Dirty and dangerous energy

The attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of nuclear power continues.  The latest effort was by Edward Walsh in the Irish Times, seeking to compare it to coal.  In fact anything looks good compared to coal.  I wrote the following letter to the Irish Times on the day the opinion piece appeared, but as they’ve had it for over a week and haven’t printed it, I’m putting it up here.
A chara,

I was surprised by Dr. Edward Walsh’s opinion piece on the safety of nuclear energy.  He chose to compare it to coal and large-scale hydroelectric, two approaches to meeting electricity needs which are environmentally and socially disastrous.  

Dr. Walsh emphasised the human death toll of coal.  He is right to do so.  In fact, he barely scratched the surface.  In relation to coal, he mentions only the deaths from coal-mining in China.  These are dwarfed by the deaths from coal-derived air pollution.  In its 2002 report Reducing Risks, Promoting Healthy Life, the World Health Organisation estimated that air pollution is responsible for 600,000 premature deaths worldwide every year.  Coal is a primary culprit in these deaths.  Even in an industrialised country where coal-burning is primarily for electricity generation, it’s death toll is appalling; the report Dirty Air, Dirty Power: Mortality and Health Damage Due to Air Pollution from Power Plants, published in 2004, estimated 24,000 premature deaths per year in the USA due to coal-fired power plants.

The first priorities for electricity and other forms of energy are conservation and efficient use.  Neither of these appeared as options in the article.  There is no death toll from energy efficiency.  In fact it is quite the reverse.  As John Healy and Peter Clinch of UCD have demonstrated, surplus winter deaths in Ireland occur because many of our citizens cannot afford to heat their poorly-insulated houses.  Energy efficiency will save lives.

The next priorities are renewable sources of energy – wind, solar, wave and biomass.  Of these, solar, wave and biomass get no mention at all in the article.  Wind is brushed over and the article makes no reference to the safety record of wind power.

Dr. Walsh’s consideration of whether nuclear is safer than coal or large dams is futile.  They are straw men.  Nuclear, coal and large-scale hydroelectric all have one thing in common – they are all irrelevant to energy security for Ireland.  Ireland has no uranium reserves, no coal reserves and no potential for further large-scale hydroelectric.  The real options available to us are energy efficiency and renewable energy.  Thankfully they are far safer than nuclear, coal and large dams.  Surely they are what we should be discussing?

Is mise, le meas,


Councillor David Healy

Green Party/Comhaontas Glas

Howth ward / Dublin North East


01 8324087

087 6178852

54, Páirc Éabhóra, Beann Éadair

54, Evora Park, Howth