Thursday, January 28, 2010

Response to CP(ML) Liberation on nucelar energy Part III

This is Part III of Donald Vaughn's reply to the Liberation article published in 2008:
[Liberation is the journal of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, a large communist party, one of dozens, that exist in the Indian Sub-Continent.]

Part I is here or scroll down.

Part II is here or scroll down.
Liberations comments are in italics and Vaughn's are in normal text.
--D. Vaughn (D. Vaughn is a former power plant operator in the United States and Mexico, a union activist, socialist, and nuclear energy expert).

Is Nuclear Energy Cleanest and Greenest?

With climate change and global warming as a result of burning of fossil fuels emerging as a major environmental threat, our Government is claiming that nuclear energy is a cleaner source of energy.

This is not simply the domain of the Indian government, it's the consensus by most scientists and engineers and governments the world over: nuclear is a low carbon energy source, therefore it lowers carbon emissions, particulate and, solids like fly ash and other pollutants associated with coal burning.

But as we have seen, nuclear energy is nowhere close to replacing other fuels: at best it can produce electricity; while other sectors of the economy that are responsible for the bulk of carbon emissions will continue to do so.

I have already show here on Left-Atomics that this a false, misleading statement. We are primarily talking about phasing out coal which is the biggest stationary source of pollution from carbon in the world today. Advanced nuclear energy, such as the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor/MSR (LFTR) will be able to produce synthetic fuels from atmospheric CO2, reduce the volume of real nuclear waste and lower it's radioactivity to a mere 200 years.

Even where electricity is concerned, nuclear power cannot be the solution for climate change because according to the IPCC Working Committee Report on Climate Change, it accounts for a very small part of the world’s supply: just 16% of the world’s electricity supply in 2005, and an estimated 18% share of the total electricity supply in 2030. For reducing greenhouse gases to address climate change, there is no other viable way except to change our way of life, promote public transport, and explore renewable energy sources like hydro, solar and wind power and clean coal technologies.

This statement, unfortunately, reflects the views of Western "Green" NGOs and not one based on the material reality of science and development. 16% is about 10,000% more than all the renewable (non-Hydro) alternatives that exist in the world today. That "16%" represents over 400 nuclear reactors, everyone of which replaced a potential coal plant. The later half of the statement above only indicates that 16% is "not enough". I agree. So we should do what we can to double, triple and quadruple that number, as the Chinese are attempting to do, indeed, which even the Congress government in India has set out as a "goal". It is un-Marxist to such development based on ONE report as a static inevitability. If we use the idea of a collectivized economic plan based on human needs, then the rapid and need goal of low-carbon nuclear energy would be a priority and we word to that goal!

Secondly, clean coal, or, as the western advertising agency that came up with the highly oxymoronic concept of "Clean Coal", is simply not scalable to make a serious difference. It is only designed to deal with the CO2 content, some of the CO2 content, from burning coal. Disposing of millions of tons of liquid CO2 has not been solved; fly ash is still produced in prodigous quantities; particulate will remain a killer of hundreds of thousands of people every year.

Thirdly, the green-utopian goal of using the very non-dense forms of energy derived from solar and wind cannot, and have not, replaced baseload fossil fuels anywhere in the world. It is way to expensive, requiring massive full price subsidies to exist presently to stay "in business". The Green capitalist solution of wind and solar is an economic failure and a waste of research and development monies better spent on advanced nuclear energy. Wind energy, for example, takes up to 8 times the amount of concrete and steel for unit of energy produced than nuclear! Which is really the 'cleaner' energy generator with this in mind?

The US, one of the worst offenders against the environment, has arrogantly refused to consider such solutions, declaring that the “American way of life is non-negotiable” and arguing absurdly that cows in India produce more greenhouse gases than cars in the US! The same irresponsible US is preaching that India should sign the Nuke Deal to combat global warming!

That the U.S. declares this…well…it is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the big U.S. based fossil fuel producers…most notably the coal & gas industry, the National Assn. Of Manufacturers and dominant finance capital in general, that has declared this in not so many words with their overall denial of human caused global warming. It is also absurd to think that the 'standard of living' of the US as the capitalists would declare is necessarily reliant on massive use of fossil fuels. Perhaps that is another blog entry that Left-Atomics and Liberation will allow me to write on here in the future.

It is true that nuclear reactors themselves do not directly emit greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change. But the “emissions” from those reactors take the form of extremely radioactive waste that is dangerous for tens of thousands of years, is also dangerous to transport, is an obvious target for terrorists, can be used to make “dirty bombs,” and is endlessly expensive to endlessly manage.

This is a myth on several levels. The 'emissions' from nuclear power plants is almost the same as any large concrete structure. There is little or no evidence that any radioactive emissions add to background radiation. None is recorded and while pressurized water reactors one or twice in as many years do emit air that has a very low radioactive signature to relieve excess pressure, there is zero evidence that this is at all recordable incident or represents as health risk at all. It is way less that the radioactive signature than we record from the massive amounts of coal ash, high enough in…uranium that the Chinese have pilot plant in operation to mine coal ash for it's uranium fuel content! Part of developing any industrial concern is risk assessment. If you compare the risk assessment of a nuclear plant at every level to that of any fossil plant, plus, add up what the world is facing with climate change, and the massive deployment of nuclear energy comes out on top.

Radioactive waste can, and has been dealt with by closing the fuel cycle with 100% recycling of spent nuclear fuel. Thus the actual waste of a country such as France which employs such reprocessing is about 1/10th the amount and level of radioactivity that countries such as the US which do not. India's plan, as it happens, is to do just that: close the fuel cycle and reduce by 90% the amount of "waste" needed for dry cask or geologic storage.

Secondly on the is, it is not, in my opinion, the proper political perspective to invoke the US sponsored perspective and false category of "terrorism", employed against the Left and all groups fighting for liberation, that they be "dirty bombers". This is the language of the Imperialists and not those supporting liberation from imperialism.

Thirdly, a dirty bomb is far more easily constructed from medical radioactive waste than the very 'hot' material from a nuclear plant. There is very little evidence that the spent nuclear fuel from a nuclear plant can be used in a "dirty bomb" of any sort. This sort of fear-mongering is best left to the purveyors of the War on Terrorism than a Marxist-Leninist party.

Recent research highlighted in the prestigious British journal, The Ecologist, estimates that when the entire production cycle is accounted for, nuclear power emits less greenhouse gas than burning coal but far more than alternatives such as wind, solar, and conservation.

Well, quoting a noted anti-nuclear publication and purveyor of energy-starvation and the reactionary, anti-human "use less" mentality of the Greens is not the best source. But the IAE, the UN's own energy commissions, and just about every non-industry affiliated journal on this subject notes that nuclear not only produces less GHG than coal & gas by way less and only a little more than wind, solar and "conservation".

Secondly, and we will cover this later in this series, "conservation" is a red-herring…especially in country like India that has over 300 million people living with out any source of on demand energy at all. Conservation, always a worthwhile concept, is not, for a country like India what is at issue…at all. India's per=capita energy use is at starvation levels and needs to by raised not lowered! How does a peasant in Kerala or West Bengal 'conserve' when their main source of energy is charcoal? When their main source of lighting are lanterns? When their main source of cooling is a stream? Communists in India need to develop a plan to expand, not contract energy use. Only nuclear can seriously be deployed to develop the grid and other requirements for India's future socialist development.

Thirdly, the problem with conservation is that it has a falling rate of return. One can only 'conserve so much' before real aggregate growth stymies the positive returns one gets from overall conservation. Population growth, economic development and overall expansion of the productive forces needs and requires more and more energy, cheaply and safely.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Response to CP(ML) Liberation on nucelar energy Part II

This is Part II of Donald Vaughn's reply to the Liberation article published in 2008:
[Liberation is the journal of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, a large communist party, one of dozens, that exist in the Indian Sub-Continent.]

Part I is here or scroll down.

Liberation's comments are in italics and Vaughn's are in normal text.

--D. Vaughn is a former power plant operator in the United States and Mexico, a union activist, socialist, and nuclear energy expert.

Is Nuclear Energy Cheap?

50% more expensive: M V Ramana of the Centre of Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development, along with two researchers from the International Energy Initiative compared the costs of a nuclear plant (the Kaiga atomic power station) and a nearby coal plant. They found that the nuclear plant “was about 8 percent more expensive at the government-determined rate of return on investment, which reflects the present value of future benefits and costs. At market rates of ROI, however, it could be 50 percent more expensive.” Further, the researchers point out that this comparison does not account for the costs of cleaning up radioactive waste, though the cost of disposing fly ash is internalized in the costs of coal-generated electricity. Reprocessing is extremely expensive – the cost of reprocessing each kilogram of spent fuel from the Department of Atomic Energy’s heavy-water reactors is in the range of Rs. 20,000-30,000.
If the above is the case with the reactors we already have, the costs of imported reactors will further push up the costs. Nuclear power plants built with imported nuclear reactors will be three times as costly as coal-fired plants. The cost of electricity from imported nuclear plants will be more than Rs. 5.00 per unit as against about Rs. 2.00 to Rs. 2.50 per unit from coal-fired plants.
Further, the Government will have to provide insurance cover against nuclear accidents, and create funds to pay for clean-ups and compensation in case of accidents. This too is a huge subsidy about which the Government is silent.

M V Ramana, a respected engineer, has taken an ideologically opposed position on India's nuclear program. His multi-sectional report from the CISED is extremely once side and doesn't really take into account the latest developments, including the importation of Russian and other foreign reactor new builds currently under way in India today. Many of India's current reactor fleet are expensive, little more in some cases than "R&D" reactors even though several thousand MWs of power are produced from them.

Yes, imported nuclear reactors will be more expensive than the ugly, carbon spewing coal plants that India, like China, are building. The issue, Comrades, is not nuclear, it is coal. As noted in Part I, coal is the major carbon emitter in the world today and is the cause for deadly carbon-formed particulate that kills, even from the most modern of newer, Western power plants. If we are to move India, and all countries away from coal, then nuclear is the only way to go. The costs of not doing so are dramatic and far worse than the costs-over-coal plants.

But there is more. Reprocessing right now in India is based on older technologies developed locally and in the developed countries. New forms of reprocessing are being developed, and deployed, that will significantly lower costs. But reprocessing has the three fold advantage of making India's uranium and thorium supplies last thousands of years, reduces the volume of spent nuclear fuel and lowers the radioactivity of what is left over as waste.

Developing a vast, indigenous reactor fleet, currently part of India's long range 3 phase nuclear development, will vastly increase the skill level of India's working class and allow for an exponential development of India's productive forces…if done for use value and not surplus value! But regardless, the development of this indigenous industry is something that all communist should defend and protect from Imperialist's designs to control. The problem with any important reactor design is the dependence on foreign technology and components to maintain such reactors (or any form of machinery). This is the main reason why the 1-2-3 agreement is a tangle of puppet strings that should be cut.

Cleanup, insurance, etc all financed by the revenue stream set up to finance these plants in the first place. Most countries have learned the lesson from Britain's failure to develop a decommissioning fund. In the U.S., for example, a half cent of income from the selling a KWhour of nuclear generated electricity is devoted to this fund. The fund now stands in the billions of USD and will cover all decommissioning costs.

A serious side-by-side cost comparison of new nuclear with new coal will show that in some cases, nuclear is very cheap and equal in costs, over it's lifetime, all external expenses calculated in, to that of coal.

But there is more: Where M V Ramana is wrong is this: Power from Indian reactors currently costs Indian consumers between Rs. 2 and 2.5 per kWh, about 4 to 5 US cents per kWh, the price of power produced by Indian reactors is competitive with that of electricity produced from coal fired power plants. Thus the Indian nuclear industry has the potential to be a world beater in the cost of post carbon electricity. It should be noted that there are efforts under way to lower the cost of Indian reactors even further. Large scale reactor construction can utilize factory production of reactor kits, a system being evolved in China. Important reactor parts such as pressure parts and fuel bundles can be mass produced. Similarly large scale production of parts such as pumps and steam generators can lower costs. As per the report from IAEA, Indian nuclear industry has the potential to build reactors substantially below $1.00 per watt, and possibly substantially below 85 cents per watt. Thus a very real probability exists that by 2050 Indian electricity could cost half of what Chinese electricity costs, and as little as 20% of the cost of electricity in Europe and the United States.

Comrades should envision what a Workers and Peasant India could do when such production is organized for human needs and not for profit?

"Expensive"? No, just the opposite.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Response to CP(ML) Liberation on nucelar energy Part I

This article is a guest column by Donald Vaughn. Is it written in response to the an article in Liberation magazine published by the Communist Party if India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, a large, left-of-the-official-Communist Party of India, grouping that has several tens of thousands of members. The article is here and Left Atomics urges it's readers to take a look:

--D. Walters

The article itself is very long so it is perhaps best that I break up my reply per the sub-title sections of the article.

--D. Vaughn (D. Vaughn is a former power plant operator in the United States and Mexico, a union activist, socialist, and nuclear energy expert).


As part of this I would like to introduce my thoughts on the question of nuclear energy, energy in general, and the productive forces as it relates to breaking out of the squalor of neo-colonial capitalism that India, exists in.

India, of course, is not Bangladesh or Bhutan. It is, in fact, a country that shows the contradictions of semi-industrial development weighted down by almost feudal relations in the countryside, where most of Indian's population is tied too. India is closer to Indonesia, China and S. Korea, perhaps, than the 'very underdeveloped' countries we see in other parts of Asia.

The basis of understanding the development of the productive forces of the political-economy of society, most notably capitalism, but is true for socialism as well, is that these forces were developed in large part because of the advance of scientific technique, organized for capitalism, for the purpose of better appropriating surplus value from the working class and the peasantry. We all know this as students of Marx, but something is often missed in the minutiae of examining Political Economy, and that is how the physical economy of capitalism, of humanity in fact, has applied science to achieve the aims of development of the productive forces. It is my belief that the material physical basis of the socialist mode of production will require yet another quantum leap in the physical economy of a collectivized society.

Nothing shows this more than in energy. Historically, it is the ever more abundance, availability and usage of energy that has allowed the productive forces under any mode of production to advance. Indeed…if one can sum this up, it is the human ability to tap the density of energy forms that has allowed humanity to advance from human and animal power to wind power, to water power, to steam, to electric energy generated by yet more increasing dense forms of energy: from wood, to coal and then diesel & gasoline, to atomic power. At each step of the way we find the density of energy to be a determining importance as to the efficiency, cheapness, and accessibility of utilizing that energy. Every historical leap in the development of the productive forces has utilized this technique to propel the forces of production ever faster, and ever wider. Denser, more efficient, more abundant.

This is not to say capitalism uses it wisely. The amazing engineering that goes into an airplane, under capitalism, is used equally to drop bombs on the masses as it to market seats for sale to take these same masses from one place to another. Socialism and communism of course will put all these human engineering achievements for the use of humanity and not for it's destruction.

Thus, in my opinion, anything that works against this direction falls into a reactionary camp, or, at best, an ignorant one, diverting the revolutionary movement away from the techniques and productive forces that are a prerequisite for ending of exploitation and war.

Part 1:

[Liberation comments are in italics, my responses are in normal type-DV]

Can nuclear energy really replace coal and oil, light up our homes, run our trains and trucks?

Today, nuclear energy generated by India’s 17 reactors accounts for less than 3% of India’s total electricity-generating capacity. Even according to the optimistic (and possibly inflated) estimates of the Government, nuclear energy even after the Deal will only account for 7-9% of India’s total installed capacity by 2020. Electricity in India (and much of the world) comes from coal, not nuclear energy.

The actual "position" of the Congress government is this: They want to build 20,000 MWe nuclear capacity to be on line by 2020 and 63,000 MWe by 2032. It aims to supply 25% of electricity from nuclear power by 2050. Recently they announced that the ultimate goal is 450,000 MWs or, 400 large nuclear reactors.

It is a fact that about half the worlds electrical energy comes from coal. But no on claims any differently. It is also a very bad thing that coal produces half the worlds power. More people die from it than any other source of energy.

Secondly, nuclear plants take far longer to build than thermal power plants and gas-fired plants.

This is true. But natural gas, which India has very little domestic supplies, fluctuates wildly in price and availability. More importantly, it is very dangerous, with far more people dead from natural gas accidents than nuclear. Lastly, even though not as bad as coal, it is a major CO2 emitter, something of concern to climate scientists.

Thirdly, nuclear power has very high capital costs, and is necessarily centralised: i.e you cannot have a nuclear plant in each region or even state. Therefore, there is no way in which electricity generated in a nuclear plant can be used to supply electricity to homes all over the country! Logically, a few such plants can augment total electricity generation and thus help supply electricity to substantially larger number of homes.

This is not correct. First, the fact that nuclear is "centralized" only means that it is produced in reactors ranging from 250MWs to 1700MWs. In other words, exactly the same as that of natural gas and coal fired power plants. Secondly, nuclear power plants can be built almost anywhere with only earthquake faults the really determining factor. Unlike coal and natural gas, the former has to be built near river or rail lines and the latter near existing natural gas lines (or have them built at great expense) nuclear is tied to none of these factors. Yes, nuclear runs better when located on the coast or large bodies of water, but that it true for coal and gas as well.

Secondly, as China is proving and many developing countries, the building of high voltage DC lines can 'wheel' power great distances without line loss, thus allowing for actually more centralized power station with lower transmission costs.

Lastly, the French provide power their homes with nuclear generated electricity from their state-owned electric corporation (set up as a victory by the communist and socialist lead post-WWII strike waves there). 80% of their homes are provide with power generation from nuclear fission. Surely India can do the same.

In India, the main shortage is for power that can be generated during times of ‘peak demand’ – say in the evenings in homes. The cost of electricity is usually determined more by the capital cost of power plants (i.e the amount it takes to build them) than the operating costs. The capital cost of nuclear reactors is very high and these reactors, for technical reasons, cannot be shut on and off at will – therefore they are unsuitable for supplying short bursts of peak demand power.

This is simply not true. It all depends on the kind of fuel a power plant runs on. The cheapest to build, by far, for baseload and peaking power are natural gas fired gas turbines. They are also the most expensive to run as they consume vast quantities of gas, in India's case, from imported natural gas. In the U.S. and Europe, gas is the most expensive form of power there is because the ability of suppliers to tighten supplies.

Secondly, the goal of the nuclear industry is not immediately to replace 'peaker' power but baseload, 24/7 365 days a year power that is required to keep the grid going. Nuclear power has very expensive upfront costs but the lowest of any baseload operating costs because fuel is such a minor part of the overall cost of the plant.

We all know that a major factor in hikes in prices of essential commodities is the rise in the price of diesel, which is used in trucks which transport essential commodities. Trucks cannot run on electricity, can they? Therefore the Government’s claim that nuclear power can replace diesel and reduce our dependence on steeply priced oil is bogus.

No, trucks do not run on electricity…yet. The Chinese are building small electric trucks and over the next 20 years, they should take up a bigger and bigger percentage of trucks on the road. But of course what applies to nuclear also applies to every form of generation regardless of the source. So the issue, for now, of diesel energy is not applicable to the discussion.

Finally, nuclear energy can generate only electricity – obviously we will still need other kinds of fuel for transport, fertilizers, petrochemicals etc... Enhancing our own indigenous coal production and oil exploration; and the Iran-Pakistan-India Gas Pipeline are therefore far more trustworthy and real sources of India’s energy security than any Nuke Deal.

And this is why nuclear is so superior to other forms of generation. India generates about 20% of it's electricity from natural gas and oil. With nuclear these can be used as feed stock for the important production mentioned above. For every MW produced with fission power, means more gas and oil for better use of these very valuable commodities. So there is a direct effect on these other deals. It is important here, however, that I'm not writing about the "Nuclear Deal" per se (the 1-2-3 Agreement) but of developing India's indigenous nuclear industry.

As we have seen above, nuclear energy cannot substantially reduce our dependence on oil, gas or coal. If so, does it make any sense for the UPA Government to drag its feet on negotiations with Teheran and Islamabad on the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, for the sake of the Nuke Deal with USA?
Can it benefit our nation to damage or endanger our good relations with oil-producing countries of West Asia (from whom we’ll have to keep buying oil) in the name of ‘strategic partnership’ with the USA?

You have not shown this at all. Nuclear can replace the number one pollution technology in the world: coal. It can be assumed, world wide, not only in India, that every nuclear plant built (440 world wide) represents a coal plant that was not built. Coal kills hundreds of thousands of people a year through particulate pollution, which causes all manner of respiratory illness's. It is the leading cause of mercury pollution in the world today as well as a huge emitter of other heavy metals…including uranium (a component of coal). And, of course, it is the largest stationary source of CO2. Nuclear can help phase out coal unlike anyother other form of non-carbon electricity.

--End of Part I--