Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Left Manifesto for Nuclear Energy

Left Manifesto for Nuclear Energy

Left Atomics: A Call for a Re-discussion on Nuclear Energy

Anti-nuclear power sentiment among the socialist and progressive Left in the developed world has been ubiquitous. Calls for the shutting down of nuclear power plants has been part and parcel of every platform for most groups since the 3 Mile Island incident in the U.S. in 1979. After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, "most groups" and most of progressive thought have been firmly anti-nuclear energy.

In the 28 years since 3 Mile Island and the 21 years since the Chernobyl incident few groups have re-examined their views or considered the history and development of nuclear energy since. Some of us have reconsidered, and believe it is time to do that. We would like to report on the current state of affairs to the community at large.

The opening paragraph above needs some comment. It is mentioned that anti-nuclear sentiment dominates Left thought in the developed, industrialized "West". This, however, is not the case in developing countries. It is dominant only in those countries with strong economies, that is, in the imperialist countries. Our words, therefore, are aimed at them more than anyone else.IssuesAfter 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl occurred, it appeared to be the death knell for those state and private concerns supporting or developing nuclear power.

In reality, the research and development into nuclear fission as a source for energy accelerated. While some nuclear projects were canceled around the world because of Chernobyl, many others continued to completion, then they were fueled with uranium fuel, and went on line. It is important to note that the industry as a whole did not slink away after these incidents. Quite the contrary, they addressed the issues concerning how these incidents took place and there have been none of that sort since. Nuclear designers, engineers and workers learned and found solutions to what caused these problems so they would not happen again. Thereafter there has been a virtually unblemished record of power production done safely, cheaply and without threats to the public. The record for nuclear power, across the board, is generally better than any other form of electrical energy production in the world today.

Our starting point for this statement are the following 4 items:

• The worldwide, social need for nuclear power has changed dramatically since the 1980s.

• As socialists, we need to deal with technological reality as it has developed in the last 30 years.

• We need to reverse our opposition to nuclear power and instead support its development.

• We need to oppose its privatisation and support its nationalization where it is private as part of state-owned, transparently regulated, nationalized energy monopoly for the sake of economically building of power plants and for their safety.

As of 2007, there are 440 working commercial nuclear power plants in the world, 103 of them in the United States. The term "commercial" means the production of electrical energy as the primary purpose. There are at least 700 other reactors whose primary purpose is not electrical production but rather for the propulsion for military naval craft, nuclear weapons development, or scientific research and development. In the last 2 years the media has been running articles on the renaissance of nuclear power.

Many countries, including the United States, have seen applications for increasing the world-wide inventory of commercial reactors by almost 20%. In the U.S., there are now 31 proposals for "Construction and Operating Licenses" before the Department of Energy for new nuclear plants, all of them additional reactors to existing nuclear facilities. China and India have plans to quadruple the number of nuclear plants they presently have to meet their incredible projections for economic growth. Japan and China are currently building a half dozen plants between them. Socialists need to understand what nuclear power is, how to confront the issue, what it means and develop a response to this growth in nuclear power specifically and the needs for developing new sources of energy in general.


From Der Speigel:“At present, 29 nuclear power plants are under construction and there are concrete plans to build another 64. Another 158 are under consideration.”http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/16/world/europe/16spiegel.html?ei=5070&en=53149fde209698a4&ex=1173070800&pagewanted=print


The 3rd Generation of Reactors

All but a few of the working nuclear plants in the world today are called "Generation II" plants. These plants were designed in the 1960s and 1970s and came on line in the 1970s and 1980s with a few later in the 1990s. These plants were designed as commercial plants. The Generation I plants, the 1950s variety, were generally submarine reactors taken from these vessels and placed in confinement domes to be run commercially. These military derivative reactors were small, and mostly not suited for commercial base-load production.Because of 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl, the industry globally responded not by coming up with a hodgepodge of quick fixes to these incidents, but rather invented completely new designs. These third-generation reactors have:

• a standardized design for each type to expedite licensing, reduce capital cost and reduce construction time,

• a simpler and more rugged design, making them easier to operate and less vulnerable to operational upsets,

• higher availability and longer operating life, typically 60 years and running 90% of the time or better,

• reduced possibility of core melt accidents,

• minimal effect on the environment,

• higher burn-up to reduce fuel use and the amount of waste,

• burnable absorbers ("poisons") to extend fuel life and eliminate any possibility of military use.

The greatest departure from second-generation designs is that many incorporate passive or inherent safety features* which require no active controls or operational intervention to avoid accidents in the event of malfunction, and may rely on gravity, natural convection or resistance to high temperatures.


(*Traditional reactor systems employed the uranium nuclear chain reaction operating below the “critical” level. A control system was therefore essential to keep the reaction from running away toward a bomb-like condition. Some safety systems were “active” in the sense that they involved electrical or mechanical operation on command. Other systems operate passively, e.g., pressure relief valves. Both required parallel, redundant systems to reduce the chances of control failure. An inherent or fully passive safety system depends only on the laws of physical phenomena such as convection, gravity or resistance to high temperatures to prevent a run away condition.)


The industry has to be able to sell these new reactors to a sceptical public. Even with the very good record of the older generation II reactors that are online now, people understandably want even safer plants. The engineers, in our opinion, who have designed the new generation III plants have done just that.

Energy Demand

Energy demand is growing. [Not only is total energy use projected to grow dramatically, but electrical energy will be by far the largest proportion. …Etc., etc. You can mention that nearly 1/3rd of the world’s population have no electricity. Think about refrigeration and electric lights so that the kids can study at night. If you want to talk about energy demand, then do so, and talk about pollution elsewhere.]

Pollution and Global Warming

All countries, with the exception of France, rely on the burning of fossil fuel, mostly coal, followed by natural gas and oil for their electrical energy needs. Some countries rely on the extensive use of hydro-electrical power (Ecuador, Venezuela, Nepal), but these are exceptions. The infrastructure that delivers these fossil fuels is itself polluting (albeit much of this can be addressed by engineering) through processing, spills, leaks, dust, cave ins, etc. It is no longer a subject of debate that burning of fossil fuels itself is the major cause for climate change today through the discharge of CO2. We intend to emphasize the facts as they relate to nuclear power's virtually zero emissions all of any pollution: CO2, carbon-monoxide, carbon and fly ash particulates, mercury and uranium (a major by-product of burning coal), and the nagging questions surrounding waste disposal and the front-end pollution and human costs of mining fertile and fissile materials.

Nuclear Power as only non-polluting base-load power source

Our view on nuclear power is that it is the only base-load energy available that is non-polluting, can provide for global economic growth, and provide the power needed to fuel the abundance we will have under socialism. Base load is what constitutes the basic source of bulk energy for any nation's grid. There are only two choices now that can cheaply provide the hundreds of thousands of megawatts for current and future growth: coal or nuclear. Society must make the best choice. Wind, solar, both now and for the foreseeable future, are incapable of providing reliable and cheap power to the world. We are prepared to discuss these issues and more with you.

Left Atomics, March, 2007 updated, December, 2007


Archie said...

Very good post.

Nuclear power may not be perfect but it is the best option open to nations who want to lower their CO2 emissions whilst still keeping the lights on.

Too many on the left and in the environmental lobby are opposed to nuclear. Long term priority must be with renewable energy sources but if CO2 emissions are to be lowered the only pragmatic solution at current is nuclear.

D. Walters said...

Thanks for writing commissar. Let's spread the word and get the rest of the workers movement on the correct side of the technological line!

David Walters

RightDemocrat said...

I like your statement and am encouraged by the left is coming around on this issue. Nuclear power is definitely an issue that transcends ideology. I have long thought that organized labor and the working class should support nuclear power.

Atomic energy is a safe technology and produces a lot of good paying, often unionized jobs.

Given the threat of global warming, we must expand nuclear power to reduce C02 emissions.



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Joffan said...

Starting from fundamentals, the world has no intrinsic need for nuclear power. The world (human society) has a need for power, and the long-term success of the human race should prefer minimizing the environmental impact of supplying that power.

That nuclear power happens to be the way to do this with known technologies at the scales required, is an emergent conclusion, not a condition. It is an argument that cannot be neglected, because it is one of the major points of disagreement on nuclear power. Anti-authoritarian sympathy tends to make large undertakings, whether government or private, the target of suspicion for many on the left. Nuclear power will not get a simple pass on this. Competition with other forms of non-carbon energy generation similarly cannot be ignored or brushed aside; it must be tackled fully, calculated out with all the benefits of efficiency that can reasonably be coerced from an energy-hungry world. Assessment of the nuclear industry as a risky bet, hostage to cowboy operators in other countries, must be faced and discussed, not ignored or shouted down. Concerns over waste and weaponization need acknowledgement and response.

In short, I have no quarrel with your position, but the process of getting there must be given much more consideration as you develop your thinking and strategy. As you hint in both opening and closing, much discussion and persuasion is required.

I.M.Sharma said...

Dear Com. Walters,
After your reply message I visited this blog and I am not convinced. The mere fact that since the last 30 years not a single nuclear reactor has been installed in US, which eagerly wants to sell its reactors (perhaps outdated technology, not your Generation III plants) to India for profiteering and is assisted by Indian brokers who want to push through the notorious 123 Agreement, speaks volumes about the same. Anyway I am not technically competent to speak in detail. But one of the speakers at our yesterday's meeting, has sent me the following reply when I asked him to visit your weblog and express his opinions. Please see:
From: "Sreekumar N" at sreekumar@prayaspune.org View Contact Details
To: "I.Mallikarjuna Sharma" at malliksharma@yahoo.com
Subject: Re: Nuclear Energy
- I hold no brief for green party or any such envo groups
- As I had told you, I am no expert on nuclear power. So it is not possible for me to comment on the authors claims of reduced safety hazards or new technologies
- I fully realise the pollution and other problems associated with coal. The point is this: Having decided to have a high energy economy, we cannot escape from centralised big generating stations. In the Indian context, coal seems to be the best bet.
- All fuels, including nuclear are going to get over in next 50-100 years. Author does not seem to realise this. We need to go for solar, wind technologies.

D. Walters said...

OK, let me answer this, then.

1. On the 123 agreement. I oppose this too, but for different reasons: because it impinges on Indian national self-determination. India should develop and be free to do so, any kind of nuclear energy without strings. The 123 agreement comes with strings. India needs to develop it's thorium resources so it can abandon uranium, the former of which it has the worlds 3rd largest supply and little for the latter.

2. Only the Russians, Canadians and Chinese want to sell what is called "2nd or 2nd+ generation" reactors. They are actually quite good and it is this type that exists everywhere in the world today. The US (and France, Canada,Japan, Korea) want to sell the most advanced reactors possible because they are actually cheaper to build than the older ones...that is the new Gen III and Gen III+ reactors).

3. Coal is evil. It causes, in China, 400,000 deaths a year due to respiratory illness and work accidents. 30,000 die a year in the US. Coal needs to go and it's WHY I'm involved in pro-nuclear activities: it's cheaper, their is no CO2 emissions, no particulate emissions, safer and more reliable.

4. Solar and wind cannot replace coal/hydro/gas or nuclear. It can't because it's not reliable and it costs too much. Nuclear can be inexhaustible.

Yours for socialized, atomic energy,
David Walters

Jasper Tomlinson said...

Your intentions and interests are much in line with what is needed in the United Kingdom where the Government says it has decided to go ahead with nuclear build.
The UK Govt is addicted to private finance for this sort of project and may well accept advice to become "technology-blind". A few of us with engineering and science backgrounds would like to exert pressure on government in a contrary fashion, that is to choose the best technology (thorium etc)and to consider different financing options (eg Bank of England interest-free repayable loans). For this we need to be in contact with expert engineers, either here (UK), in Europe or whatever.
I need some email addresses to make such contacts (?Kirk Sorensen, ? yours, or any other suitable). Can you help? (should I be joining your organisation, Left Atomics, and, if so, how?)
Jasper Tomlinson
185 New Kent Rd London SE1 4AG jasper@newkent.freeserve.co.uk

Anonymous said...

Do you believe that any leftists opposed nuclear power mainly because they saw it as threatening the livelihoods of coal miners?

DW said...

I've seen no evidence this is the case, although the US SWP once took this position when it wanted to get it's members into the UMWA. But no group today holds this that I'm aware of.


DW said...

I've seen no evidence this is the case, although the US SWP once took this position when it wanted to get it's members into the UMWA. But no group today holds this that I'm aware of.


William Tucker said...


I'm amazed to discover this blog. I've just published a book on nuclear - Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Power Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America's Long Energy Odyssey. It's available on Amazon and just getting into stores. John Tierney featured it in his "Science" column in The New York Times two weeks ago. I thought I was laboring in the dark here. I had no idea there was such a network of left-wing people who are looking so clearly at the vast potential of nuclear. I'm going to start posting comments. Is there any way I can get in touch with you?


Bill Tucker

DW said...

Well, this is MORE interesting because I just ordered it two days ago from Amazon and it arrived about 1 hour ago! Ha!

Well, this project of mine is really a static one. Myself and Rod Holt (Apple Employee No. 5 two decades ago) authored the Manifesto. Mostly the blog is inactive but I am everywhere. I've been posting to the dailykos for about 6 months (see: davidwalters.dailykos.com) even though I'm not a Democrat (being a good Socialist). I've wanted to reach, however, other progressives with our message. I've also recruited Charles Barton from nucleargreen.blogspot.com to also participate there (charles-barton.dailykos.com). It's a 'left liberal' community but we have made dozens of converts, so-to-speak against the "wind and solar zombies". Dailykos is good because if you stay on it, you can generate hundreds of comments.

I'm am more hard-left that Charles or anyone else. Left-atomics was basically launched to re-stimulate discussion among far-left socialist groups, some of whom, most of whom, are part of the Green Party/Green Peace cabal. Ian Agnus from Canada and runs the Climate and Capitalism blog has welcomed there even though his site is full of anti-nuclear bloggers. It's an up hill battle but we are gaining.

I'd like to see nuclear energy *removed* as a partisan political issue, thus an orientation toward Greens and Democrats. I see you've written for some conservative magazines...wrong audience...we need to win over the liberal/left/green folks as best we can, IMO.
I look forward to your book!


DW said...

Send me your e-mail address william or right me:

dave.walters DOT comcast.net

William Tucker said...


Thanks for getting in touch. This is most amazing. I'm an old socialist and college radical from the late 1960s, but I began to part company with the left over environmentalism. I couldn't believe what was happening. Student radicals began to abandon what seemed like legitimate causes - civil rights, anti-poverty, the War in Vietnam - and embrace a movement built around songbirds and Ansel Adams photographs. It was clear that it was an upper-crust movement at heart. Then I became a suburban reporter and it became even more vivid. The local environmentalists, as I once wrote, were always "people who lived at the end of long, winding country roads." They were the old guard of the community who didn't want anyone else moving in. And they were immediately embraced by all the new people who DID move in and wanted to close the door immediately behind them,

I finally stumbled into the Storm King Mountain story, which was an old attempt by Con Edison to build a pumped storage plant in the Hudson Highlands, which had been the retreat of rich stockbrokers for decades. The sons and grandsons of the robber barons got together to oppose it and convinced all of New York City that it should be on their side. This was at a time when the city was experiencing recurring blackouts. Did you ever see the story I wrote about it in 1977 - "Environmentalism and the Leisure Class." I used Veblen. He described it perfectly. (I've attached it.)

On nuclear I was always amazed that environmentalists would turn against it because it seemed to be replacing coal, which was the main target of most early environmentalism (and rightly so). People got off on this solar energy kick and never came down. I didn't pay too much attention until around 2000 when I read a Peter Huber story that said we had DOUBLED our coal consumption wince 1975 - and that in fact was what President Carter had intended. I started to get back into it. The result was this book. I was originally a physics major and could always see that they were exaggerating the dangers - although I never realized how much until I started investigating. But it's been quite an experience. I frankly didn't realize how great nuclear was before I started the book.

Let's get together and try to do something on Daily Kos. Environmentalists have become the tail that wags the dog on energy issues. They're stupefyingly misinformed but the press never challenges them and the public thinks they're the epitome of good citizenship.



DW said...

Hi Bill,
you have an interesting history. I didn't become pro-nuclear until around 2005! I work as a power plant operator in a conventional gas fired thermal unit.

I had been an anti-nuke activists and socialist when TMI occurred and I lived in Pittsburgh, PA. I worked on the "Labor for Safe Energy and Full Employment" conference in 1981...this mean pro-coal, in fact, working with the UMWA, a union I still have a tremendous affection for at least for historical reasons.

At any rate, sitting in my control room, I started wondering about nuclear energy...I hadn't really thought about it for a long time and there was stuff, more and more stuff, in the news all the time, it seemed. I had this knee-jerk, mindless "of course nukes are bad" reaction. But I remembered our POV back in 1979... "Another TMI is around the corner". Duh. So...we were wrong. And, I started really reading up on nuclear energy, how it worked, WHY it worked and whether it was in fact safe.

Everything you say in your book was essentially confirmed (I'm up to Chapter 5) by my own research, extensive research into nuclear. The rest is history.

Love to work with you on reaching dailykos readers. A bunch of us have 'intervened' to use an old-Left term, in various forums, from Gristmill to Dailykos. By us I mean the general pro-nuclear blogger community: people like Rod Adams, Charles Barton, Luke Weston (from Oz) and many others who are more pro-active in talking about our energy future and the need to dump coal and fossil.

William Tucker said...


You might want to see this. There's another one to come. My web guy is working on it.



DW said...

Very good video. Also, Charles on nucleargreen.blogspot.com posted another video of you giving a lecture. Based on the book.

Write me. We should talk.


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DW said...

What is your comment, Michael?