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.