Nature Authority Staff Back Advanced Nuclear Reactors for Israel's Clean Energy

In a conference, Nature and Parks Authority staff discussed the dangers solar and wind installations pose to wildlife, and pose an alternative: Generation IV nuclear reactors

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A nuclear power plant in Doel, Belgium.
A nuclear power plant in Doel, Belgium.Credit: Virginia Mayo/AP
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

Professionals at Israel's Nature and Parks Authority are backing the idea of transitioning to a low-carbon energy economy through using advanced nuclear reactors.

Using nuclear reactors to produce energy will make it possible to avoid the environmental effects of wind and solar installations, which use up large swaths of open areas and endanger wildlife, such as birds. The professionals' support for the initiative illustrates the growing concern within the authority regarding the broad distribution of renewable energy installations, mainly for solar energy.

Last week, Tel-Hai Academic College in the upper Galilee held the 16th conference on science and nature preservation, in memory of Orna Eshed, who was an ecologist in the authority. One of the speakers was Dotan Rotem from the authority’s science division, who explained the effects of solar installations on wildlife. In trying to implement the long-term goals for renewable energy production, the areas allocated for solar energy will expand. These zones are usually fenced off, which prevents animals and baby birds from reaching their habitats.

One of the alternatives is installing floating solar installations in reservoirs. Rotem noted that waterfowl use some of the reservoirs for nesting and shelter, and that covering them too much poses risks to the birds. Another option is agro-solar installations, in which the solar facility is located in an area where there is agricultural cultivation. Rotem said that agro-solar facilities are likely to change the composition of the wild flora in the area where they are situated, due to the shade they create.

Wind turbines in the Golan Heights, in September.Credit: Gil Eliahu

The authority is also very concerned about the construction of wind turbines for electricity production, because their blades harm approaching birds. Rotem suggested an alternative to solar and wind installations: advanced models of small modular nuclear reactors (SMR). “There are alternatives for producing clean energy, which could prevent a mortal blow to natural open spaces and to agricultural areas without harm to the landscape, including a substantial reduction in infrastructure for conducting the electricity,” explained Rotem.

Reactors of the kind Rotem was referring to are currently in the advanced research and development stages in a number of countries. Four of them are in the advanced building stages in Russia, China and Argentina. They can produce electricity on a scale of up to 300 megawatts, and can be deployed in a wide range of locations. The reactors can produce electricity or be used as a central heating facility.

These nuclear reactors are rated to be very safe, and operating them does not emit greenhouse gases. Nuclear reactors are divided into generations, based on their level of development. Rotem was talking about Generation IV reactors, which are the most advanced and considered to be more energy efficient than natural gas installations. They also have a very low risk of emitting radiation, and produce little radioactive waste.

Dr. Yehoshua Shkedy, chief scientist of the Nature and Parks Authority, says that Generation IV reactors “provide safe and efficient options. With reactors from this generation it’s possible to safely handle nuclear waste. They emit greenhouse gases in miniscule amounts and take up almost no open spaces.” He acknowledged, though, that the authority does not have a nuclear expert on staff, but that he held meetings on the subject with the Energy Ministry.

However, most environmental organizations, in Israel and abroad, oppose the use of nuclear energy. Dr. Jonathan Aikhenbaum, director of Greenpeace Israel, says that the reactors “can’t compete with renewable energy in meeting needs, neither in terms of readiness for deployment, nor in terms of prices or safety." He said that “It’s possible to provide all of Israel’s energy needs by constructing solar installations in built-up spaces, or by placing solar panels above agricultural fields, water reservoirs and roads, in order to preserve nature.”

The Energy Ministry said in response: “A nuclear power plant is a possible option for meeting the emissions goals for 2050 and afterwards, since producing electricity through it has many advantages, including reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and a high degree of accessibility and reliability.”

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