Eamon Ryan rules out nuclear power as option in transition from fossil fuel dependence

Eamon Ryan rules out nuclear power as option in transition from fossil fuel dependence

Eamon Ryan said it would be too expensive and cumbersome for Ireland to build a nuclear industry, insisting offshore wind is a better and less expensive option. Picture: Marc O'Sullivan

Eamon Ryan, the environment minister, has ruled out nuclear power as an option in the transition from fossil fuel, despite mounting calls from environmental voices to consider it.

Mr Ryan told the Irish Examiner it would be too expensive and cumbersome for Ireland to build a nuclear industry, insisting offshore wind is a far better and less expensive bet in the fight against climate change.

In recent months, a growing number of environmental and energy experts have suggested that nuclear power should be considered, especially in the context of Ireland’s climate targets to 2050 and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

However, Mr Ryan poured cold water on the possibility.

“I remember talking about this back in 2008 when I was then a minister," he said.

"In that time, and I was energy minister for about four years then, and another two years now, I never met someone who came to me and said I’d like to build a nuclear facility in Ireland, even the smaller reactors. They’re on a design table somewhere, they are not there in reality.” 

Cheaper option

He said renewable energy was a far better option as it was cheaper.

"Nuclear in Ireland would be very expensive because a standard nuclear reactor is very big, so if you have a very big reactor on an isolated system like Ireland, that means you have to have back-up power of the same scale," Mr Ryan said. 

"Nuclear reactors stop all the time for safety and other reasons. Back-up power therefore must always be ready and waiting for that moment when a nuclear power plant might have to be switched off.

“We are currently importing some nuclear power from our UK interconnector and we will connect to France, which has a lot of nuclear power, so it’s not as if we won’t connect with countries that have it.

“If we have a choice between putting our money into offshore wind where we know it’s going to grow, and is cheaper, or we put it into nuclear which is more expensive, less suited to the Irish system, where we don’t have comparative advantages or we don’t have any experts, I just don’t see it happening at the moment.” 

In a wide-ranging interview with the Irish Examiner, Mr Ryan spoke about:

  • How data centres “cannot have an open door” into Ireland and will have to be compatible with Ireland’s climate targets;
  • How Munster will have a major part to play in the “economic opportunity of our lifetime” — offshore wind energy and so-called “green hydrogen”;
  • How Shannon Airport could become the  global guinea pig for the aviation industry's move to less carbon-intensive fuels.

Green hydrogen produces energy through the electrolysis of water, while eliminating emissions by using renewable energy.

Its supporters say it could completely revolutionise clean energy, while its detractors say it is too cumbersome and costly to achieve on a mass scale.

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