Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has “not ruled out” the possibility of nuclear power being utilised during the transition to more efficient energy, but said there is no appetite for it at the moment.
Mr Ryan, Minister for the Environment and Climate, was asked during an Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) event on the European Green New Deal if modular nuclear reactors were on the agenda for the Government.
Mr Ryan said: “I’ve always said I wouldn’t rule out if someone could show that there is a new form of nuclear power that fits in within this model and I see some things on design boards or drawing boards, but nothing in applications, and no rule scale of investment.”
It comes as a new think tank called for a “national conversation about the future of Irish electricity production”, citing nuclear power for the “role it may play in our future energy system”.
The group, which is called 18for0 and describes itself as comprised of experts in the field, claims that “all available low-carbon technologies must be assessed urgently”.
“We're facing novel challenges with regard to balancing security of supply, reducing our carbon footprint and managing a diverse and stable energy grid. It seems foolhardy to start having that complicated conversation without every reasonable option on the table,” said 18for0 member Norma O’Mahony.
In a preliminary study submitted to the Government on the day Mr Ryan made his comments on nuclear energy to the IIEA, 18for0 claims that its estimates show that Ireland’s power sector could decarbonise by 2037, with 18% nuclear power and renewables supplying most of the remainder.
Such a nuclear industry would directly provide more than 1,300 high quality and stable jobs, while it could also reduce electricity bills by over €8bn between 2030 and 2050, 18for0 said.
In its report, the group says: “Nuclear power generation is an ultra low-carbon emission source that has provided safe, secure electricity for over 60 years and in more than 30 countries.
“Heat and hydrogen produced in nuclear power stations is also capable of decarbonising other energy sectors where emission reduction is more challenging.
“Considering the significant appetite for change that Ireland has demonstrated in recent years, and the strong support of the Citizens’ Assembly for the transformational changes required for us to become a net-zero emissions economy and society, it is appropriate now to take a fresh look at nuclear energy.”
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, the report says.
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, it added.
Amending the acts currently impeding nuclear power generation in Ireland is “likely to be legislatively straightforward”, 18for0 said, and the country is “well positioned to establish the legal and regulatory framework necessary for a successful nuclear power programme, including an independent nuclear regulator”.
However, Mr Ryan said he had not seen as much enthusiasm for nuclear power in recent times.
“Yes, there are still obviously nuclear applications in France and elsewhere, but there is no-one coming to my desk or my door saying we are looking to put in nuclear anything anywhere.
"I don’t get the sense from my colleagues across the EU or when I am dealing with Californian authorities lately, or others — that’s not what people are investing in."