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Nuclear debate

The Environment Minister's call for a debate on nuclear energy deserves to be taken seriously, more seriously perhaps than the minister himself intends. His assertion that such a dialogue on Ireland's energy needs will prove that nuclear is not an option is rather prejudging the issue.

Times and needs are changing rapidly and the public are well aware of the risks ahead.

Noel Dempsey was probably wrong when, as Natural Resources Minister, he offered the opinion that 95pc of Irish people would not countenance the idea of a nuclear generating station on Irish soil.

They are far more likely to be sceptical about claims that unproven energy sources, such as wind power and wave power and biofuel crops, have the capacity to meet the needs of future generations of Irish citizens.

Calls for a nuclear debate have come from ICTU, representing hundreds of thousands of workers.

In a recent survey, three out four Irish business leaders called for a Government rethink on nuclear power.

And the ESB has said it would consider a joint nuclear venture with a European power company.

Unlike the Environment Minister and the Taoiseach, who have already made up their minds, what the ordinary citizen wants is an honest and rational debate, a cold, hard look at our energy needs and the constraints upon them.

Essentially, we need to get away from our absolute dependence on imported fossil fuels. Thirty years ago this country was 75pc dependent on oil for our electricity. Today we are 75pc dependent on gas.

Our precarious geographical position at the end of that long and winding gas pipe, all the way from Siberia, is often commented upon, sometimes with a dash of black humour. However, our vulnerability is very real and very dangerous.

The North Sea is running out of oil and almost 80pc of oil reserves are located in the volatile Persian Gulf region. Russia, which is a major supplier of natural gas, can be a cranky and unreliable source.

In the 1970s, protests killed off a plan to build a nuclear station. Thirty years later, a new generation of reactors is considered clean and safe and the right size for Ireland's requirements.

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All this makes a serious debate about the merits and demerits of nuclear power imperative.


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