On May 19, the Seanad debated an important private member’s motion tabled by Independent Senators seeking Eamon Ryan to outline his plans to meet Ireland’s energy needs.
The motion asked whether Ireland was considering the option of using nuclear energy. Ryan has so far indicated that nuclear power is an option that can be considered.
Now he has told the Seanad that nuclear power is not an option “we will look to”. He said conventional nuclear power plants operate at a capacity (typically 1.5 gigawatts) that was large compared to our total demand (5 GW). Because they have to be periodically shut down for maintenance, a backup reserve of the same order (1.5 GW) would be needed and such capacity would not be profitable in Ireland.
He then dismissed the possibility of using smaller, next-generation modular nuclear reactors, saying he was told by experts and others that they were still at a theoretical stage and would not be deployable “until decades”.
Because the Seanad is not covered by the media and because his speech was not broadcast and published by the media, the public was not alerted to the news that we will not touch nuclear production in Ireland.
This is a far-reaching decision, and it is unclear whether it was taken as policy by the government as a whole or just the minister’s personal policy position. However, he indicated that Ireland would draw on emergency nuclear power from France via a new undersea interconnector to be built (with a capacity of 700 megawatts (or 0.7 GW) or UK (which is expanding its nuclear generation capacity, including planned modular reactors of the type dismissed by Ryan as unavailable for decades) He said new connectors with the UK would be operational by 2024 and said claimed that the French connection would be available “a few years later”.
His position is that we will in future rely on nuclear power from UK and French reactors as back-up. He said it was highly likely that the Seanad Chamber, as he spoke, was partly powered by such a foreign nuclear power.
The Minister’s speech implicitly recognized that Ireland would be dependent on imported gas in the medium term. He claimed that our gas needs would be met by the North Sea and Norwegian gas fields and suggested that it was unlikely that such supplies would be diverted to other EU countries. He justified a ban on further gas exploration in Irish seas on the grounds that such exploration was risky and “incredibly expensive”. How this justifies banning potential exploration by energy companies has not been clarified.
Liquefied natural gas
He ruled out Irish use of liquefied natural gas or the construction of an LNG facility on the grounds that it would create demand for the use of LNG. He said, in this context, that the BSE wanted to connect Moneypoint to offshore wind generation with a view to producing hydrogen on a large scale – presumably for domestic consumption as a gaseous fuel in transport and at least in the production of emergency electricity.
He also said: ‘I regularly read Senator McDowell in the Irish Times. He says that this renewable energy revolution is a cod, that we are fooled, that it is terrible and that the Association of Energy Engineers, AEE, thinks something different. It can do that very well.
First of all, I never wrote or said that the renewable energy revolution was “cod”. I asked him to clarify whether nuclear energy was part of his plan. For the first time, he ruled out all nuclear production in Ireland, while accepting that we use foreign nuclear as a backup.
I have wondered, and still do, about the wisdom of banning the exploration of LNG and gas, a fuel we will need for decades, and relying on North Sea gas for our economic survival . Corrib’s field is running out.
I do not share his belief that gas supplies from the North Sea and Norway are completely reliable at affordable prices. I have quoted the view of the Irish Academy of Engineers, the IAE (not the AEE, anyway) who have written a very thoughtful analysis and critique of current trends and challenges.
If the ESB plans to generate enough hydrogen from offshore wind power at Moneypoint to meet our needs, we need to see the details. When exactly will the offshore wind power plant be installed and by whom? How much hydrogen exactly can ESB produce and when?
We also need absolute clarity on how much additional electricity we need if we increasingly electrify transport, home heating and industry by 2030 and beyond.
Now is not the time for waving wands or wishful thinking; we need granular, detailed and actionable implementation of sustainable plans. Our economic survival depends on it.