Thursday 30 November 2006

Minister Cullen launches Road Safety Authority Christmas Anti-Drink Driving Campaign

The Christmas anti-drink driving campaign organised by the Road Safety Authority is now up and running, so don't drink!

The campaign, which involves both radio and television advertising, aims to support the anti-drink driving enforcement activity of An Garda Siochána. The advert theme is 'Just one drink impairs driving' and adverts will receive airplay over the Christmas and New Year period.

Speaking at today's launch, Minister Cullen said: "In December last year (2005), forty people lost their lives on our roads. That cold statistic does not even remotely reflect the number of people whose lives were changed forever as a result of being injured in a road collision or being a family member of those killed or injured. This situation cannot continue". The Minister added: "While drink driving is not acceptable at any time of year, it is appropriate that we are particularly conscious of the dangers of drink driving in the days leading up to and over the holiday period. This is a time when there tends to be more social activity. It is a traditional celebratory time, with thousands of extra journeys being made by car. Unfortunately it can also be a time of great pain and sorrow with collisions and fatal traffic accidents on our roads".

Drink driving is one of the key reasons road collisions occur. Minister Cullen referred to a new study, (with information gathered from the Garda National Traffic Bureau), which indicates that alcohol was a factor in 36.5% of fatal collisions in 2003. Dr. Declan Bedford, an author of the study, also found that in 62% of single-vehicle, single-occupant fatal collisions, alcohol was a factor.

The Minister said: "These findings are very disturbing. The Road Traffic Act 2006 provides for the introduction of Mandatory Alcohol Testing (MAT), which gives the Gardaí the power and the right to administer a breath test to a motorist stopped at a MAT checkpoint without individual suspicion that the motorist has consumed alcohol. Since its introduction in July this year, the Gardaí are now conducting over 30,000 MAT breath tests on motorists each month".

Minister Cullen pointed out that the increased deterrent effect from the introduction of this provision should have a significant impact on driver behaviour in general, and in particular on those who persistently drink and drive. "The chances of being detected drink driving have never been so great," he added.

Commending the efforts of both the Road Safety Authority and the Gardaí in curbing the number of deaths on our roads, the Minister urged all road users to drive with caution, avoid drinking at all if driving, and to exercise responsibility at all times on our roads. "With your co-operation we can make this Christmas a safe one," the Minister concluded.

To view the study mentioned above which is titled: 'Alcohol in fatal road crashes in Ireland in 2003' by D Bedford, N McKeown, A Vellinga, F Howell. Population Health Directorate, Health Service Executive, 2006 visit The study is based on data gathered from fatal road crash files contained in the Garda National Traffic Bureau.

Operation Freeflow - helping?

The Operation Freeflow website is worth a look:

It says: With so many public transport choices this Christmas, there'll be no need to take your car when you're heading out to shop, eat, drink or make merry! Extra buses, trams and trains are being laid on to make your life easier. We've designed this website as a one-stop-shop to help you plan your journey.

Why not Operation Freeflow for the rest of the year?

Wednesday 29 November 2006

Sean O'Casey Bridge Wins Major International Engineering Award

Sean O'Casey Bridge Wins Major International Engineering Award

Dublin�s newest bridge, the Sean O�Casey Bridge, has won a major international engineering award. The bridge, which was commissioned by the Docklands Authority, won the Best Pedestrian Bridge at the International IStructE Awards run by the UK�s Institute of Structural Engineers.

Opened in mid-2005, the Sean O�Casey Bridge links the north and south Docklands, and has become an instant landmark on the River Liffey. The bridge has even featured in advertisements for O2, the Ryder Cup and, most recently for Guinness.

O�Connor Sutton Cronin, the structural designers of the Sean O�Casey Bridge, won the award for its work on the design of the bridge, which features a pioneering �swing� action that sees the two leaves or arms of the bridge open to allow boats pass up and down the River Liffey. Each �leaf� of the bridge is approximately 44 metres long and 4.5 metres wide and weighs around 160 tonnes. Each bridge leaf is a balanced cantilever and is designed to rotate on a central bearing supported on granite clad piers in the River Liffey. The piers are founded on four piles bored over 12 metres into the bedrock.

�The Sean O�Casey Bridge has not only become an architectural landmark in the Docklands area but has also made a huge difference to how people get around the area with the IFSC being only a five minute walk from Merrion Square now. The addition of the Macken Street Bridge in the next few years will reinforce the importance of these links in the city.� said Paul Maloney, Chief Executive, Docklands Authority.

The judging panel praised the structural solution for the bridge for combining lightness in design to resolve structural forces with efficiency and transparency. �The result is an aesthetic and elegant design,� they said.

The IStructE Structural Awards are one of the world�s most prestigious awards for structural engineering excellence. Run by the Institution of Structural Engineers, the annual awards celebrate the work of the world�s most talented structural designers.

Paul Healy of O�Connor Sutton Cronin said �we are delighted and honoured to have been awarded this prestigious international award from our engineering colleagues. This is a tremendous reflection on the innovative work by the entire design team.�

The architects for the Sean O�Casey Bridge were Brian O�Halloran Associates, project cost consultants, Bruce Shaw and Partners and the contractor, John Mowlem Construction.

Rural planning - Irish Rural Dwellers' Association

Useful Article by Liamy McNally

Planning for slick rural dwellers

Liamy MacNally There is nothing worse than smart ass city slickers who pride themselves in taking a swipe at people from outside the Pale. Apart from the obvious and most welcome lesson that was meted out to some of our city brethren on the hallowed grounds of Croke Park recently, city slickers often adopt a superior attitude towards those of us from outside the metropolitan 50 kilometres per hour speed limit. It is even more nauseating when the slickers meet on-line and hide behind the skirts of discussion fora to launch verbal scuds on people outside the capital. These egg-in-the-mouth scripts smack of the West Brit nonsense so familiar to a certain breed of misnamed professional.
Check out the discussion board of Irish website relating to the Irish Rural Dwellers’ Association. The pages are graced with the repulsive scripts that belong to a colonial past, long dead but obviously, still hankered after by a few withered brains masquerading as architectural intellects. The reason for the architectural verbal outrage stemmed from a query for a contact number for the Irish Rural Dwellers’ Association.


The Irish Rural Dwellers’ Association was set up in 2002 with national membership and is based in Co Clare. Its main aim is: “To unite all rural dwellers and people of goodwill towards rural Ireland and in the context of peaceful, multi-cultural co-existence in the common cause of ensuring, by legal and constitutional means, the growth and maintenance of a vibrant, populated countryside in the traditional Irish forms of baile fearann or dispersed village, sráid bhaile or street village and the clachán or nucleated clustered village.”

The IRDA is a voluntary, unfunded organisation that depends on the €20 annual subscription of its members to carry out its work. It was set up to tackle the unseemly and daft approaches to rural planning adopted by planning authorities. Regardless of 800 years of domination by outside forces it is still impossible for many Irish people to live in their own area because of the colonial interpretations adopted by many planners.

A planning ‘need’

Seeking planning permission is blocked first of all by the ‘need’ question. One must establish a need to build in an area. It is no longer enough to have a family history in an area, you must also establish a need to satisfy some off-the-wall loopy interpretation of planning laws that were drawn up to assist people not shackle them. In the Jewish times of Jesus, laws replaced the Law. Today, the laws are being used to deter, prevent and refuse access to rural areas to those people whose hearts are throbbing with the beat of the countryside. They want us to live in cities and towns. The cry of ‘To hell or to Connacht’ has been replaced by those awful terms, ‘further information requested’ or ‘planning permission refused.’ What is becoming of our country when diktats are promulgated by people using half-baked ideas? Minister Dick Roche states that his Rural Planning Guidelines are there to benefit people from rural areas.
“There is now a presumption in favour of one-off houses…,” he stated at the launch. It is a pity that planners throughout the country are not aware of the Minister’s intentions. The IRDA is standing up against the latest form of bullying – denying people access to live where they want in rural areas.
The IRDA is not advocating a free for all in planning matters. It is simply advocating a sensible approach. There have been calls for ‘proofing’ to take place in government policies to ensure that rural areas are not discriminated against; the proofing that is required is in the planning process. The country once played host to over eight million people. They did not live between blades of grass or in cracks in stone walls. They lived in homes.

Rural cleansing

What is happening across the Irish countryside is akin to an ethnic cleansing of rural life. People who operate under the guise of ‘planners’ in this country do not even have to have an Irish qualification. The acceptable norm of being a ‘qualified planner’ in Ireland - those who make recommendations to grant or refuse our planning applications – refers to an international accreditation by the Royal Town Planning Institute (London) or similar, according to the IRDA. “These qualifications involve no recognition whatsoever of the special position of the island nation of Ireland in respect of our history, culture, traditions, 5,000-year-old rural settlement patterns or the many subtleties and nuances that make our country and our Irish race unique. Under Departmental regulations, non-national planners are not obliged to take courses whatsoever in relation to the ‘Irish’ dimension before taking up employment in this country.”
The planners irony does not stop there. When the Minister introduced the regulations one would have expected the planners of the country to rejoice that the person local authority planners are deemed to serve under had made an important determination in matters so dear to people of the country. Instead, the Irish Planning Institute opposed Government policy on rural housing! On the one hand, the Government attempted to deal with an explosive issue in a sensitive manner, yet those deemed with a duty of care to carry out the policy ‘mutinied’. Ah sure it is a great country! It could only happen here. The tail wags the dog and gets away with it!
The IRDA claims that the current President of the Irish Planning Institute, Mr Hank van der Kamp, “recently suggested we need a complete ban on rural housing similar to the one imposed on Northern Ireland by a British Minister in 2006. In these circumstances, where the professional organisation representing planners in the country is expressing views that are in direct opposition to Government policy on rural housing, it is nonsensical to suppose that individual IPI members do not reflect this anti-rural housing bias when assessing individual applications. The citizens’ rights to fair and objective treatment from these public servants is a sick joke.”
The IRDA goes on to claim that “the overwhelming ethos, background and qualifications of planners are towards urbanisation. They have no problem pursuing this ideology under Irish planning law.”

Taking control

Regardless of the Minister’s good intentions on rural planning laws, they cannot work when planners are unaccountable. Planners can argue that they only make recommendations rather than planning decisions, which are the remit of the relevant Town or County Manager, but the reality is that planners and/or Town and County Managers remain unaccountable to the people of the country. They are neither elected nor ever have to seek re-election. It is time that respective Town or County Managers took control in planning matters in their respective domains. Obviously, the history of the recommendations from certain planners is not a history to cherish in this country. Actions speak louder than words.
The IRDA is taking action, even to the point of meeting and preparing and submitting a joint proposal with the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (RIAI) to Minister Dick Roche for the introduction of a national Planning Monitoring Forum. The proposal was rejected by the Minister! Was the Minister afraid that these architects subscribed to!

Transport 21 Integration and Transformation of the Transport Network

Will Transport 21 make things any better? Here's the Minister's speech from earlier this year, make up your own minds!

I am delighted to be invited here today to speak to you about Transport 21 and what it will mean for our transport infrastructure, our transport services, our economy and most of all, our people.
Transport 21, which is seeing us invest €9.4million a day for the next 10-years in Irish transport, highlights the central importance that the Government has given to overhauling our Transport system. It provides us with unprecedented resources to do the job right. It recognises that this country needs a 21st Century Infrastructure for a 21st Century Economy and details the project delivery path.

However, a plan of this magnitude must be about more than construction projects. It must have a massively positive impact on commuting times, on the success and sustainability of our economic progress, on our international competitiveness. In essence, if we are to spend €34 billion, we expect to see a transforming impact on the quality of our lives as citizens.

Ireland has been changing rapidly in recent years, particularly since our present cycle of rapid economic growth. The backdrop to Transport 21, indeed the basis for the very need for a programme of such a scale is clear.

- Our population has increased by 11% since 1996 to just over 4 million and is predicted to reach 4.7 million by 2016,

- Employment grew from 1.2 million in 1991 to 1.9 million in 2004 and our current 4.3% unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the EU. Total employment is forecast to grow to 2.4 million in 2016, an increase of 23%

- Private car ownership has increased by around 50% between 1991 and 2003. Despite this, our car ownership rates are still low for a developed economy, which points to further future growth.

- Distances travelled to work are increasing, with some 18% of the workforce now travelling over 15 miles to work compared with 11% in 1996. The car remains the main mode for travel to work and accounts for around 62% of all trips.

- The number of new houses being built each year has increased from around 30,000 in 1995 to around 77,000 currently, with a significant proportion in the hinterland areas around our cities.

- The tonnage of goods transported nationally by road has increased from 85 million tonnes to 283 million tonnes.

All of these trends have had and will continue to have a significant impact on the ability of our transport infrastructure and services to cope. Against this challenging backdrop, we have been playing a fast and furious game of catch-up. Since 1997 we have invested some €7.8 billion in transport infrastructure. This level of investment has funded the completion of the M50 Dublin C-ring motorway and the M1 motorway from Dublin to Dundalk. The Dublin Port Access Tunnel is almost complete. The railway infrastructure on the entire inter-city national rail network has been modernised. The capacity of the commuter rail network in the Greater Dublin Area has been greatly increased with infrastructural improvements and a massive rolling stock acquisition programme. Two high capacity Luas light rail lines have been constructed. These are just some of the many transport projects advanced in recent years. Yes, a lot has been done.

However, despite that level of investment, more needs to be done. It is widely recognised that our transport infrastructure suffered from chronic under-investment for a number of years. Prior to the mid-90s, as a nation we simply did not have the financial resources to invest in major transport infrastructure projects. Since then, we have been and, indeed at this point in time, continue to be engaged in investment catch-up. We have been putting in place the level of transport infrastructure that is needed.

Transport 21recognises the different characteristics of investment in transport. Transport investment typically involves long construction phases and massive financial outlays. This has enabled Government to commit to the key projects that are central to addressing in a meaningful way the capacity problems faced by our present transport infrastructure.

A fundamental aspect of Transport 21 is the fact that it provides the basis for an integrated transport network. This is a key and overdue development. It is widely accepted that transport must be considered in a holistic way and not as an end in itself.

So what does Transport 21 entail?

An integrated transport system for Dublin, to include seven new Luas projects, two Metro lines, an underground station at St. Stephen's Green integrating all services and the Western Rail Corridor. In addition, a new commuter rail services for Cork City and Galway City, DART extensions in Dublin, and a new road route connecting Donegal, to Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford, known as the Atlantic Corridor are among a snapshot of the projects to be delivered under the plan.

What will it deliver?

175 million extra public transport users. 75 million extra suburban rail passengers. City Centre to Dublin Airport in 17 minutes by Metro. 80,000 more bus passengers per day. 80 million Luas and Metro passengers per annum. A doubling of Park & ride sites in Dublin to 74.

70kms of QBC in Cork. 187 new rail carriages. 850kms of dual carriageway, 2+1 and single carriageway roads.

We already have commenced the planning phases on new Luas projects. Tomorrow, I will announce the public consultation phase for Metro North, a service that will make it possible to travel from Dublin Airport to the City Centre in 17 minutes. Road projects have commenced, with the focus to continuing to be "on time, on budget" delivery.

A key element of Transport 21 is the continuation and expansion of the Public Private Partnership model, under which a number of our new national roads have been delivered effectively and within budget in recent years. We would welcome German participation in these partnerships.

Full details of Transport 21, including detailed maps is available on my Department's website which I think shows very clearly the extent of the rail network planned for Dublin under Transport 21.

Our success in the coming years will be fundamentally dependent on our ability to deliver a 21st century infrastructure for a 21st century Ireland. Connecting communities and promoting prosperity is at the core of Transport 21.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I do not wish to delay you any longer from your lunch. Thank you again for inviting me here today and for taking the time to listen.

Growth in all the wrong places?

Frank McDonald's views on planning and commuting:

Growth in all the wrong places

The county's population is likely to continue increasing, contrary to planning guidelines, writes Frank McDonald, Environment Editor

Kildare County Council has been ticked off more than once by ministers for not pursuing an overall strategy and failing to abide by the Strategic Planning Guidelines (SPGs) for the Greater Dublin Area. Yet nothing has been done to ensure that growth is channelled into the right areas.

Co Kildare is growing faster than any other county in the Republic with the single exception of Meath. The 2002 census showed it was just five people short of the Strategic Planning Guideline target of 164,000 for 2006, having recorded a 21.5 per cent increase in population since 1996 - mainly in areas close to Dublin.

The population of Naas rose by 30 per cent to 18,312. Newbridge grew slightly faster (by 32 per cent) to 8,686, while Kildare town went up by 29 per cent to 6,893 and Kilcock by more than 45 per cent to 3,251. Athy, more remote from Dublin, rose by just 18 per cent to 5,270.

These were all areas designated for growth under the SPGs, first published in 1999. But what was remarkable about the 2002 Census was its confirmation that villages that were never intended for development, other than to meet local needs, had become hot spots in the Dublin commuter belt.

Clane's population went up by nearly 30 per cent to 5,192 and Kill's by 37.5 per cent while Bodenstown grew by a staggering 120 per cent to 3,206. Growth rates in Leixlip and Maynooth, both in the Dublin metropolitan area, were much more modest.

Other designated growth centres that recorded population increases substantially less than the county average include Kilcullen (up 5.8 per cent to 1,780) and Monasterevin (up 12 per cent to 3,158). Celbridge, where the SPGs sought more controlled development, saw its figure rise by 28 per cent to 14,251.

The county council must shoulder the blame. Even as it was denying that there was any conflict between its own plan and the SPGs, the council was not only targeting Maynooth and Kilcock, which were both designated for development under the guidelines, but also Clane, Castledermot and Kill, which were not. Like other villages in Co Kildare, these are located in the "strategic greenbelt" of Dublin's hinterland, according to the SPGs. The draft local area plan for Kill, published in March 2001, even noted this greenbelt designation and the restriction of growth to local needs only before going on to propose doubling its population.

In the case of Castledermot, the local area plan also quoted from the SPGs' prohibition on development other than that required by local needs. But it, too, went on to suggest a 200 per cent increase in population by 2006. More than 500 new homes would be needed to accommodate this dramatic increase.

Conceding that most of the demand arises from Dublin's overspill, the council's housing strategy estimates the number of households in the county would grow by more than 26 per cent to 65,159 by 2006, and says that improved roads, sewerage, electricity and telecom services would be needed to cater for this.

As elsewhere, developers tend to get what they want in Co Kildare. On area committees, Fianna F�il and Fine Gael councillors unanimously support land rezoning wherever it is proposed and their decisions are then rubber-stamped by the full council. It's a free-for-all, of course, but with chaotic consequences.

However, not everyone in Co Kildare is as gung-ho about development as the councillors.

There was fierce resistance in Clane to what local people saw as aunseemly rush by councillors to rezone large tracts of land for housing on the outskirts of a village that lacked the facilities even to cater for its existing population. A massive campaign was waged against these rezonings in 1996, prompting the then minister for the environment, Labour's Brendan Howlin, to intervene. He refused to approve an early draft of the county development plan on the basis that it was being put together in a piecemeal fashion, with no overall strategy. After his successor, Noel Dempsey, sent back a revised draft in 1997, the county council engaged planning consultants Jonathan Blackwell Associates to draw up a new strategy. This provided the foundations for the revised county plan, which was finally adopted in May 1999. Though the local area plans for Clane and Kill were quashed by the High Court, on the grounds that they were being adopted out of time, the county council later proceeded to designate Clane as a "primary growth centre" in defiance of the SPGs and set a population target of 6,300 for the village, to be achieved by 2006. But Cllr Tony McEvoy (Ind), who unsuccessfully challenged the Meath county plan in the High Court, winning a moral victory in the process, maintains that if all of the zoned land in the area is developed - some 140 acres in total - Clane's population could soar to 10,000, or almost double the figure recorded last year.

Since the present county plan was adopted, a number of other towns and villages have been the subject of local area plans, all characterised by the over-zoning of land. These include Rathangan and even little-known Derrinturn, barely more than a crossroads, which could end up with a population exceeding 3,000. When individual targets for all the towns and villages with local area plans are added to a growing rural population, the county plan would cater for a total of 197,000 in Co Kildare by 2006 - 22 per cent more than the target set by the SPGs. Thus, there is no way the county council can claim to be in compliance.

The county plan assumed that the rural population of Kildare would remain constant, at around 36,000. Yet in 2001 alone, 900 "one-off" houses were built in the countryside, reflecting the view taken by county manager Niall Bradley, often in opposition to the council's planners. Over the past two years, An Taisce has lodged at least 60 appeals against schemes in Co Kildare, many of them cases where refusals were recommended by the planners. Of the 40 cases determined so far by An Bord Plean�la, the county council lost every single one. In one case, where a Dublin-based solicitor built a large two-storey house without planning permission in Ballycaghan, near Kilcock, and the Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, made representations on his behalf, the council has so far failed to seek a High Court injunction against this unauthorised development.

It was McCreevy, a local Fianna F�il TD, who allocated �2.5 million (€3.2 million) for the re-opening of Monasterevin train station in 2001. This was based on projections by the town's railway action committee that 95 per cent of the town's 270 Dublin-bound commuters would use it - a figure disputed by Iarnr�d �ireann. There has been a pathetically low return on this public investment. Though the town is now served by five mainline trains travelling to and from Dublin, average daily boardings amount to just 60. The only hope is that this will grow with Monasterevin.

Planning KIldare - current trends and development

Kildare - Current Trends and Development

This section describes the main trends and developments experienced in Kildare over the past number of years. The information provided here is a summary of the Kildare County Profile.

The profile draws on the most up-to-date statistics and information available. Unfortunately the most recent population statistics available are the Census 1996, which means that best estimates and alternative statistics have to be used. The profile will be updated when the results of the forthcoming Census 2002 become available.

Kildare and Dublin

County Kildare, once forming part of the historical buffer between Dublin and the Pale and the rest of Ireland, today forms the western most part of the Greater Dublin Area and remains the gateway to Dublin for most of the state.

The county’s location means it is well placed to gain from the benefits of its closeness to Dublin and also to cater for population and growth over-spill from the city. Over the past decade Kildare has both gained and suffered because of this.

Growth and Development in Kildare

Kildare has been the fastest growing county in Ireland since the early 1990s. This has placed very considerable pressures on the physical and social infrastructure and also on the natural and built environment of the county. Between 1991 and 1996 the total population of the county grew by 10.1%, compared to an increase of only 2.8% for the state.

The main causes of this increase in population are:

  • The influx of commuters
  • Job opportunities afforded by the location of new high-tech industries in the county
  • Overall population growth in Greater Dublin Area
  • Improvement in communications and transport systems enabling easier commuting
  • Immigration of non-Irish nationals and returning Irish emigrants

Naas TownThe majority of this growth and the consequent expansion in housing and other physical infrastructure, has been concentrated in the northeast of the county, particularly around Celbridge, Maynooth and Leixlip. This population growth has begun to spread to more westerly and southerly parts of the county. This is because the increased cost of housing close to Dublin means that people must move further away from the city in order to access affordable housing.

Population projections estimate that the population of the county in 2000 was 159,824, and will have increased from 134,992 in 1996 to more than 203,000 by 2011, an increase of 50% over 15 years. This estimate has major implications for the physical and social planning in the county, for the delivery of public services and also for building a sense of identity and community among new and long-established residents. Resourcing of all public sector infrastructure is a key requirement to enable integrated development to occur to cater for the range of requirements of the future population.

National & Regional Developments

A number of wider developments have had a significant influence on the development of Kildare since the late 1990’s. For the purposes of the National Development Plan 2000-2006, Kildare is part of the Southern & Eastern Region and no longer qualifies for the maximum amount of EU Structural funding.

The Strategic Planning Guidelines, produced in 1999, provide a framework for infrastructural development in the Greater Dublin Area. These Guidelines, together with the National Spatial Strategy due to be produced in 2002, will provide a model and outline for future spatial planning in the region.

The NSS looks at the entire country and the various population and other pressures being experienced. It will set out a policy to allow balanced development to occur within and around specific ‘gateway’ towns and hinterland areas. These developments and their implications should be considered as the way forward in future spatial planning within the county.

sheepKildare's Natural Environment

The county’s rich and diverse natural environment provides a number of unique features for the people of the county to both enjoy and protect. Many of these environmental features are closely identified with the county, in particular, the famous ‘Curragh of Kildare’ and the county’s boglands. The natural environment of the county has come under increasing pressures from population growth and development. At the same time awareness of the need to protect the environment has also increased. Within the county there are over 20 proposed National Heritage Areas and four candidate Special Areas of Conservation designed to protect Kildare’s diverse natural resources.

The protection of the environment, while at the same time meeting the needs of economic and social growth and the needs of future generations, will be key issues in the future development of the county.

Transport Infrastructure

MotorwayBecause of its location, some 80% of the state is connected to Dublin by roads which pass through Kildare, resulting in the county having one of the highest proportions of national roads infrastructure in the country. The increase in the number of people, from Kildare and further afield, commuting to and from Dublin and other locations, has meant that the volume of traffic on the roads in the county is increasing at a rate of up to 13% per year. This is a much greater increase compared to considerably lower growth and pressure on roads in other counties in the Mid East region. Increased commuting has also placed demands on rail and bus transport. Iarnrod Eireann intend to provide for a four-tracking of the rail line to Celbridge plus other improvements to rail in the county to cater for growing demand and the number of scheduled bus routes is increasing.
This growing volume of users has implications for the quality of the transport
infrastructure. It points to the need for increased use and development of public transport in Kildare.

Environmental Management Infrastructure

Increased levels of domestic, commercial and industrial waste are placing substantial pressures on the waste management infrastructure in the county. The Waste Management Plan for County Kildare 2000-2005 sets out the strategy for the effective environmenta management in the county. An estimated 52,774 tonnes of domestic waste alone were generated in 2001. This figure is expected to grow to over 73,000 tonnes in 2011, an increase of 40% over 10 years. Increased recycling, reduction of waste and reuse of materials is crucial if the environment of the county is to be protected in the future.

Pressure is also increasing on the water, sewage and power supply systems in the county. Kildare Local Authorities are responsible for ensuring that the county has adequate water supplies and sewage disposal and continually monitor and upgrade these services. Increased provision of natural gas and peat-fired electricity are planned for the county from extended supply systems.

Telecommunications infrastructure in the county is also increasing with the roll-out of broadband and fibre-optic cables by the main telecom providers in the country. A full understanding of the need to respond to the provision of these and other key infrastructural elements will ensure that the county is well served in terms of physical infrastructure over the coming years.

Housing in Kildare

Housing supply in the Greater Dublin Area and the provision of affordable housing have become major issues in the region over the past number of years. Within the county, the greatest demand for housing at present is concentrated in Naas, Newbridge and Kildare Town. The County Housing Strategy 2001-2006 aims to ensure that adequate housing is provided for people living in the county. While this Strategy will ensure adequate housing, house prices will continue to be determined by demand in the market.

In the future, it is essential that social infrastructure and services are provided in tandem with housing if learning from previous decades is to be acted on and the quality of life of residents is to be protected and improved.

The Economy of Kildare

Economic indicators for the county show that Kildare is one of the most affluent counties in the country with per capita disposable incomes second only to Dublin in 1997. Between 1991 and 1996 the total number of persons at work who were living in the county increased by 26%, compared with an increase of 10% nationally. The highest gains in employment occurred in Clane, Maynooth and Celbridge.

The past decade has also seen a number of other changes in the economy of the county. The national decline in agriculture has also been experienced in Kildare pointing to the need for off-farm enterprises and part-time employment opportunities for farmers. At the same time, new industries have moved into Kildare, most notably high-tech multinational and national companies. Almost 60% of total employment in Kildare is in companies that are part of the technologically advanced sectors, compared to 45% nationally. The services sector has also continued to grow and is now the most rapidly growing sector of the economy in Kildare.

In order to sustain economic growth and capitalise on the new opportunities for employment that these changes in the economy offer, career guidance, the skills and retraining of the workforce and the infrastructure of the county need to be developed to meet the needs of business in the future.

Climate change and planning - a survey from Tara Watch

Climate Change Challenge Survey Results Reveal Political Party Positions on Transport Policy and Spending’

Posted in News, Transport, Tolls, Climate Change at 4:24 pm by Vincent


‘Climate Change Challenge Survey Results Reveal Political Party Positions on Transport Policy and Spending’

Results of a survey of political party’s views on climate change were received on Friday 24th November, revealing divergent views of transport related issues. A 10 question, Climate Change Challenge, survey was sent on Monday 20th November to all political parties, Oireachtas members, as well as members of Meath County Council and the National Roads Authority. The results were to be published and discussed at a conference on Saturday, 25th November. However, that conference had to be postponed until the new year, due to a scheduling conflict at the venue.

The responses revealed unanimous agreement that climate change is a very important issue but highlighted crucial differences between the political parties in their approach to meeting the climate change challenge, particularly in the area of transport spending.

Questions included issues of green taxes on motorists, new legislation, toll roads and whether there should be a new cost-benefit analysis of Transport 21 and the upcoming 2007 National Development Plan in light of the new data on the effects of climate change on the economy.

Scheduled to speak at the conference were Dr. Liam Leonard of the Department of Sociology and Politics, NUI Galway and Pat Finnegan of GRIAN, the Greenhouse Ireland Action Network. Then there was to be a panel discussion, featuring Cllr. Eugene Regan (FG), Sean Crowe, TD (SF), Cllr. Dermot Lacey (Lab), Ciaran Cuffe, TD (GP), and Senate candidate Martin Hogan (Ind).

Answers to the survey were received from Fiona O’Malley, TD (PD); Eamon Gilmore, TD, (Lab); Cllr. Eugene Regan (FG); Ciaran Cuffe, TD; and Dr. Liam Leonard. They are provided after each question below. Sinn Fein would not doubt have given their views at the conference and Fianna Fail did not send a response, nor send a delegate to the conference. It is hoped that they will respond to a more comprehensive survey that will now be sent to all parties in advance of the rescheduled conference.

The Climate Change Challenge was initiated by NGOs campaigning on transport and environment issues in County Meath, and that county will be used as a case study for analysing government policy and spending on transport. However, it is hoped that it will create a forum for all political parties, NGOs and the public to join in ongoing debate on how to tackle the climate change challenge in Ireland.

Joanne Corbett, one of the organisers, said:

“Climate change is the most important issue currently facing Ireland, and unlike most other countries, we have not yet begun our national conversation on how to address it.

“This is about real and immediate choices being made now, particularly in Government spending on transport, in response to a clear and present threat to our way of life, both in Ireland and around the world.

“We are very pleased that so many of the political parties, as well as groups like GRIAN and Friends of the Earth, agreed to respond to our survey and participate in the conference. And we do hope that we will have all of the parties participating soon.

Spatial plan a load of nonsense

David McWilliams tells us planners what he thinks of the National Spatial Strategy:

Apparently, we have a National Spatial Strategy.

It was published some time last year, or maybe it was the year before. It was full of hubs, corridors and gateways. It said something about more balanced development, more decentralising of jobs and generally less congestion, commuting and snarl.

Like a national school project, a lovely map of the country was unveiled with lots of straight blue and red lines. It alluded to fancy-sounding things like radial corridors and seemed very progressive at the time. Economic activity, research and employment were to be spread more or less evenly around the country. Most crucially, this would take pressure off house prices in the Dublin area.

No expense was spared on the PR exercise to unveil it and the later plan for decentralisation of civil servants.

Unfortunately, just like the Luas, the National Spatial Strategy and plan for decentralisation did not join up.

Towns which were supposed to become hubs and gateways and, as such, were earmarked for jobs and development, didn’t get earmarked for civil servants. Other towns seemed to be getting government departments based on the precariousness of the local government politician’s electoral majority.

But who cared? Did anyone notice? For awhile, little else was talked about. The only problem was that it was all nonsense.

There has been little effort to plan the country and, even when there is planning, it is rarely implemented. Planning a growing economy is like clothing a growing teenager - you buy him expensive trainers and combats and, within six months, he has outgrown both.

Similarly, with a growing economy, roads that are adequate today are jammed within eight months. The capacity of some trains was increased last year, but they resemble the Calcutta Express already.

Towns that were villages in 2001 are now concrete jungles. So, even if there was an effective planning strategy, it needs to be modified, expanded and updated constantly.

But don’t worry about these hypothetical details, because the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing - our government says one thing and does precisely the opposite.

For example, last Thursday, the IDA- a central agent of government policy - unveiled plans to seek pre-planning permission for new high-tech businesses. The idea is that a tailor-made technology campus be put in place before investment decisions of large multinationals are made.

Having such ready-made sites available would obviously encourage investors to set up here. The IDA forecasts that 2,000 jobs will come to the campus in the next few years, which is great news. The only problem is that it is in west Dublin. Just in case you hadn’t noticed, west Dublin is the most congested, badly-planned place in the country.

Now, let’s go back to the great National Spatial Strategy. According to this plan, this type of development was to be relocated away from Dublin, allowing the city to breathe and, in turn, to re-energise parts of the west and south of the country.

But no - that’s only in dreamland. Back here in Ireland, PR takes precedence over planning.

So this little development will add to the swelling of Dublin. But just how dominant is Dublin?

To get an idea of its bloated pre-eminence, let’s take a trip to our maternity wards. There were more babies delivered in Dublin in 2004 than in the entire province of Munster - an area 20 times bigger.

There were three times more babies delivered in Dublin than in the entire province of Connacht.

But these babies are not born to city dwellers; they are largely the progeny of the commuter class - the ‘Kells Angels’.

The census reveals a crescent stretching from Drogheda to Arklow, where people are commuting more than one and a half hours a day. This large ‘baby belt’ is home to the most fertile counties in the land and is creating a dependency on Dublin that will be very hard to rebalance.

At the moment, Dublin’s truly overwhelming dominance means that commuting begins in the womb. The commuting foetus is uniquely Irish. In the same way as maternity books advise mothers to play classical music to their unborn children, the fact that expectant mothers from towns like Kells, Navan, Wicklow and Edenderry have to commute in the traffic to Dublin for scans and proper antenatal care, can be seen as perfect pre-birth training for life on the outside.

The newborn child will be able to tell his Mozart from his Bach, his hard shoulder from his roadworks, his unleaded from his diesel, his M50 from his N11, and his Abbeyleix jam from his Monasterevin bypass. A perfect traffic symphony for the traffic people - a sort of fanfare for the common commuter.

But who benefits from this haphazard development? The developers, for starters.

It has been said that Fianna Fail is the political wing of the construction industry, and a quick glance at the residents in the Fianna Fail tent at the Galway Races every year would suggest that this is not too far from the truth.

Is this closeness to the construction/land/property industry healthy? Obviously not, particularly as the housing market is overheated already. Think about the following statistic: we are building more houses per head than post-war Germany did when trying to rebuild itself from scratch.

Why are so many houses going up now?

Because they have to build as quickly as possible. Many developers who have bought sites at astronomical prices need to get the houses up immediately, just in case anything happens to the market. Nobody wants to be sitting on a huge land bank on the day it dawns on the Irish that we do not need all these extra houses.

A conspiracy theorist would suggest that the reason for the National Spatial Strategy in the first place was to copper-bottom the investments of well-placed developers who saw their land zoned into perpetuity. The reason it has not yet been implemented is because the same developers’ other land banks have not been fully developed yet.

When they are, the government will introduce the plan in earnest. But who believes conspiracy theorists? Surely not you, not here, not now?

One of the less obvious problems with developer-led rather than planner-led policy is that it is anti-economic in nature.

Much of economics is about scale: if a town or a region has scale or mass, it can become self-sufficient. It will be able to sustain itself.

Typically, on the continent, regions are aggregated together to create a sustainable community of larger and smaller towns. They market and advertise themselves as one. For example, in Belgium, the towns of Bruges, Ghent and Ostend marketed themselves as the region of west Flanders, with predictably positive economic results that broke the commuter link with Brussels.

If this were done in the midlands of Ireland, it could prevent the great sucking sound of the area being drawn into Dublin with the attendant commuting and overcrowding issues.

The problem for the midlands now is that it might already be too late. None of the five main towns has a population of more than 20,000 and, as this column has pointed out before, close to half the populations of Athlone, Tullamore and Mullingar now commute to work.

Without scale, these towns will be unable to resist the gravitational pull of Dublin and decisions such as the IDA’s one last Thursday will make that more difficult.

Moving 10,000 civil servants won’t do much either. Think about it: more than 120,000 people will move jobs this year.

This puts the hullabaloo about moving a few thousand civil servants into context.

But what about Cork, Galway and Limerick? Well, it appears that the spatial strategy does not see these as being in any way linked. It has been suggested that a motorway arc linking these three substantial cities would be smart and, given the fact that they are the only three urban centres of any significance outside Dublin, this would seem the only way to redress the eastern pull of development.

But, of course, that might make too much sense and risk being seen as too revolutionary; and it might not suit the vested interests.

So we will just plod along, commuting in the sprawl where the new suburbs and older towns are unable to break the umbilical ties to Dublin - Ireland’s 21st century placenta.

David McWilliams’s book The Pope’s Children, published by Gill & Macmillan, is in shops now.


Dublin's relentless sprawl leaves planning in tatters

Useful article on sprawl by Frank McDonald:

Even Cavan is now in the capital's commuter belt, writes Frank McDonald , Environment Editor.

Every set of figures tells a story, and the preliminary report on last April's census is no exception. Indeed, its population statistics starkly illuminate the Government's laissez-faire approach to regional planning and its abject failure to ensure that growth happens in an orderly way in the right places.

This is dramatically true in the case of Dublin. Under the 1999 Strategic Planning Guidelines for the Greater Dublin Area (GDA), a policy of consolidating the metropolitan area was laid down, with only limited growth envisaged for the major towns of its hinterland. But even by census 2002 this was already in tatters.

Census 2006 has confirmed the sprawl of Dublin into Leinster, and even into parts of Ulster. As the Central Statistics Office (CSO) noted in its own commentary, Cavan had the highest growth rate of the State's three Ulster counties, with "the main stimulus coming from the south of the county, which is within commuting distance of Dublin".

Virginia is now a Dublin suburb. Its population rose by 34.5 per cent to 3,188 over the past four years. The outskirts of Gorey, Co Wexford - 100km from the capital - recorded an even more dramatic population increase of 53.2 per cent, while Enniscorthy's fell by 14.1 per cent; it has not been drawn into the Dublin commuter belt - yet.

Leinster's share of the State's overall population has continued to increase, largely fuelled by the sprawl of Dublin; it now accounts for just over 54 per cent of the total. All of the counties in Leinster increased their populations between 2002 and 2006, in most cases by more than the national average rate of 8.1 per cent.

Over the past 10 years, as the CSO noted, three Leinster counties - Fingal, Meath and Kildare - accounted for nearly 30 per cent of the 609,000 growth in the State's population. Fingal grew by an astonishing 22.1 per cent over the past four years, with the largest increase (32.3 per cent) being in the Blakestown area of Blanchardstown.

Between them, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow registered an increase of 15.1 per cent in the same period. The Midland Region, with an 11.5 per cent rise, also comfortably exceeded the national average rate of increase. As the CSO noted, its counties - Laois, Longford, Offaly and Westmeath - also form part of the wider Dublin commuter belt.

By contrast, Dublin's own population grew by just 5.6 per cent, with the large increase in Fingal being offset by smaller increases in Dublin city (2 per cent), Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown (1 per cent) and South Dublin (3.4 per cent). The main reasons were attributed by the CSO to "the relatively low level of new housing and an ageing population".

As Hubert Fitzpatrick, director of the Irish Home Builders' Association, said: "What is happening is that the failure to provide sufficient zoned and serviced lands in Dublin . . . is creating a doughnut effect, whereby increasing numbers of Dublin-based workers are being forced to move further and further from the city".

And as outer suburban areas experienced spectacular growth - 54.6 per cent in Ratoath, Co Meath, for example - established suburbs saw their populations decline. The Ludford area of Ballinteer and Williamstown in Blackrock - both in south Co Dublin - each fell by 10.2 per cent, while the centre of Dún Laoghaire dropped by 13.1 per cent.

Declines ranging from 8.1 to 9.2 per cent were registered for other Dublin suburbs experiencing the effects of the "empty nest" syndrome, such as Beaumont, Cabra, Harmonstown and Rathmines. This was true even in parts of Tallaght, where the population fell by 11.5 per cent in Killinarden and by 16.6 per cent in Glenview, while Jobstown went up by 27.9 per cent.

The flight of younger people to outer suburban areas was mirrored in Cork, Limerick and Waterford. The populations of Cork city and Limerick city fell by 3.2 per cent and 2.7 per cent respectively, even though Co Cork (up 11.4 per cent) was the fastest growing county in Munster, followed by Co Waterford (up 9.2 per cent) and Co Limerick (up 8.3 per cent).

Co Galway experienced an 11 per cent increase, while the rapid growth in the population of Galway city experienced since the 1991 census moderated to 9.3 per cent between 2002 and 2006. One of the reasons given was that many infill developments in city areas consisted of apartments catering for only one or two persons.

One encouraging trend is the re-population of Dublin's inner city. The biggest increase (56 per cent) was recorded in Arran Quay C, largely as a result of the redevelopment of Smithfield. Other major growth areas include Kilmainham (up 45.2 per cent) and Merchants Quay E (up 42 per cent).

Residential developments in Docklands are also reflected in the census results, with North Dock C up by 15.6 per cent and South Dock by 36.1 per cent, while frenetic building activity on the city's northern fringe has boosted Grange by 34.3 per cent and Kilmore A by 20 per cent.

But Hubert Fitzpatrick is right in saying that the planning system "seriously miscalculated population trends", especially in the GDA. Regional planning guidelines based their zoning recommendations on a projected population of 1.8 million by 2020. However, with this already at 1.67 million, the real figure in 2020 is more likely to be 2.2 million.

"This has huge implications for the amount of land zoned for all types of development and for the resources put aside to service these lands," he said.

More generally, the rising population will place added pressures on an already burdened public infrastructure - even as many existing facilities are under-utilised as a result of the crazy pattern of Ireland's growth.

An Bord Pleanala Have Refused Appeal On Kimpton Vale Development, Diswellstown

The emailer who just contact me should know that An Bord Pleanala has turned down an appeal by Kimpton Vale against the decision by Fingal County Council to refuse planning permission for an increase in the height and density of its already permitted development at Diswellstown.

The original planning permission approved 131 dwelling units, but this was followed by an application to increase the development to a 4 – 8 storey apartment block of 210 apartments.

Public Consultation on Phoenix Park Study

The OPW will be holding a public consultation as part of the Traffic Management Study on the Phoenix Park on Friday the 8th December in the St. Oliver Plunkett GAA Sports Ground, Glendhu Road, Kinvara, Navan Road, Dublin 7. The study will be available for public viewing in a number of locations prior to the discussion to allow people to familiarise themselves with it.

It can be viewed at:

The Visitor Centre, Phoenix Park, (Daily 10.00am to 17.00pm)

Cabra Library, Navan Road, Dublin 7 (Monday to Thursday 10.00 to 20.00pm, Friday and Saturday 10.00am to 17.00pm)

Fingal County Council Offices, Grove Road, Blanchardstown Shopping Centre (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 16.30pm)

Applying for planning permission

Planning Permission


If you are going to build a house in Ireland, you will need planning permission. If you are going to build an extension or make other changes to your existing house, you may need planning permission. Some small extensions and conservatories do not need planning permission but you should make sure of this before you start building. Your local authority will be able to advise you about this and tell you how to apply as well as giving you general advice about your application. Your local authority will also be able to tell you whether your proposals are likely to comply with the development plan for your area.

There are three types of planning permission: permission, outline permission and permission consequent on outline permission. The most common type is permission, sometimes called full permission. However, if you want to see if the planning authority agrees in principle to you building a house on a particular site or building a large extension, you might apply for outline permission, which will require you to produce only the plans and particulars that are necessary to enable the planning authority to make a decision in relation to the siting, layout or other proposals for development. If you get outline permission, you will have to submit detailed drawings and receive consequent permission before you start building work. Generally, outline permissions have a 3-year duration.

It is an offence to carry out any work that requires planning permission, without planning permission, and the offence can carry very heavy fines and imprisonment. However, if a genuine mistake has been made, it is possible to apply for planning permission to retain an unauthorised development. This permission may be refused, in which case, the unauthorised development will have to be demolished.

Generally, the local planning authority must make a decision on a planning application within 8 weeks of receiving the application, but if the local authority needs more information, or the decision is appealed, it may take much longer.

Anyone can see a copy of your application and on payment of a fee of 20 euro, can make a written submission/observation on it. The decision on your planning permission will be notified to you and anyone who commented in writing on it.

If the local authority decides to give you planning permission, you will get a notice of intention to grant planning permission. If no one appeals the decision to An Bord Pleanála within 4 weeks of the date of this decision, you will get grant of permission from the local authority.


You must give a public notice of your proposals before making an application. This must be done by placing a notice in a locally circulating newspaper (your local authority will have a list) and putting up a site notice that can be clearly read. You will find details of information that must be contained in the notices in the planning application form.

The application must be received by the local authority within 2 weeks of the notice appearing in the local newspaper and the erection of the site notice. The site notice must remain in place for at least 5 weeks from the date of receipt of the planning application.

You must not start building before you receive the grant of permission.

Normally, planning permission is subject to conditions, some of which may require changes to your proposals.

Planning permission normally lasts for five years. You may be required to make a financial contribution towards the construction of any road, water supply or sewerage that may be necessary.

If the local authority refuses your application, it will give you the reasons for this. You have 4 weeks from the date of this decision to appeal to An Bord Pleanála.


You have to pay a fee with your application. Different fees apply to different types of development. The current fee for an application to build a house is 65 euro. The fee for a house extension or the conversion of a garage, etc., for use as part of a house is 34 euro.

How to apply

You apply for planning permission by filling in a planning application form and submitting it together with required documents to your local authority.

Your local authority will be able to give you advice about how to apply, whether your proposals are likely to comply with the development plan, what other documents you will need, what the fee will be and any other requirements.

It is a good idea to talk to the local authority before you make an application. This may save you long delays later on.

If you are employing an architect, he/she will normally make the application on your behalf.

In general, you will need to submit the following documents with your application:

  • *A location map (6 copies).
  • *Site or layout plan (6 copies).
  • Other plans ,elevations and sections (6 copies).
  • *Copies of public notices (newspaper and site).
  • *A plan showing the position of a site notice or notices.
  • *Where appropriate, a certificate issued by the planning authority verifying that the development proposed is for no more than 4 houses or for housing development on land of 0.2 hectares or less. If such a certificate has been applied for but not issued, a copy of the application, which itself must meet specific requirements, will suffice.
  • *The appropriate fee.

If the application is for outline permission only, the documents marked * in the above list must be submitted. This is to enable the planning authority to make a decision in relation to the siting, layout or other proposals for development in the application.

Where to apply

To apply for planning permission, contact the Chief Officer of the Planning Department of your local authority.

The Enliven Report

The ENLIVEN Report

The ENLIVEN ReportEnergy Networks Linking Innovation in Villages in Europe Now

The ENLIVEN project is a cross sector partnership led by Irish Rural Link. Partners are: Offaly County Council; Feasta, the Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability; Dundalk Institute of Technology; Methanogen; EOS Architects; Martin Langton, Developer; Pauric Davis and Associates, Engineers; Michael Layden, Community Energy Consultant; Sean Riordan, Developer.

Executive Summary

Historically, communities developed in places where resources were available. Today however, many rural communities are in decline because the use of fossil fuels has devalued their renewable energy sources, made the growing of many non-food crops irrelevant, and exposed their food products to price competition from places where land is more abundant.

This project is based on the premise that the tide may be about to turn. Restrictions on the use of fossil fuel in response to the threat of climate change and because of oil and gas depletion are about to make energy supplies scarcer and more costly. Handled correctly, this could create the circumstances in which rural communities will again be able to grow by developing their local resources, particularly those of energy.

The project focuses on what that 'correct handling' involves and breaks a lot of new ground. It takes two small neighbouring communities in rural Ireland, chosen only because largish housing and other construction projects were being planned, and assesses their renewable energy potential. It then looks at how that potential can be realised in ways that would benefit everyone living in the communities at present and those who might move there in the future.

It will establish the prototype of a model process to develop the renewable energy resources and link them to energy networks serving rural villages. The pilot projects in the two villages, Cadamstown and Ballyboy, will be developed with private sector partners projects to test the technical and financial aspects of the model. Later phases will demonstrate a new planning and development model, a partnership between the local authority, villagers, development agencies and private consultants. The project involves:

  1. The construction of the first electrical minigrid supply systems in Ireland for the past seventy years.
  2. The construction of the first district heating systems for a mixed development of private housing, visitor and recreational and commercial buildings anywhere in Ireland.
  3. The erection of 2 wind turbines, one near each village, a wood-chip-fired CHP plant in one village and a biogas digester plus a biogas-fired CHP plant in the other in the First Phase.
  4. The efficient management of these plants and the supply and sale of their heat and electricity output by Energy Supply Companies (ESCo).
  5. The development of metering systems which allow customers to buy wind generated electricity whenever a surplus of it is available at little more than the opportunity cost of selling it into the grid.
  6. The establishment of a pool of electrically-powered vehicles for use by the village businesses, residents and visitors.
  7. The establishment of a community asset management company in each village to own and control the common non-energy assets created by the project.
  8. The large-scale use of construction materials sourced from the local area in the construction of highly energy efficient buildings.
  9. Research into ways of storing energy for convenient use such as small-scale hydro - a demonstration project will be investigated for Cadamstown - and the newest generation of batteries called flow batteries.
  10. Research into ways in which savings of Co2 can be passed back to the communities which made them through green certificates, carbon emission permits, quotas or other grant or tax measures.
  11. Research into ways in which increases in property-values due to the activities of the local authorities, community asset management companies and energy services companies can be better captured for those who created them.
  12. Research into growing and harvesting methods for new non-food crops for construction such as hemp and for bio fuels such as rapeseed.
  13. Funding the National Agreement Certification process for innovative ecological building construction systems to support its adoption anywhere in Ireland for social housing, first time buyers and in rural tax incentive areas.
  14. The drawing up in Phase 2, in conjunction with the local county council and village residents, of Framework Plans for a further eight villages in addition to the Phase 1 projects.
  15. The extension by the county council of the energy minigrids, plus the provision of the roads, water, and sewage systems under an Integrated Infrastructure Initiative described under the Framework Plan. The county council would recover the cost of this work under the provisions of Section 49 of the Planning Act. This is a novel way of handling village development.
  16. The dissemination of this experience, through a dedicated Local Energy Advisory Agency and a Village Framework Plan Advisory Agency supported by a revolving fund, as a model for rural development.

nuclear power planning

Useful paper from


by David Fleming, April 2006

It takes a lot of fossil energy to mine uranium, and then to extract and prepare the right isotope for use in a nuclear reactor. It takes even more fossil energy to build the reactor, and, when its life is over, to decommission it and look after its radioactive waste.

As a result, with current technology, there is only a limited amount of uranium ore in the world that is rich enough to allow more energy to be produced by the whole nuclear process than the process itself consumes. This amount of ore might be enough to supply the world's total current electricity demand for about six years.

Moreover, because of the amount of fossil fuel and fluorine used in the enrichment process, significant quantities of greenhouse gases are released. As a result, nuclear energy is by no means a 'climate-friendly' technology.

A quick guide to nuclear terms

Nuclear power promises much. It is based on a process which does not produce carbon dioxide. It is produced in a relatively small number of very large plants, so that it fits easily onto the national grid. And there is even the theoretical prospect of it being able to breed its own fuel. So, what's the problem?

The form of nuclear power available to us at present comes from nuclear fission, fuelled by uranium. Uranium-235 is an isotope of uranium with the rare and useful property that, when struck by a neutron, it splits into two and, in the process, produces more neutrons which then proceed to split more atoms of uranium-235 in a chain of events which produces a huge amount of energy. We can get an idea of how much energy it produces, by looking at Einstein's famous equation, E=mc2, which says that the energy produced is the mass multiplied by the square of the speed of light. A little bit of mass disappears in the process - we can think of this as the material weighing slightly less at the end of the process than at the beginning - and it is that "missing" mass which turns into energy which can be used to make steam to drive turbines and produce electricity. Neutrons from the reaction which strike one of the other isotopes of uranium: uranium-238, are more likely to be absorbed by the atom which transforms it into plutonium-239. Plutonium-239 shares with uranium-235 the property that it, too, splits when struck by neutrons, so that the plutonium-239 then begins to act as a fuel as well.2

The process has to be controlled; otherwise, it would be a bomb. The control is provided by a "moderator", in the form of large quantities of, for instance, water or graphite, whose presence means that the neutrons cannot so easily find the next link in the chain, so the sequence slows down or stops. Eventually, however, the uranium gets clogged with radioactive impurities such as the barium and krypton produced when uranium-235 decays, along with "transuranic" elements such as americium and neptunium, and a lot of the uranium-235 gets used up. It takes a year or two for this to happen, but eventually the fuel elements have to be removed, and a fresh ones inserted.

The used fuel elements are very hot and radioactive (stand close to one for a second or two and you are dead), so there are some tricky questions about what to do with them. Sometimes they are recycled (reprocessed), to extract some of the remaining uranium and plutonium to use again, although you don't get as much fuel back as you started with, and the bulk of the impurities remains. Alternatively, the whole lot is disposed-of - but there is more to this than just dumping it somewhere, for it never really goes away. The half-life of an element is the time it takes for half of it to decay; the half-life of uranium-238, which is the largest constituent of the waste, and which keeps the whole thing radioactive, is about the same as the age of the earth: 4.5 billion years.3

Those are the principles. Now for a closer look at what nuclear power means. It is quite important that we should do this, because nuclear power cannot be sensibly discussed on the basis of popular misconceptions such as the one about nuclear energy producing almost no carbon dioxide.

The principal source for the discussion that follows is the work of Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith, but the interpretation of their work, and its application in the context of current energy options, is the author's. The paper relies centrally, but not exclusively, on work from this one source, and the implications of this are discussed in the concluding section.4


Mining and milling

Uranium is widely distributed in the earth's crust but only in minute quantities, with the exception of a few places where it has accumulated in concentrations rich enough to be uses as an ore. The main deposits of ore, in order of size, are in Australia, Kazakhstan, Canada, South Africa, Namibia, Brazil, the Russian Federation, the USA, and Uzbekistan. There are some very rich ores; concentrations as high as 1 percent have been found, but 0.1 percent (one part per thousand) or less is usual. Most of the usable "soft" (sandstone) uranium ore has a concentration in the range between 0.2 and 0.01 percent; in the case of "hard" (granite) ore, the usable lower limit is 0.02 percent. The mines are usually open-cast pits which may be up to 250m deep. The deeper deposits require underground workings and some uranium is mined by "in situ leaching", where hundreds of tonnes of sulphuric acid, nitric acid, ammonia and other chemicals are injected into the strata and then pumped up again after some 5- 25 years, yielding about a quarter of the uranium from the treated rocks and depositing unquantifiable amounts of radioactive and toxic metals into the local environment and aquifers.5

When it has been mined, the ore is milled to extract the uranium oxide. In the case of ores with a concentration of 0.1 percent, the milling must grind up approximately 1,000 tonnes of rock to extract just one tonne of the bright yellow uranium oxide, called "yellowcake". Both the oxide and the tailings (that is, the 999 tonnes of rock that remain) are kept radioactive indefinitely by, for instance, uranium-238, and they contain all thirteen of its radioactive decay products, each one changing its identity as it decays into the next, and together forming a cascade of heavy metals, with spectacularly varied half-lives.

As old as the earth

The decay sequence of uranium-238

The sequence starts with uranium-238. Half of it decays in 4.5 billion years, turning as it does so into thorium-234 (24 days), protactinium-234 (one minute), uranium-234 (245,000 years), thorium-230 (76,000 years), radium-226 (1,600 years), radon-222 (3.8 days), polonium-218 (3 minutes), lead-214 (27 minutes), bismuth-214 (20 minutes), polonium-214 (180 microseconds), lead-210 (22 years), bismuth-210 (5 days), polonium-210 (138 days) and, at the end of the line, lead-206 (non-radioactive).

Once these radioactive rocks have been disturbed and milled, they stay around to cause trouble. They take up much more space than they did in their undisturbed state, and their radioactive products are free to be washed and blown away into the environment by rain and wind. These tailings ought therefore to be treated: the acids should be neutralised with limestone and made insoluble with phosphates; the mine floor should be sealed with clay before the treated tailings are put back into it; the overburden should be replaced and the area should be replanted with indigenous vegetation. In practice, all this is hardly ever done. It is expensive, and it also requires approximately four times the amount of energy that was needed to extract the ore in the first place.6

Preparing the fuel

The uranium oxide then has to be enriched. Yellowcake contains only about 0.7 percent uranium-235; the rest is mainly uranium-234 and -238, neither of which directly support the needed chain reaction. In order to bring the concentration of uranium-235 up to the concentration of uranium-235 up to the required 3.5 percent, the oxide is reacted with fluorine to form uranium hexafluoride (UF6), or "hex", a substance with the useful property that it changes - "sublimes" - from a solid to a gas at 56.5°C, and it is as a gas that it is fed into an enrichment plant. About 85 percent of it promptly comes out again as waste in the form of depleted uranium hexafluoride. Some of that waste is chemically converted into depleted uranium metal, which is then in due course distributed back into the environment via its use in armour-piercing shells, but most of it is kept as uranium hexafluoride in its solid form. It ought then to be placed in sealed containers for final disposal in a geological depositary; however, owing to the cost of doing this, and the scarcity of suitable places for it, much of it is put on hold: in the United States, during the last fifty years, 500,000 tonnes of depleted uranium have accumulated in cool storage (to stop it subliming), designated as "temporary".7

The enriched uranium is then converted into ceramic pellets of uranium dioxide (UO2) and packed in zirconium alloy tubes which are finally bundled together to form fuel elements for reactors.8


The fuel can now be used to produce heat to raise the steam to generate electricity. In due course the process generates waste in the form of spent fuel elements and, whether these are then reprocessed and re-used or not, eventually they have to be disposed of. But first they must be allowed to cool off, as the various isotopes present decay, in ponds for between 10 and 100 years - sixty years may be taken as typical. Various ideas about how to deal with them finally are current, but there is no standard, routinely-implemented practice. One option is to pack them, using remotely-controlled robots, into very secure containers lined with lead, steel and pure electrolytic copper, in which they must lie buried for millions of years in secure geological depositaries. It may turn out in due course that there is one best solution, but there will never be an ideal way to store waste which will be radioactive for millions of years and, whatever leastbad option is chosen, it will require a lot of energy: it is estimated that the energy cost of making the lead-steel-copper containers needed to package the spent fuel produced by a reactor is about the same as the energy needed to construct the reactor.9

A second form of waste produced in the generation process consists of the routine release of very small amounts of radioactive isotopes such as hydrogen-3 (tritium), carbon-14, plutonium-239 and many others into the local air and water. The significance of this has only recently started to be recognised and investigated.10

A third, less predictable form of waste occurs in the form of accidental emissions and catastrophic releases in the event of accident. The nuclear industry has good safety systems in place; it has to have them, because the consequences of an accident are so extreme. However, it is not immune to accident. The work is routine, and the staff at some reactors have been described by a nuclear engineer as "asleep at the wheel". There is also the prospect, rising to certainty with the increase in numbers and the passage of time, of sabotage by staff, of the flooding of reactors by rising sealevels, and poor training and systems, particularly if a nuclear programme were to be developed in haste by governments eager to produce energy as fast as possible to make up for the depletion of oil and gas. Every technology has its accidents. The risk never goes away; society bears the pain and carries on but, in the case of nuclear power, there is a difference: the consequences of a serious accident - another accident on the scale of Chernobyl, or greater, or much greater. It is accepted that the damage could be so great that it was far beyond the capacity of the world's insurance industry to cover. It has therefore been agreed that governments should step in and meet the costs of a nuclear accident once the damage goes beyond a certain limit. In Britain, the Nuclear Installations Act of 1965 requires a plant's operator to pay a maximum of £150 million in the ten years after the incident. The government would cover any excess and pay for any damage that arose between ten and thirty years afterwards. Under international conventions, the government would also cover any cross-border liabilities up to a maximum of about £300 million. These figures seem to grossly understate the problem. If Bradwell power station in Essex blew up and there was an east wind, London would have to be evacuated. Perhaps even the whole of southern England. The potential costs of a nuclear accident could be closer to £300 trillion rather than £300 million, six orders of magnitude greater.

A fourth type of "waste" is the plutonium itself which, when isolated and purified in a reprocessing plant, can be brought up to weapons-grade, making it the fuel needed for nuclear proliferation. This is one of two ways in which the nuclear industry is used as the platform from which the proliferation of nuclear weapons can be developed; the other one is by enriching the uranium-235 to around 90 percent, rather than the mere 3.5 percent required by a nuclear reactor.

The reactor

The maximum full-power lifetime is 24 years, but most reactors fall short of that. During that time, they require regular maintenance and at least one major refurbishing; towards the end of their lives, corrosion and intense radioactivity make reliable maintenance impossible. Eventually, they must be dismantled, but experience of this, particularly in the case of large reactors, is limited. As a first step, the fuel elements must be removed and put into storage; the cooling system must be cleaned to reduce radioactive CRUD (Corrosion Residuals and Unidentified Deposits). These operations, together, produce about 1,000 m3 of high-level waste. At the end of the period, the reactor has to be dismantled and cut into small pieces to be packed in containers for final disposal. The total energy required for decommissioning has been estimated at about double the energy needed in the original construction.11


The present

Every stage in the process of supporting nuclear fission uses energy, and most of this energy is derived from fossils fuels. Nuclear power is therefore a massive user of energy and a very substantial source of greenhouse gases. In fact, the delivery of electricity into the grid from nuclear power produces, on average, roughly one third as much carbon dioxide as the delivery of the same quantity of electricity from gas...12

... or, rather, it should do so, because the calculation of the energy cost of nuclear energy is based on the assumption that the high standards of waste management outlined above, including the energy used in decommissioning, are actually carried out. Unfortunately, that is not the case: the nuclear power industry is living on borrowed time in the sense that it is has not yet had to find either the money or the energy to reinstate its mines, bury its wastes and decommission its reactors; if those commitments are simply left out of account, the quantity of fossil fuels needed by nuclear power to produce a unit of electricity would be, on average, only 16 percent of that needed by gas. However, these are commitments which must eventually be met. The only reasonable way to include that energy cost in estimating the performance of nuclear power is to build them into the costs of electricity that is being generated by nuclear power now.13

Another assumption contained in the calculation of the carbon emissions of nuclear power is that the reactors last for the practical maximum of 24 full-power years. For shorter-lived reactors, the quantity of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of electricity is higher; when the energy costs of construction and decommissioning are taken into account, nuclear reactors, averaged over their lifetimes, produce more carbon dioxide than gas-fired power stations (per unit of electricity generated), until they have been in full-power operation for about seven years.

These estimates of carbon dioxide emissions understate the actual contribution of nuclear energy to greenhouse gas emissions, because they do not take into account the releases of other greenhouse gases which are used in the fuel cycle. The stage in the cycle in which other greenhouse gases are particularly implicated is enrichment. As explained above, enrichment depends on the production of uranium hexafluoride, which of course requires fluorine - along with its halogenated compounds - not all of which can by any means be prevented from escaping into the atmosphere. As a guide to the scale of problem: the conversion of one tonne of uranium into an enriched form requires the use of about half a tonne of fluorine; at the end of the process, only the enriched fraction of uranium is actually used in the reactor: the remainder, which contains the great majority of the fluorine that was used in the process, is left as waste, mainly in the form of depleted uranium. It is worth remembering here, first, that to supply enough enriched fuel for a standard 1GW reactor for one full-power year, about 160 tonnes of natural uranium has to be processed; secondly, that the global warming potential of halogenated compounds is many times that of carbon dioxide: that of freon-114, for instance, is nearly 10,000 times greater than that of the same mass of carbon dioxide. Moreover, other halogens, such as chlorine, whose compounds are potent greenhouse gases, along with a range of solvents, are extensively used at various other stages in the nuclear cycle, notably in reprocessing.14

There is no readily-available data on the quantity of these hyperpotent greenhouse gases regularly released into the atmosphere by the nuclear power industry, nor on the actual, presumably variable, standards of management of halogen compounds among the various nuclear power industries around the world. There has to be a suspicion that this source of climate-changing gases substantially reduces any advantage which the nuclear power industry has at present in the production of emissions of carbon dioxide, but no well-founded claim can be made about this. It is essential that reliable research data on the quantity of freons and other greenhouse gases released from the nuclear fuel cycle should be researched and made available as a priority.

The future

The advantage of nuclear power in producing lower carbon emissions holds true only as long as supplies of rich uranium last. When the leaner ores are used - that is, ores consisting of less than 0.01 percent (for soft rocks such as sandstone) and 0.02 percent (for hard rocks such as granite), so much energy is required by the milling process that the total quantity of fossil fuels needed for nuclear fission is greater than would be needed if those fuels were used directly to generate electricity. In other words, when it is forced to use ore of around this quality or worse, nuclear power begins to slip into a negative energy balance: more energy goes in than comes out, and more carbon dioxide is produced by nuclear power than by the fossil-fuel alternatives.15

The world's annual production of uranium oxide has been lagging behind its use in nuclear reactors for the past twenty years. The shortfall has been made up from military stockpiles.


The rise in the price of uranium oxide ("yellowcake") has soared recently. One reason is the higher cost of the fossil energy needed to mine and concentrate it.


There is doubtless some rich uranium ore still to be discovered, and yet exhaustive worldwide exploration has been done, and the evaluation by Storm van Leeuwen and Smith of the energy balances at every stage of the nuclear cycle has given us a summary. There is enough usable uranium ore in the ground to sustain the present trivial rate of consumption - a mere 2 1/2 percent of all the world's final energy demand - and to fulfil its waste-management obligations, for around 45 years. However, to make a difference - to make a real contribution to postponing or mitigating the coming energy winter - nuclear energy would have to supply the energy needed for (say) the whole of the world's electricity supply. It could do so - but there are deep uncertainties as to how long this could be sustained. The best estimate (pretending for a moment that all the needed nuclear power stations could be built at the same time and without delay) is that the global demand for electricity could be supplied from nuclear power for about six years, with margins for error of about two years either way. Or perhaps it could be more ambitious than that: it could supply all the energy needed for an entire (hydrogen- fuelled) transport system. It could keep this up for some three years (with the same margin for error) before it ran out of rich ore and the energy balance turned negative.16

If, as an economy measure, all the energy-consuming waste-management and clean-up practices described above were to be put on hold while stocks of rich ore last, then the energy needed by nuclear energy might be roughly halved, so that global electricity could be supplied for a decade or so. At the end of that period, there would be giant stocks of untreated, uncontained waste, but there would be no prospect of the energy being available to deal with it. At the extreme, there might not even be the energy to cool the storage ponds needed to prevent the waste from being released from its temporary containers.

But it is worse than that. There is already a backlog of high-level waste, accumulated for the last sixty years, and now distributed around the world in cooling ponds, in deteriorating containers, in decommissioned reactors and heaps of radioactive mill-tailings. Some 1/4 million tonnes of spent fuel is already being stored in ponds, where the temporary canisters are so densely packed that they have to be separated by boron panels to prevent chain reactions. The task of clearing up this lethal detritus will require a great deal of energy. How much? That is not known, but here is a very rough guideline. Energy equivalent to about one third of the total quantity of nuclear power produced - in the past and future - will be required to clear up past and future wastes. And the whole of this requirement will have to come from the usable uranium ore that remains, which is not much more than half the entire original endowment of usable ore.17

This means that, if the industry were to clear up its wastes, only about one third of the present stock of uranium would be left over as a source of electricity for distribution in national grids. To put it another way, the electricity that the industry would have available for sale in the second half of its life - if at the same time it were to meet its obligation to clear up the whole of its past and present wastes - would be approximately 70 percent less than it had available for sale in the first half of its life. On that calculation, the estimates given earlier for the useful contribution that nuclear power could make in the future must be revised: nuclear energy, if it cleared up all its wastes, could supply enough power to provide the world with all the electricity it needed for some three years. And remember that this is no mere thoughtexperiment: those wastes do have to be cleared up; the energy required for this will reduce the contribution that can be expected from nuclear power from the trivial to the negligible.

And we should not forget the cost of this. If the nuclear industry in the second part of its life were to commit itself to clearing up its current and future wastes, the cost would make the electricity it produced virtually unsaleable. Bankruptcy would follow, but the waste would remain. Governments would have to keep the clearup programme going, whatever the other priorities. They would also have to keep training programmes going in a College of Nuclear Waste Disposal so that, a century after the nuclear industry has died, the skills they will require to dispose of our waste will still exist. And yet, Government itself, in an energy-strapped society, would lack the funds. The disturbing prospect is already opening up of massive stores of unstable wastes which no one can afford to clear up.

The implication of this is that nuclear power is caught in a depletion trap - the depletion of rich uranium ore - at least as imminent as that of oil and gas. So the question to be asked is: as the conventional uranium sources run low, are there alternative sources of fuel for nuclear energy?


Earlier this year, James Lovelock, the originator of the Gaia Hypothesis, argued in his book The Revenge of Gaia that the threat of climate change is so real, so advanced and potentially so catastrophic that the risks associated with nuclear power are trivial by comparison - and that there really is no alternative to its widespread use. Nuclear power, he insisted, is the only large-scale option: it is feasible and practical; a nuclear renaissance is needed without delay. He robustly dismissed the idea that the growth of nuclear power was likely to be constrained by depletion of its raw material. This is how he put it:

"Another flawed idea now circulating is that the world supply of uranium is so small that its use for energy would last only a few years. It is true that if the whole world chose to use uranium as its sole fuel, supplies of easily-mined uranium would soon be exhausted. But there is a superabundance of low-grade uranium ore: most granite, for example, contains enough uranium to make its fuel capacity five times that of an equal mass of coal. India is already preparing to use its abundant supplies of thorium, an alternative fuel, in place of uranium.18 "

Lovelock added that we have a readily-available stock of fuel in the plutonium that has been accumulated from the reactors that are shortly to be decommissioned. And he might also have added that another candidate as a source of nuclear fuel is seawater. So, if we put the supposed alternatives to uranium ore in order, this is what we have: (1) granite; (2) fast-breeder reactors using (a) plutonium and (b) thorium; and (3) seawater.

  1. Granite

    It has already been explained above that granite with a uranium content of less than 200 parts per million (0.02%) cannot be used as a source of nuclear energy, because that is the borderline at which the energy needed to mill it and to separate the uranium oxide for enrichment is greater - and in the case of even poorer ores, much greater - than the energy that you get back. But Lovelock is so insistent and confident on this point that it is worth revisiting.

    Storm van Leeuwen, basing his calculations on his joint published work with Smith on the extraction of uranium from granite, considers how much granite would be needed to supply a 1 GW nuclear reactor with the 160 tonnes of natural uranium it would need for a year's full-power electricity production. Ordinary granite contains roughly 4 grams of uranium per tonne of granite. That's four parts per million. One year's supply of uranium extracted from this granite would require 40 million tonnes of granite. So, Lovelock's granite could indeed be used to provide power for a nuclear reactor, but there are snags. The minor one is that it would leave a heap of granite tailings (if neatly stacked) 100 metres high, 100 metres wide and 3 kilometres long. The major snag is that the extraction process would require some 530 PJ (petajoules = 1,000,000 billion joules) energy to produce the 26 PJ electricity provided by the reactor. That is, it would use up some 20 times more energy that the reactor produced.19
  2. Fast breeder reactors

    (a) Plutonium
    Lovelock's proposal that we should use plutonium as the fuel for the nuclear power stations of the future can be taken in either of two ways. He might be proposing that we could simply run the reactors on plutonium on the conventional "once-through" system which is standard, using light-water reactors. This can certainly be done, but it cannot be done on a very large scale. Plutonium does not exist in nature; it is a by-product of the use of uranium in reactors and, when uranium is no longer used, then in the normal course of things no more plutonium will be produced. There is enough reactor-grade plutonium in the world to provide fuel for about 80 reactors. That is just about realistic, but there are another two theoretical but highly unrealistic possibilities. The first is that all weapons-grade plutonium could be converted into enough fuel for about 60 more reactors; the second is that all the spent fuel produced by all nuclear power stations in the world could be successfully reprocessed (despite the substantial failure and redundancy of reprocessing technology at present) and used to provide the fuel for the reactors of the future. That would provide fuel for another 600 reactors - making a total of 740 operating with plutonium alone.20

    But since we're trying to be realistic here, let us concentrate on what could actually be done, and stay as close as we can to what Lovelock seems to be suggesting: we could, using the plutonium that we actually have, build 80 reactors worldwide. At the end of their life (say, 24 full-power years), the plutonium would have been used up, though supplemented by a little bit over from the final generation of ordinary uranium-fuelled reactors, but soon all reactors would be closed down and not replaced, because at that time there will be no uranium to fuel them with, either. This would scarcely be a useful strategy, so it is more sensible to suppose that Lovelock has in mind the second possibility: that the plutonium reactors should be breeder reactors, designed not just to produce electricity now, but to breed more plutonium for the future.

    Breeders are in principle a very attractive technology. In uranium ore, a mere 0.7 percent of the uranium it contains consists of the useful isotope - the one that is fissile and produces energy - uranium-235. Most of the uranium consists of uranium-238, and most of that simply gets in the way and has to be dumped at the end; it is uranium-238 which is responsible for much of the awesome mixture of radioactive materials that causes the waste problem. And yet, uranium-238 does also have the property of being fertile. When bombarded by neutrons from a "start-up" fuel like uranium-235 or plutonium-239, it can absorb a neutron and eject an electron, becoming plutonium-239. That is, plutonium-239 can be used as a start-up fuel to produce more plutonium-239, more-or-less indefinitely. That's where the claim that nuclear power would one day be too cheap to meter comes from.

    But there is a catch. It is a complicated technology. It consists of three operations: breeding, reprocessing and fuel fabrication, all of which have to work concurrently and smoothly. First, breeding: this does not simply convert uranium-238 to plutonium-239; at the same time, it produces plutonium-241, americium, curium, rhodium, technetium, palladium and much else. This mixture tends to clog up and corrode the equipment. There are in principle ways round these problems, but a smoothly-running breeding process on a commercial scale has never yet been achieved.21

    Secondly, reprocessing. The mixture of radioactive products that comes out of the breeding process has to be sorted, with the plutonium-239 being extracted. The mixture itself is highly radioactive, and tends to degrade the solvent, tributyl phosphate. Here, too, insoluble compounds form, clogging up the equipment; there is the danger of plutonium accumulating into a critical mass, setting off a nuclear explosion. The mixture gets hot and releases radioactive gases; and significant quantities of the plutonium and uranium are lost as waste. As in the case of the breeder operation itself, a smoothly-running reprocessing process on a commercial scale has never yet been achieved.

    The third operation is to fabricate the recovered plutonium as fuel. The mixture gives off a great deal of gamma and alpha radiation, so the whole process of forming the fuel into rods which can then be put back into a reactor has to be done by remote control. This, too has yet to be achieved as a smoothly-running commercial operation.

    And, of course, it follows from this, that the whole fast-breeder cycle, consisting of three processes none of which have ever worked as intended, has itself never worked. There are three fastbreeder rectors in the world: Beloyarsk-3 in Russia, Monju in Japan and Ph´nix in France; Monju and Ph´nix have long been out of operation; Beloyarsk is still operating, but it has never bred. But let us look on the bright side of all this. Suppose that, with 30 years of intensive research and development, the world nuclear power industry could find a use for all the reactor-grade plutonium in existence, fabricate it into fuel rods and insert it into newly-built fast-breeder reactors - 80 of them, plus a few more, perhaps, to soak up some of the plutonium that is being produced by the ordinary reactors now in operation. So: they start breeding in 2035. But the process is not as fast as the name suggests ("fast" refers to the speeds needed at the subatomic level, rather than to the speed of the process). Forty years later, each breeder reactor would have bred enough plutonium to replace itself and to start up another one. By 2075, we would have 160 breeder reactors in place. And that is all we would have, because the ordinary, uranium-235-based reactors would by then be out of fuel.22

    The safety/cost trap

    The complexity of in-depth defence against accident can make the system impossible

    There is a systemic problem with the design of breeder reactors. The consequences of accidents are so severe that the possibility has to be practically ruled out under all circumstances. This means that the defence-in-depth systems have to be extremely complex, and this in turn means that the installation has to be large enough to derive economies of scale - otherwise it would be hopelessly uneconomic. However, that means that no confinement dome, on any acceptable design criterion, can be built on a scale and structural strength to withstand a major accident. And that in turn means that the defence-in-depth systems have to be even more complex, which in turn means that they becomes even more problem-prone than the device they were meant to protect. A study for the nuclear industry in Japan concludes: "A successful commercial breeder reactor must have three attributes: it must breed, it must be economical, and it must be safe. Although any one or two of these attributes can be achieved in isolation by proper design, the laws of physics apparently make it impossible to achieve all three simultaneously, no matter how clever the design."23

    (b) Thorium
    The other way of breeding fuel is to use thorium. Thorium is a metal found in most rocks and soils, and there are some rich ores bearing as much as 10 percent thorium oxide. The relevant isotope is the slightly radioactive thorium-232. It has a half-life three times that of the earth, so that makes it useless as a direct source of energy, but it can be used as the starting-point from which to breed an efficient nuclear fuel. Here's how:

    • Start by irradiating the thorium-232, using a start-up fuel - plutonium-239 will do. Thorium-232 is slightly fertile, and absorbs a neutron to become thorium 233.
    • The thorium-233, with a half-life of 22.2 minutes, decays to protactinium-233.
    • The protactinium-233, with a half-life of 27 days, decays into uranium-233.
    • The uranium-233 is highly fissile, and can be used not just as nuclear fuel, but as the start-up source of irradiation for a blanket of thorium-232, to keep the whole cycle going indefinitely.24

    But, as is so often the case with nuclear power, it is not as good as it looks. The two-step sequence of plutonium breeding is, as we have seen, hard enough. The four-step sequence of thorium-breeding is worse. The uranium-233 which you get at the end of the process is contaminated with uranium-232 and with highlyradioactive thorium-228, both of which are neutron-emitters, reducing its effectiveness as a fuel; it also has the disadvantage that it can be used in nuclear weapons. The comparatively long half-life of protactinium-233 (27 days) makes for problems in the reactor, since substantial quantities linger on for up to a year. Some reactors - including Kakrapar-1 and -2 in India - have both achieved full power using some thorium in their operation, and it may well be that, if there is to be a very long-term future for nuclear fission, it will be thorium that drives it along. However, the full thorium breeding cycle, working on a scale which is largeenough and reliable-enough to be commercial, is a long way away.25

    For the foreseeable future, its contribution will be tiny. This is because the cycle needs some source of neutrons to begin. Plutonium could provide this but (a) there isn't very much of it around; (b) what there is (especially if we are going to do what Lovelock urges) is going to be busy as the fuel for once-through reactors and/or or fast-breeder reactors, as explained above; and (c) it is advisable, wherever there is an alternative, to keep plutonium-239 and uranium-233 - an unpredictable and potentially incredibly dangerous mixture - as separate as possible. It follows that thorium reactors must breed their own start-up fuel from uranium-233. The problem here is that there is practically no uranum-233 anywhere in the world, and the only way to get it is to start with (say) plutonium-239 toget one reactor going. At the end of forty years, it will have bred enough uranium-233 both to get another reactor going, and to replace the fuel in the original reactor. So, as in the case of fastbreeders, we have an estimated 30 years before we can perfect the process enough to get it going on a commercial scale, followed by 40 years of breeding. Result: in 2075, we could have just two thorium reactors up and running.26

  3. Seawater

    Seawater contains uranium in a concentration of about thirty parts per billion, and advocates of nuclear power are right to say that, if this could be used, then nuclear power could in principle supply us with the energy we need for a long time to come. Ways of extracting those minute quantities of uranium from seawater and concentrating them into uranium oxide have been worked out in some detail. First of all, uranium ions are attracted - "adsorbed" - onto adsorption attracted - "adsorbed" - onto adsorption beds consisting of a suitable material such as titanium hydroxide, and there are also some polymers with the right properties. These beds must be suspended in the sea in huge arrays, many kilometres in length, in places where there is a current to wash the seawater through them, and where the sea is sufficiently warm - at least 20°C. They must then be lifted out of the sea and taken on-shore, where, in the first stage of the process, they are cleansed to remove organic materials and organisms. Stage two consists of "desorption" - separating the adsorbed uranium ions from the beds. Thirdly, the solution that results form this must be purified, removing the other compounds that have accumulated in much higher concentration than the uranium ions. Fourthly, the solution is concentrated, and fifthly, a solvent is used to extract the uranium. The sixth stage is to concentrate the uranium and purify it into uranium oxide yellowcake, ready for enrichment in the usual way.27

    But the operation is massive and takes a lot of energy. Very roughly, two cubic kilometres of sea water is needed to yield enough uranium to supply one tonne, prepared and ready for action in a reactor. A 1 GW reactor needs about 160 tonnes of natural uranium per annum, so each reactor requires some 324 cubic kilometres of seawater to be processed - that is, some 32,000 cubic kilometres of seawater being processed in order to keep a useful fleet of 100 nuclear reactors in business for one (full-power) year.28

    And what is the energy balance of all this? One tonne of uranium, installed in a light water reactor, is taken as a rule-of-thumb also to produce approximately 162 TJ (1 terajoule = 1,000 billion joules), less the roughly 60-90 TJ needed for the whole of the remainder of the fuel cycle - enrichment, fuel fabrication, waste disposal, and the deconstruction and decommissioning of the reactor - giving a net electricity yield of some 70-90 TJ. The energy needed to supply the uranium from seawater, ready for entry into that fuel cycle, is in the region of 195-250 TJ. In other words, the energy required to operate a nuclear reactor using uranium derived from seawater would require some three times as much energy as it produced.