Ireland’s Energy: We need to debate the nuclear option honestly

Fukushima nuclear power plant. The second-worst nuclear disaster in history killed no-one, while the tsunami that caused it killed more than 15,000 people. Photograph: Kimimasa Mayama/Reuters

There are pros and cons to nuclear energy, but the debate is often acrimonious and too often falls back to rhetoric instead of facts

The world’s traditional means of generating energy have been intensely polluting, expelling millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere with scant regard for the consequences. Ireland has been complicit in this: Moneypoint, the coal-powered station in Co Clare, releases 3.12 million tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere annually.

But as Moneypoint comes to the end of its operational life cycle, it is time to have a serious discussion about Ireland’s energy future, and nuclear power needs to be part of that discussion.

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If use of nuclear power continues, will there be enough uranium?

Nuclear fission is a form of low-carbon energy which has a resource life sufficiently long to be for all practical purposes considered sustainable. Any country adopting nuclear power can be confident that adequate supplies of uranium fuel will be available to power any reactors it may install. 

Is Uranium a sustainable resource?

While it’s too early to fully assess the health and safety impact of the combined calamity of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency in Fukushima, Japan recently or, indeed, its implications for public attitudes, the incident has refocused debate on all aspects of nuclear energy, including its sustainability.

In a post-Fukushima world, Tom O’Flaherty looks at questions surrounding the long-term availability of uranium and argues that nuclear energy derived from uranium supplies will be sustainable long into the future.

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