Saturday 25 November 2017

Nuclear energy back on table as Pat Rabbitte eyes ‘future fuel mix’

Nuclear power is back on the agenda in Ireland
Nuclear power is back on the agenda in Ireland

Paul Melia Environment Correspondent

THE Government has raised the prospect of building a nuclear power plant to provide electricity to homes and businesses.

The Green Paper on Energy says it would be "technically possible" to construct a small nuclear reactor to replace the coal-burning Moneypoint plant in Co Clare, which is expected to close in 2025.

Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte said that while he did not propose lifting the ban on nuclear power, the object of the green paper was to receive submissions from the public on how Ireland's future energy needs could be met.

"There's a legal ban on nuclear development and I don't propose to remove it. But this is a green paper, and I'm not dictating the response of business and citizens as to what ought to be the best energy mix for the future. If people want to make submissions on any aspect, they should be encouraged to do so," he said.

UK nuclear power may become a "small but increasing element" of the fuel mix, the policy paper says.

It adds that a large nuclear plant will “unbalance the system”, but that the technology is changing with reactors becoming smaller.

“When fourth-generation nuclear reactors become commercially available, it is technically possible that smaller reactors could be accommodated on the Irish grid,” it says.

“Given that Moneypoint will approach the end of its life by 2025, is there a role for coal in the future power generation mix? If coal generation does not continue at Moneypoint, what are the alternatives? Should options such as biomass or nuclear power be considered?

“In light of considerations on the future of the Moneypoint coal plant, it may be questioned whether the time is right to consider in greater depth the potential economic and technical implications, or indeed to test public acceptance of nuclear generation located on the island of Ireland,” he said.

The Green Paper sets out the challenges facing Ireland to provide a secure, and cheap, supply of energy over the coming generations.

We currently spend €6bn importing oil and gas to produce electricity, heat homes and power transport fleets, but renewables are playing an increasing role in providing power.

The last policy paper was produced in 2007.

Mr Rabbitte said a national policy on renewables including wind was being developed, which would set out suitable locations for wind farms and other forms of energy, taking into account landscape and sensitive areas.

“We are proceeding with a national framework to identify where windfarms may and may not be developed,” he told the Irish Independent. “It’s very difficult to look at this in a narrow way. Delivery of safe, affordable energy is very challenging and it’s no different here than in other EU countries.”

The framework will set out the counties suitable for wind, taking into account the character of the landscape and other issues. Local authorities will retain the power to approve or reject proposals.

Mr Rabbitte said that cutaway bog could be suitable for wind or solar energy, whereas farming land would not.

A key part of the policy is interconnection, where high-voltage lines are constructed linking the electricity systems of neighbouring countries.

The East-West Interconnector is already in place, and more are in planning including the controversial €288m North-South link between Meath and Tyrone.

Mr Rabbitte said this should go ahead as soon as possible after it cleared planning hurdles.

“It is a simple fact of life that the thrust of EU policy is towards greater interconnection, and you bring down prices to consumers and businesses by better interconnection,” he said, adding we needed to reduce our dependence on imported fossil fuels, and develop indigenous sources of power. There was no “single answer” in developing the ideal energy mix.

Submissions can be made on the Green Paper until July 31 next. Among the areas open for comment including planning energy infrastructure, ensuring a balanced energy mix, and driving economic opportunity.

Submissions can be made at or by post.

Irish Independent

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