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.