Nuclear power in Ireland

John Gibbons calls for nuclear power in Ireland in today’s Irish Times.

There are all sorts of issues with nuclear power. In the medium term, nuclear power cannot expand much because of constraints on manufacturing capacity (particularly of vessels) and on the number of nuclear engineers. More generally, the big issue with nuclear power is neither waste nor security (both of which are largely under control if you employ qualified people), but proliferation. As there are more nuclear power stations and more nuclear engineers, chances rise that nasty people will get their hands on a dirty bomb or worse.

Nuclear power is irrelevant for Ireland. Nuclear power provides baseload. The current baseload power station, MoneyPoint, will retire before 2025. You cannot plan, permit and build a nuclear power station in less than 15 years. The next opportunity for nuclear in Ireland is when MoneyPoint’s successor will retire, around 2065.

Besides, nuclear and wind power do not mix well, because the amount of wind that Ireland is committed to requires a power plant that is more flexible than nuclear can be.

55 replies on “Nuclear power in Ireland”

Prof Tol, is there not a realistic chance that Moneypoint may actually be operated past 2025? Is there a real legally-binding requirement for it to be closed?

In the medium term, nuclear power cannot expand much because of constraints … on the number of nuclear engineers.

Is the lack of native nuclear engineers really a show-stopper?

Surely a cadre of experienced engineers could be enticed to relocate from the UK or France?

A supply of entry-level engineers could be provided via a rapid (say, 2 year) conversion course for physics/math-literate graduates.

Hands up those who want to see the present governemtn or any viable alternative drawn from the irish system WITH NUKES…..thought so. FFS the system cant stretch itself to get seasand from the beaches to the roads…..and we want to give em nukes?

This is a worldwide problem. Little nuclear was build after Chernobyl, so nuclear engineering was a dying profession. That is now going into reverse, but it will take time to rebuild the necessary expertise.

Outsource the whole thing to EDF – who can build a special nuclear power plant in Wales or Northern Ireland – to escape the toxic ESB unions (Question: why do we have the dearest electricity in Europe? Answers on a post card please). A single large plant would supply all of our needs, no? Problem solved.

@ Richard
As you know I don’t regard the nuclear wast issue as one that is sorted. Final storage is not sorted. In Germany one site for final storage has been found to be unsuitable after much study but a political decisions has been taken (a long time ago – obviously politicians know better than experts – sounds familiar doesn’t it??) that it is suitable. There is another site which has taken relatively low level nuclear material, which experts had recommended against. The current German Chancelor appears to have buried the expert advice. The mine is filling with water with horrendous consequences for water supplies.
Reprocessing is also an issue in terms of the transport of material – basic safety and proliferation issues matter a lot. There has been a lot of traffic between Europe and Japan which means boats going though pirate waters.

Whatever about the technology in principle in practice it is a very dangerous technology and not that cheap if you factor in proper long-term storage (discounting for 25 years does not get you far here – thing 100s of thousands of year for the costs).

@ Edgar

“There has been a lot of traffic between Europe and Japan which means boats going though pirate waters.”

Small point – surely the freight is a tiny fraction of cost of uranium and thus routing through Suez or around the Cape would be a fine solution?

Also, if this talk of G4 reactors is true, is waste slightly less of a long-term problem? Or is wikipedia being a little optimistic?

There has been much recent discussion of reactor designs that avoid a lot of these problems (though not the lack of engineers one). Liquid Fuel Thorium Reactors don’t have proliferation issues, do produce waste with a half-life of 30 years (so 300 years for it to reach background radiation levels), can be shutdown and restarted very easily (e.g. can be shutdown overnight), have good failure behaviour (passive failsafes) and use much cheaper fuel.

That said, they don’t have the development history of older reactor designs but they certainly seem like one approach that would work well here.

@ Marcus
You misunderstand my point – transport costs are not the issue but the stuff getting lost to the wrong kind of people.

Either route goes through pirate waters – have a look at the map. Incidentally it is not just Somalia I am thinking off. There is a lot of pirate activity in South-East Asia. I am not sure how well guarded the boats are – I sure hope they are, but even that may not be enough for some of the lunatics out there (they managed to do some major damage to a US destroye before).

@Brian Lucey

“and we want to give em nukes?” No Brian – we want the nukes for ourselves (-; Seriously – nuclear power is going to become increasingly important ………. plenty of engineerng talent around ……..

@Richard Tol

Been waiting for this one – thanks for bringing it up …….

“Nuclear power is irrelevant for Ireland.” Not so.

We are already using nuclear power through the interconnectors with Britain. Why not begin discussions with the U.K Gov – they are upgrading – and take a share in a few of these plants ………. and plan the next base. Far better use of €15 billion in the NPRF than putting it into the black hole of the banks to satisfy an abstract ratio. Joe and Joan might get something out of it – they will get sweet-f-a out of the banks.

I think perhaps you need to look a bit more deeply at your core assumptions there. Mainly because they’re wrong.

And as to “dirty bombs” and the like, you’re not considering using thorium reactors which have significant advantages in terms of cost, setup time, levels of radioactive waste and resistance to being used for weapons-grade material (whether that be fissile material or just radioactive contaminants):

+1 Paul MacDonnell except for the single large plant bit. I believe current energy requirement is in the 5GW range and we’d need about 4-5 reactors to do that, plus a bunch of other issues like transmission and peak vs base. But if we had about 1-2GW coming in via 2-4 500MW HVDC lines it might work.

We have the most expensive electricity in Europe for a couple of reasons – scale, political tolerance of stuff like peat power as a jobs programme and allowing staff to report to closed stations and the fact that unlike most countries we have no ability to buy power except via the UK from companies Ireland has no stake in for the profits. Also – how expensive electricity is is not dependent on the bill you pay. If you are also paying in taxes to subsidise construction and decommissioning, and only paying for operating via the bill, it may that Ireland’s power is NOT the most expensive when fully accounted for.

We shouldn’t buy reactors but stakes in reactor capacity on Welsh sites – say 50% of a site producing 4GW when accounting for maintenance shutdowns etc. Placing new reactors on existing sites of operating or decommissioned reactors would not duplicate seismology issues, emergency procedures, NIMBY and the like. Ideally we would do that without exposure to the long term costs by buying on a fixed rate contract – the UK should pay those as it will reap the capital spend and labour taxes plus a guaranteed income on the reactor output.

Minimum demand across the year in all-Ireland is around 2.5GW. Moneypoint is 1.7GW at max. Current nuclear plants are 1GW minimum, so I’d agree there is not much space for additional baseload, if Moneypoint were continue to be so.

However, alot of the older coal units in the UK don’t actually run baseload – some of them are down at 30/40% load factor and flex more than the nuclear or gas plants. So although Moneypoint is baseload now it may not necessarily be in the future. There is also smaller, more flexible nuclear technologies in the pipeline that would fit better with the large amounts of wind planned for Ireland.

However, I’d agree with Edgar that nuclear isn’t particularly cheap – but mainly because when you take a realistic view of upfront captial costs, plants only look economic at prices north of 50 Eur/MWh (which is below current levels of wholesale prices in Ireland)

I think Moneypoint is kitted out to meet the 2016 tightening sulphur and NOx regulations through the EU’s Industrial Emissions Directive, so the main determinant of Moneypoint’s lifespan will probably be the balance of coal / gas /carbon prices … if coal & carbon prices are relatively low then its likely to remain open beyond 2025 (some of the UK plants were built in the early 1960’s and are still expected to continue for another 10 years)

@Richard Tol

We are not limited to deals with U.K (albeit most obvious due to interconnector – and if they cannot spare a few electrons or neutrons or positrons for us well – we simply expand our field of vision) – Sweden is expanding and the French are no strangers to the odd Irish invasion …. the quality of Irish bread might even improve … ‘Energy’ is a potential ‘systemic risk’ to economic survival ………. sure let’s expand wind and wave etc …..but this will still be insufficient…… we have not discovered that many gas fields in our contintental shelf – look at the stand-off between Ukraine and Russia – and the next ‘1973’ in the Middle East is simply waiting to happen ………… Iraq invasion was about control of oil – pure and simple : but it has destabilised the entire region. We need back-up and presently we do not have it – The Bigger Freeze Beckons!

DO you know (and if you don’t – who does?) if anyone has done a Cost Benefit Analysis of Nuclear Power in Irish Context ………. ?


If one wanted to get one’s hands on material for a ‘dirty bomb’, there are multiple sources already existing in Ireland.

For example, there’s more than a sufficient quantity of uranium slugs, plus a small quantity of plutonium and a beryllium source left over from UCC’s old demonstration training reactor unit that is sitting in a basement somewhere in Cork. The Yanks made us a present of the training reactor to Ireland in the late 1960s. It was shut down and dismantled sometime in the mid-1980s, to make more room in the physics laboratories where it was taking up too much space. When the US were politely asked if they would like to have the nuclear material back they pointed out, equally politely, that it was the height of bad manners to seek to return such a handsome gift. The last quote that the University received, about a decade ago if I remember correctly, for the cost of shipping this material out of Cork came to about €6m. So it remains where it is to this day, so far as I know. Under lock and key, and subject to the normal international safeguards regime. Incidentally, there was a great hue and cry about the presence of this ‘nuclear reactor’ in ‘nuclear free zone’ Cork at the end of the 1970s at the height of the popular protests against the proposed siting of a nuclear power plant at Carnsore Point in Co. Wexford. But it’s quite forgotten now. The output of the UCC unit, at full blast, was about sufficient to power a conventional light bulb.

Nuclear sources are widely used throughout industry and other applications in Ireland and up to relatively recently there was no regulation requiring their repatriation to their country of origin once their use is exhausted. In consequence, there are a significant number of ‘orphan’ sources, some of which even ended up being accidently and unwittingly dumped in a landfill site on one occassion. Under EU law, we are by now supposed to have a central location for storing this orphan material. Indeed, the RPII have been calling for the establishment of such a facility since the 1970s. When he was Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche, continued the honourable political tradition of dodging the issue by authorising the RPII to deal with the disposal of these sources on a ‘case by case’ basis. The RPII may know where all these bits and nuclear bobs are located – they do a very good job. But the sources are widely dispersed, so the lack of a central depot is hardly ideal. Problems may arise when firms go out of business or, as has happened in the past, when they get stuck on a shelf somewhere until everyone forgets they are there or even exist.

Since we demonstrably can’t deal with our existing tiny quantities of industrial nuclear waste, how does anyone suggest we deal with the waste from a power station output?

As for building a nuclear power plant here, apart from the timescale as you have correctly pointed out above, it’s politically impossible. What people tend to forget is that the provision making it illegal to construct a nuclear power plant in the Republic arose from a demand by the Green Party and the Labour Party at the Committee Stage of the Electricity Regulation Bill that an amendment be introduced to prohibit the importation of electricity generated from nuclear sources. The Minsiter for Energy, Mary O’Rourke, acknowledged that this was impossible under EU law, so the ban on nuclear generated electricity was put forward as a compromise. If anyone can tell me which political party, or any Dail deputy with an eye to a long term political career, will be the first to publicly suggest removing this prohibition, I’d be delighted to know!

There are all sort of other reasons – size of reactor, lack of trained personnel etc. as to why nuclear power is not an option for Ireland at this time. I have sympathy for John Gibbons as it appears that he is suffering from another rush of blood to the head. As is evident from his article he hasn’t any knwoledge of what he is talking about.

@ Edgar

I wouldn’t worry overmuch about the piracy risk to the specially designated ships that carry nuclear materials between France, the UK, and Japan. In the event of any piracy risk, either the pirates or the ship would be at the bottom of the sea, and I’d lay my bets on the priates going down first. Besides, there is no possibility of accessing the material that is carried on those ships. Vessels which are less robust in respect of their security or safety feature, or and even the packaging of the nuclear materials, are also going up and down the Irish Sea on short runs, as well as crossing the Atlantic. But they would be also considered a lot safer from an environmental and security perspective, and certainly subject to far greater international regulation, than the bulk transport of many dangerous chemicals.

> …the big issue with nuclear power is neither waste nor security (both of which are largely under control if you employ qualified people),…

I’d take issue with that. Neither people – no matter their qualifications – or the systems employed are infallible. There will be leaks and accidents. It’s inevitable.

Also, the really large elephant in the nuclear room is cost. It is horrifically expensive – to build, operate, fuel, decommission and to manage the resulting waste for potentially thousands of years.

And there is also the ‘minor’ issue that it is not carbon neutral and never can be due to the emissions from mining, processing and transportation of fuel.


Thanks for that – I’ll read the ESRI paper when it comes out.

“there’s more than a sufficient quantity of uranium slugs, plus a small quantity of plutonium and a beryllium source left over from UCC’s old demonstration training reactor unit that is sitting in a basement somewhere in Cork.”

Not a bother – whatever basement it is in – it should be well cooled by now with de floods on de banks (of the Lee, not that other shower) ………. by the way that posse outside your door are probably from The Skibbereen Eagle looking for their next front page scoop ‘WMDs missing in Cork’ that could well run all the way to the New York Times – be prepared (-;

Seriously – I remain to be convinced [scientific, technological, financial, social, economic] that nuclear power not an option around here.


“As for building a nuclear power plant here, apart from the timescale as you have correctly pointed out above, it’s politically impossible. What people tend to forget is that the provision making it illegal to construct a nuclear power plant in the Republic arose from a demand by the Green Party and the Labour Party at the Committee Stage of the Electricity Regulation Bill that an amendment be introduced to prohibit the importation of electricity generated from nuclear sources. The Minsiter for Energy, Mary O’Rourke, acknowledged that this was impossible under EU law, so the ban on nuclear generated electricity was put forward as a compromise.”

Did the Greens and Labour party explain how to distinguish electric currents generated by nuclear as distinct from coal power stations?

Impossible under EU law? Impossible under the laws of physics more like.

At first this nonsense seems funny, then it is scary. Current energy policy makes about as much sense.

@Richard Tol

Saying that Moneypoint is our baseload station is incorrect. Moneypoint is only one of a number of stations which provides baseload. The market determines which units should provide base load. If a Moneypoint set or another set is too expensive it comes when the load is low (at night or during high wind). Units can even two shifts (off at night and on again in the morning).

How about some ‘old-fashioned’ conservationism – just get by on less electricity. Say a -15% reduction all-round. I’d bet this is possible. Perhaps its too rational an idea and not ‘exciting’ enough!

Nuclear (fission) energy production has a somewhat low energy return for energy invested and the decommissioning energy costs are possibly in excess of what the plant itself might be capable of producing. Someone will have data on this issue.

B Peter

We cannot even build an incinerator in the country without it becoming a major issue. How in God’s name does anyone think a necessary nuclear power station will be built with the “not in my back yard mentality” in this country and the politicians who look after number one for 5 years at a stretch. Could you imagine how many times governments would be swopped before one power station is built as it will be an election issue forever.

I am afraid we will have to continue farting at a few windmills for our energy needs.

I agree with Gibbons to the extent that there is no intrinsic ethical objection to nuclear power. Even if people did die from radiation, the deaths due to coal, starting with the shortened lives of coal miners, down to the deaths from atmospheric pollution, must be far in excess.

So nuclear has to be on the table as an option – Richard has a good point: if we are to replace Moneypoint in 2025, what are the alternatives to coal? I doubt greatly if alternative sources will be ready by then.

There is hope – for example, Panasonic have developed a battery that they claim can power a house for a week:

That’s a Japanese house, so we might need 2 per week! However, the storage problem is one of the big issues with alternative sources. A blogger calculated that it would be about the size of a fridge, & development might make it even smaller – the size of a gas cylinder?

But if we need someting to take up the slack in the mid-years of the century, then nuclear may be the only option, even with the risk of terrorist construction of a nuclear weapon. James Lovelock came to that conclusion as well.

@Richard Tol
“Thorium is superior in some ways, but not quite ready for deployment.”
Ah, but neither are we. By the time we have the debate, pick the sites, go through the planning process, thorium will be perfected… we should probably start now…

> More generally, the big issue with nuclear power is neither waste nor security (both of which are largely under control if you employ qualified people)

A short-term view. Waste from current reactors remains radioactive for many thousands of years, so it’s entirely likely that our civilisation will fall and the descendents of these “qualified people” will be walking around in bearskins (!), before the waste is safe to be around.


I appreciate your concern about proliferation. It’s an old one. But when you examine the history of nuclear power one thing becomes clear; those who want to use nuclear technology for weapons purposes will so so, those who don’t will not. There were lots of countries, such as Sweden for example, who considered the possibility of a nuclear weapons programme after the Second World War and then thought the better of it. Impeding or restricting the spread of nuclear power for energy generation purposes to so-called ‘good’ countries who will not initiate a clandestine weapons programme and who will agree to be bound by international safeguards regimes doesn’t work. If you want to get your hands on the technology or the raw materials to make a nuclear bomb, it’s really not much of a problem if a regime is sufficiently determined to do so. As someone else remarked, the real surprise of 20th century post-war history is that there were so few countries who developed a weapons programme.

I agree with you that there is a genuine risk of terrorists acquiring small amounts of material from broken down States (mostly ex-Soviet) for use as ‘dirty bombs’. But ‘dirty bombs’ are more like to induce psychological terror in a target population than cause physical devastation, as acknowledged in international literature.

The capacity of such terror groups to develop an effective WMD with a large-scale destructive potential is limited. As I understand it, if you want to build a nuclear bomb then you’re going to need some fairly hefty kit located in a large and easily identifiable manufacturing installation, plus an awful lot of money to ultimately acheive the desired result. It’s hardly good tactics, since there are cheaper devices to cause mayhem more readily available and less likely to lead to assuredly devastating consequences for both their cause and their country in due course.

Richard: you may not be aware that Moneypoint has already been cycling, to facilitate wind. On current plans for wind, with priority dispatch, we could end up with no plants able to be operated as base load.

Are you sure that 15 years is the minimum lead time for a nuclear plant?

BrendanC: Moneypoint is plated at approx 900 MW, not 1700 as you seem to believe.

“We’ll need a new baseload plant again in 2065.”
Well, it may be that extending Moneypoint by ten years to, say, 2034, will give us time to get ourselves and the technology sorted out. It’ll depend on the cost/benefit, dontcha know…. it’s an economics thing, apparently 🙂

I’ve always hated the idea of being first mover. That’s why I work in an industry that uses 40 year old technology, I suppose. The point is, it’s rare that first mover wins. It is even rarer when you have to put all your eggs in one basket, as a small country does. In a large country, you get to average out your losses on doing it wrong the first time by the lessons you learn.

At the same time, the idea of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is deeply appealing (are they the same idea?)…

Thorium based reactors are untried but offer no proliferation, cheaper costs and more available raw material.

This is a beat up by uranium investors. No nuclear unless Thorium is proven.

My original post was not very clear.

Jim Hansen, the atmospheric physicist, is calling for a tenfold expansion of nuclear power worldwide to solve the climate problem, and he is duly parroted by John Gibbons. A single nuclear plant in Ireland would not perceptibly change the proliferation risk, but 4000 new ones (mostly outside Ireland) would.

I think, unfortunately, that Richard is right about the irrelevance of nuclear in Ireland. Choosing the most appropriate technology (and a site), joining a long queue to buy the kit and building it would chew up most of the 15 years that is generally considered. But to even start the mountain of hypocrisy about nuclear energy (similar to the abortion issue) would have to be scaled. It’s fine to import nuclear-generated electricity, but we don’t want to do that dirty thing here. That’s another 10 years with a limited probability of success.

Richard is also right about the crunch Britain is facing not only in electricity, but across all the infrastructure sectors. Short-term focused private equity financial engineering and rent-gouging has hollowed out balance sheets, utility sector restructuring has reduced the number of counter-parties able to enter into the long-term contracts required to support investment in long-lived, specific assets and regulation, using a weighted average cost of capital, is, by definition, guaranteeing returns less than the marginal cost of equity on new investment.

However, I would be more sanguine than Richard. Private equity is in retreat, infrastructure funds (with a longer term focus) are playing a greater role and the government is beginning to accept its responsibility to provide the necessary commitments to secure investment. Much more needs to be done, but there is an increasing focus on the investment challenge and, more importantly, on how this investment will be financed.

I wish I could say the same about Ireland.

The RPII may know where all these bits and nuclear bobs are located – they do a very good job

Why yes, they do – at keeping the local population in the dark, that is, as enormously benefitted (to give one example) Irish Fertiliser Industries.

I have sympathy for John Gibbons as it appears that he is suffering from another rush of blood to the head.

I’m sure the warm fuzzy feelings are returned. I personally have nothing but the highest regard for you, I must say.

We may be in a desperate situation within ten years folks. The key issue is OIL not CO2. CO2 is peripheral and unimportant. The Green Party will be long forgotten in ten years time. However, if as may soon happen, we get caught in an energy squeeze between a warring US and the rest of the world our chances of survival as an “independent” nation are nil. No one will invade us; its not like we have any strategic value anymore, but as a result of a mountain of unpayable debt we will succumb; to foreign ownership; to debt peonage; back to the bronze age.

For half the cost of NAMA Ireland could be have a bright new future. Free of OIL. Free of debt. Free from war. Freedom is spelled NUCLEAR.

The Monstrous Green ideology that threatens our livelihoods and our sanity needs to be thrown over. Down with the Greens. Go NUCLEAR.


@ Mokabaybob: Good job RO’T is not moderating your comments – he’d give you a ‘ticking off’ for not being ‘factual’. No matter – you hit the bullseye – OIL! Our transport system is 100% dependent upon it!

Would dispute the nuclear bit with you. Too energy costly to build-out, maintain, repair and decommission. We do genuinely need to build-out and update our electricity generating system – I’d target conservation first, then land-based wind, then hydro-storage. Then see how we are fixed.

Since I hold that our economy may never ‘recover’ to ‘grow’ again: electricity use might stabilize. However, we will need to have a complement to fossil-fueled (road) commercial transport. Agriculture is a real predicament. They may have to provide their own liquid fuels [biodiesel + ethanol] from their own resources.

B Peter

CO2 is peripheral and unimportant.

Really? Because while economists such as Richard Tol may extol environmental disasters as a plus (in that the resulting remedial works require investment), I’m fairly sure that the rest of us don’t agree.

Free of OIL. Free of debt. Free from war. Freedom is spelled NUCLEAR.

You’ve actually seen ‘Dr. Strangelove’, I presume.

@ Richard

THE FLOODING crisis may have a small silver lining for the economy in the longer term, according to a leading economist.

Prof Richard Tol of the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has said that while the flooding has caused widespread damage, there may be an unexpected fillip to the economy once the clean-up operation begins.

“Floods are bad but flood restoration can actually provide a stimulus to the economy,” said Dr Tol.

Some 1,500 people have been evacuated from homes due to flooding and the insurer Hibernian Aviva has estimated the damage to homes and businesses may exceed €250 million.

Dr Tol pointed out that he was not downplaying the impact the floods had on people who lost their homes and businesses, some of whom were not insured. However, he said that one of the unusual consequences of the restoration work, once it begins, is that it will provide an economic stimulus, generating local work and business in construction, engineering and in retail sales.

“What the water has done is it has destroyed many things. But once insurance is paid, there will be a lot of money coming into the country. Most of the funds will come not from Irish insurance companies but will be called in from international reinsurers. So it will be mostly coming from abroad, which is a stimulus.”

He said that consumption would increase in affected areas as restoration work began, providing a measurable boost. “As such there is a silver lining to the flood,” he added.

If you had bothered to read that piece and the discussion on this blog, you would have known that I never said or wrote that floods are good for the economy.

Nuclear waste is no longer an issue. You can now pay the Italian mafia to dump it off the coast of Somalia. You just have to watch out for locals with inflatables and automatic weapons.

Learn from UAE, non proliferation treaties, No Nuclear Engineers currently but by the time Plants come on line in 2017 will have trained personnel, graduates currently being educated in best Nuclear Uni’s worldwide. Licencing etc. has been on the go for past few years, setting up of regulatory bodies and international treaties and compliance issues, now into design phase. If Ireland were going to have a plant ready to go into production in 2025 need to have decicions made to go that route within next five years. Clearly the best solution . Too much scaremongering from the anti nuke brigade who have no appreciation for how modern Science is dealing with Energy requirements. Anyone happy to persevere with Coal and Carbon is no lover of the planet IMO.

@ Richard Tol
Hi Richard. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the “Spirit of Ireland” proposal for a large pumped storage facility in the west of ireland, to allow a large connection of wiind to the national grid


If the price of carbon goes high enough, you would want to switch from gas / oil / coal heating to electric heating.

I suspect that winds from the north and east (which bring cold) tend to be weaker than winds from the west and south.

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