    What if they were submerged under hundreds of feet of ice cold salt water?

    What if it turned out that this was was going on with thousands right now? What if it had been done for decades? What if it turned out that this was far far safer than using any other form of energy in place of nuclear? What if it turned out that the nuclear reactor made this possible where previous diesel and electrical systems had proven far less safe and reliable?

    Would this be enough to convince such a person of the safety of nuclear energy?

    And if not… What possibly ever could?

  3. Ray

    You know, “people in the military do X all the time” does not necessarily imply “X is safe”.

  4. Drbuzz0

    Sarah is right. People live within feet of a nuclear reactor submarines and aircraft carriers for months on end. In submarines they breathe air which was produced with nuclear energy and are in a sealed environment with the reactor.

    This is the most extreme dependence on it’s good function that is imaginable and it’s been going on since the 1960’s in the US, British, French, Chinese and Russian navies. The cumulative reactor operations time has been millions of man-hours of operation.

    The US Navy has a spotless record on nuclear safety. Two nuclear submarines were lost (the Thresher and the Scorpion both in the 1960’s) but neither was related to the nuclear reactor. One was due to a torpedo exploding and the other due to a bad weld breaking and a flaw in the emergency ballast system.

    The French Navy and British navy also have never had any kind of reactor accident or even a close call. Those on their submarines and/or nuclear surface ships have been 100% safe from any malfunction of the reactor. (China is hard to pin down. They’ve only been in the game a short time anyway and they are not about to release any details of their operations)

    The only accidents involving nuclear propulsion were in the Soviet Navy. There have actually been a bunch of them. Keeping this in context though: The Soviet Union had a deplorable record of sub safety in general. They rushed several reactor designs into subs before prototypes were even tested out.

    They also lost several non-nuclear submarines for reasons which are, quite frankly inexcusable. The M-256 exploded in 1957 while being powered by liquid-oxygen diesel engine system which was deemed too unsafe by any other nation for consideration for submarine propulsion. Despite this the Soviets continued to operate the same system on the M-200 until it too exploded and destroyed the sub.

    The K-129, a diesel-electric sank probably due to either old and poorly conditioned batteries exploding or a faulty hatch or both. Others have been lost due to hydrogen peroxide fueled torpedos rupturing and other “unexplained” explosions.

    In the navies of the world that actually give a darn about safety there are absolutely no ill effects of living within feet of a nuclear reactor. Those who do are quite healthy and quite safe. They are considerably more safe, comfortable and healthy then their predecessors who did not have the benefit of a nuclear reactor.

  5. Ray

    People in the military shoot guns at each other. I don’t think they do it because they think its safe.

  6. Sarah Post author

    Yes Ray, but if someone shoots you are not healthy, so clearly guns and stuff are bad for your health. But say, wearing the uniform and eating the food does not (apparently) affect their health. Nor does working and sleeping in nuclear powered submarines.

  7. Pingback: Depleted Cranium » Blog Archive » Ireland considering nuclear power? I really hope so!

  8. Ray

    Sure, but that’s not the argument. DrBuzz asks “What if thousands of people were willing to stake their life on the proper and safe operation of a nuclear reactor? ” but they’re in the military – they don’t have a choice about where or how they’ll stake their lives.

  9. Sarah Post author

    course they do. They don’t have to join the submarine corps (?) in the first place. Its a volunteer army. They could join the air corps, marines, ordinary troops or the part of the navy that sails above water.
    Anyway, the point is, you can’t imagine they’d be shy about lobbing in the law suits if the DID get a radiation related illness. They are healthy. THATs’ the point.

  10. Ray

    No, there are two points.
    One is that submariners aren’t getting radiation sickness – and I agree, that’s a good counter-example to some claims about the danger of nuclear power. You could make the same point about people who work in nuclear power stations not dropping dead all the time. I don’t think many people argue that reactors are dangerous to the people who work near them, probably because there are such good counter-examples.
    The second point is that reactors must be safe otherwise people wouldn’t agree to go on nuclear-powered subs, and I just don’t think that’s valid. Working on (or landing on) the decks of aircraft carriers, is apparently very dangerous, but people still join the navy. Going to Iraq is not fun, but people still join the US Army. People in the military do things, not because they think those things are safe, but because they don’t have a lot of control over their postings, and because whatever motivated them to join the military is more important than (their estimate of) the risk.

  11. Redhead

    Sarah, just off the point of nuclear but refering to the issue of burying the electricity cables in Meath – this was featured on Prime Time last night and altough Eirgrid are conforming to EU regulations when a representative from Eirgrid this moring to give a guarantee that there would not be an increase in sickness such as childhood lukemia he declined. Does this not suggest that maybe they don’t fully believe their own propoganda rather than they are within the law?

  12. Isha

    So… if we think GLOBALLY for a change, who is going to decide which countries are “allowed” to use this “fantastic” nuclear energy and which countries are not? So England/Ireland/France/USA are OK to use nuclear… but Afghanistan and South Korea should not??????

  13. joe

    “Because the Electricity Fairy is so efficient, artists in east Clare have the luxury of opposing a wind farm …”

    Most people assume that a story like that ends in triumph for the well-financed heroic planet-saving wind power developers. Ignorant NIMBY residents may resist progress but they get what they deserve in the end – bitter defeat and turbines. Listening to a recent RTE Radio love-in between Eddie O’Connor (formerly of Airtricity) and Pat Kenny you could certainly be forgiving for thinking that.

    Well, think again….the objectors in east clare demonstrated that extensive destruction of peatland associated with the proposed wind farm would lead to be bill for taxpayers of around 10 million euros at today’s carbon price under the Kyoto protocol (yeah, we signed that, remember?). The economic and scientific case for the development was comprehensively destroyed. The developers (with links to Airtricity) naturally lost and did not even bother to appeal.

    Now I always assumed that the glib beliefs peddled by the media about wind power were just that – glib beliefs. But is there a darker side? For example, if Mr Pat Kenny had any financial interests in onshore wind developments he would declare it, right? Given how far he has gone to criticise “objectors” on a state broadcaster, I for one would like to be reassured that he has no such interests.

  14. Ella

    Pat Kenny and Eddie O’Connor were in class at UCD together.

  15. Damien Prouse

    How brave will you be when they decide to put a nucelar plant
    in your town. We all want what’s best for mother nature she provides each and every one of us with life and yes that does include our children.
    Let’s face it when children are involved that changes everything. Nothing is
    Guarenteed in this life’ but there are some exceptions??? and one is this.
    If we don’t use nucelar power there is no chance of a disaster happening.
    If we want to leave something worth while for our children let us not put them at risk when nucelar power goes WRONG. You are probably saying it could never happen not here. Well tell that to the people in Chernobyl. We all know the suffering that is going on there NEED I SAY MORE !!!!. We can never underestimate the cost of human life that is why we must use a safer alternative then and only then will we be looking after Mother nature.
    Rember this ” Never forget the lesson learned from your mistakes ” We all want the world to be a safer place so let us start here.

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