Thursday 24 December 2009

"Is Nuclear in Ireland's Energy Future?"

Here's my latest post over at Th!nk About It:

Yesterday the Institution for Engineering and Technology (IET) at Queen's University Belfast held what will be their first annual Christmas Lecture. Christmas Lectures have quite a history, and are a part of a kind of scientific and educational tradition: "... in 1825, Michael Faraday, co-founder of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, started a series of Christmas Lectures to present scientific topics to young people at the Royal Institution in London."

When I first heard about the Lecture this year - and that it would take the form of a debate on the place of nuclear power in Ireland's energy future - I thought it was great that they were starting up this tradition again with the IET's Northern Ireland branch, and I asked if I could film parts of it for Th!nk2. In the end the original opposition to the motion pulled out on short notice, and I was asked to step in as part of a new opposition (which I did, despite warning them that I didn't really know much about the subject) - so it ended up being a much more educational experience than I'd expected!* Personally, I don't have very strong opinions on nuclear power either way, apart from the waste issue, and I wouldn't mind leaving existing nuclear power plants in operation for the time being (why focus on them if emissions are the big target and oil and gas produce more emissions?). Luckly, my team-mate, Michael, had some personal experience of green industry, and we tried to make the best case possible on (mainly) practical cost terms, rather than some of the traditional arguments (though we used some of them too).

The Proposition's case was that nuclear power would become part of Ireland's energy mix through interconnectors with the UK and the mainland continent - that, while renewables should be expanded on in Ireland, Ireland should be able to draw on the stability and controlability of nuclear power as part of its energy mix. Emphasis was on the improving technology and the utility of nuclear.

The Opposition's case focused on the costs of nuclear and its alternatives. Production, construction, and other costs were highlighted, along with the level of subsidies the nuclear industry receives compared with the relatively new renewables sector. Problems with waste were explored, and alternatives were highlighted.

Each speaker spoke for 10 minutes each, and then there were questions from the floor.

Chair: Susan Whitla

Proposition: David Laverty and Thejus Kodiayt

Opposition: Conor Slowey and Michael Montgomery.


I tried to record the debate, and I got most of it on the iFlip, but the distance means you might have to turn up your volume to hear it. I split it up into 6 parts, and I currently have 3 parts uploaded online, so I'll try to update this page later with the rest of the debate. (I wasn't able to get the PowerPoint presentations in-shot, but they mostly weren't relied on by the speakers).

[UPDATE: I've now uploaded the remaining 3 parts of the debate, which includes the first 2 questions from the audience. Unfortunately the iFlip ran out of space before the end of the Q&A part: the questions related mainly to the viability of the alternatives (particularly when it comes to scale) and on technical and waste issues with nuclear power. Though the PowerPoints weren't central to the debate, they were refered to occasionally, so you can find them here if you want to take a look.]






In the end, the House voted that nuclear was in Ireland's energy future. A big thanks to David (the first speaker for the Proposition, who organised the event); I hope to see the Lecture becoming a regular feature of the university year!



* Having to research and debate a topic I didn't really know much about reminded me of a point we talked about during the first test ThinkCast: that blogging can be valuable by encouraging people to become more informed on a topic - perhaps blogging is more useful for the bloggers themselves than for the readers?


  1. Conor: hope you had a good Christmas.

    You do your readers a disservice. I knew little of Irish politics and politicians before I started reading your blogs. I'm learning all the time, thank you.

    Happy 2010 to you and yours.

  2. I hope you've had a good Christmas too.

    Thanks, I'm glad you like the blog, and I hope other readers are getting something out of it too. Perhaps I was a bit too inward-looking with the "perhaps blogging is more useful for the bloggers themselves than for the readers" comment: blogging can provide a great range of views and news, and I hope that I'm making a good contribution to the Euroblogosphere. Blogging is all the better when you get good interaction between bloggers and readers. Still, blogging has pushed me into things that I might not normally have done, and I've learnt a lot of them, which was the idea I was driving at.

    Happy new year!