A number of small, safe reactors are becoming available now that have real potential to reduce the cost of nuclear energy to below that of natural gas. Any of these reactors would be ideal for Ireland.

  • The 50 MW unit from NuScale is a US design with Rolls Royce assistance, on schedule to be licensed in the USA by 2020, is expected to cost around €80 per MWh (8 cent per unit). These would be ideal replacements for our dirty coal and peat plants.
  • There is also a number of Molten Salt Reactors in design, and these may be Ireland’s first nuclear plant type. A particularly interesting design is the Moltex 150 MW Stable Salt reactor, as it promises to provide the cheapest and safest low carbon power. Independent research indicates a price of €2 per watt to build and around €45 per MWh (4.5 cents per unit).
  • ‘Pebble Bed’ 210 MW plant, a gas-cooled design that was commissioned in China in April 2018, are inherently safe and cannot suffer a meltdown. Costs are not yet available.
  • Terrestrial Energy Inc plan a Canadian designed and licensed reactor of 200 MW by the early 2020’s. It is projected to be competitive with natural gas.

Previous studies show that Nuclear energy is one of the cheapest means of supplying low carbon electricity in Ireland. EirGrid commissioned a 2010 study into Low Carbon Generation Options for Ireland, conducted by the international consultant Poyry, which showed that no technology could produce cheaper electricity for the domestic customer than nuclear power.

The above table shows that our economic choices rely on Gas, Nuclear or CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage), as all the renewables options are much more expensive. However, using Gas will not allow us to meet our Greenhouse Gas reduction targets, and CCS is not yet developed. The need to consider Nuclear becomes obvious in this light.

The SEAI (Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland) commissioned international consultants McKinsey in 2009 to conduct Ireland’s Low-Carbon Opportunity Study, the Technical Appendix of which included an analysis of the relative cost of nuclear power. They conclude that a 600MW nuclear plant appears to be a relatively inexpensive abatement option to replace Moneypoint coal-fired station, compared to coal-biomass firing with CCS.

The cost abatement curve below is from page 31 of the Technical Appendix to that Report.

This table clearly shows that nuclear power would be one of the cheapest means of reducing our CO2 emissions, at a cost of around €16 per ton. This is much cheaper than the cost using substantial amounts of wind, or wave, tidal or other renewable source.

The clear conclusion from these reports is that a suitably-sized nuclear power station would help to lower the costs of having a low carbon electricity supply in Ireland.

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