Irish expert group considers nuclear energy16 December 2020
A group of experts have called for a national conversation about the future of Irish electricity production. The group, 18for0, was formed as a result of shared concerns about the credibility of current proposals to achieve net zero emissions in Ireland by 2050.
In March 2019, Ireland declared a climate emergency, acknowledging the critical need to reduce its carbon footprint while dealing with an ever-increasing demand for electricity.
To meet this challenge, 18for0 says that all available low-carbon technologies must be assessed urgently. However, the Irish government is not currently considering nuclear power for a role in the future energy system.
In a preliminary study submitted to the government on 11 December 2020, 18for0 estimates that Ireland’s power sector could decarbonise by 2037. This power sector would consist of 18% nuclear power with renewables supplying most of the remainder.
The key findings of the report are as follows:
- The current national strategy for power generation is not sufficient to keep Ireland on a pathway to become a net zero emissions society.
- No technology currently permitted in Ireland is commercially available at the scale required to fully decarbonise the power sector by 2050 - legislative change is also required.
- Integrating 18% nuclear energy could decarbonise Ireland’s power sector by 2037, with the balance being supplied predominantly by renewable energy.
- A hybrid electricity system powered mainly by renewable and nuclear energy is likely to be significantly superior to one prioritising renewables alone, as it would offer: lower emissions; lower cost of electricity and capital cost; lower use of limited resources (land and materials); a more reliable and stable power supply; and less reliance on imported fossil fuels (natural gas).
- Replacing fossil fuel power stations with nuclear energy, where suitable, would enable a just transition for energy workers and optimise use of existing grid infrastructure.
- There is a strong economic case for nuclear energy in Ireland, which indicates good prospects for private or public financing, particularly for small modular reactors (SMRs).
- A power development programme that includes 18% nuclear would support the case for the interconnection and energy storage infrastructure being planned for 2030.
- Ireland already has much of the technical capability to develop a robust nuclear energy programme, and additional human resources could be acquired through recruiting and training national and international personnel.
- An 18% nuclear power programme in Ireland could directly provide 1300 high-skilled, long-term domestic jobs, in addition to approximately 4000 ancillary jobs and would help with the post COVID-19 economic recovery.
- Ireland’s membership of the single European market for nuclear materials and technology ensures a secure supply of nuclear fuel and facilitates investment, R&D, sharing of expertise, safeguard activities and disposal of nuclear waste.
- Well-established technical solutions would facilitate interim storage of nuclear waste in Ireland and its long-term disposal either here or abroad. Innovative technical solutions currently in development present further opportunities.
- Amending the Acts currently impeding nuclear power generation in Ireland is likely to be legislatively straightforward.
- Ireland is well positioned to establish the legal and regulatory framework necessary for a successful nuclear power programme, including an independent nuclear regulator.
- Nuclear power development can help to reach the objectives of the Irish Climate Action Plan, the National Planning Framework, and Ireland’s performance indicators for the UN Sustainable Development Goals 7 and 13.
The study recommends fo0llowing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Milestones Approach as a first step to assess the possibilities. In its consideration of specific technologies it looked at the main features of an existing modern reactor and some of the leading designs of SMRs available for near-term deployment. The four SMRs considered were:
- NuScale’s pressurised water reactor which has received design certification in the USA;
- GE-Hitachi’s boiling water reactor undergoing licensing in the USA and Canada;
- Terrestrial Energy’s integrated molten salt reactor being licensed in Canada; and
- Moltex’s molten salt reactor at an early stage of licensing in Canada.
It also considered Westinghouse’s AP1000.
“Preliminary results indicate that the NuScale and GE-Hitachi reactors are the most likely to be capable of providing cost-effective, clean energy in Ireland from as early as 2030, while the Terrestrial Energy and Moltex Technologies could be available by the mid-2030s. The Westinghouse unit was also found to be effective at reducing emissions, although it may be less favourable than the smaller reactors regarding its economics and it has a greater interconnection requirement.”