Clean energy is possible, practical, and essential – now!

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It is fully within our means today to make the alternative energy dream a green reality. All the technologies exist.  Unless we want to consign humanity to a broiling, toxic swamp called earth, alternative energy is an imperative.

by Chris Williams

For nearly 40 years, since the first oil shock in 1973, the dream of a planet powered by clean, renewable energy has seemed just on the horizon.

Soaring wind turbines scooping up air, regiments of solar panels drinking in sunshine, schools of wave generators bobbing in oceans, sleek geothermal plants tapping terrestrial heat: these are the building blocks for constructing a society where all people can enjoy the benefits of modernity while preserving the sanctity of nature.

Nowadays, this dream seems more distant than ever in a world where undersea volcanoes spew millions of barrels of oil, coal fires choke the skies, and 5,000-degree puddles of molten uranium poison the land, air and water.

Perhaps the critics are right in dismissing renewable energy as mere fantasy. It must be true that wind, solar and geothermal energy sources are simply too scattered, too expensive and too intermittent to replace our hydrocarbon economy.

Can solar panels in the Southwest really power factories in the Midwest and tens of millions of homes and businesses on the coasts? Won’t we need so many windmills that metallic giants will colonize every peak and plain? And what happens when the sun goes down at night or the wind stops blowing–won’t we still need a robust back-up system based on the same dirty coal, oil and uranium we are trying to supplant?

It may seem hard to believe, but it is fully within our means today to make the alternative energy dream a green reality. All the technologies exist. The engineering is relatively straightforward, especially when compared to the epic size of our oil-powered, automobile-based societies. The need is obvious. Unless we want to consign humanity to a broiling, toxic swamp called earth, alternative energy is an imperative.

The tricky part, however, is society and politics. How our society and economy is organized; how wealth and resources are generated and distributed; which institutions have a vested interest in the status quo; and how to create radically different forms of decision making are the major obstacles to greening the global economy.

The first question is: Are there even enough alternative sources of energy to harvest? Different studies provide the answer.

Last August, Science magazine reported that 101,000 terawatts of solar energy strikes the ground each year. This compares to annual global energy consumption of 15 terawatts for everything: heating, electricity and transport. (One terawatt is a million megawatts, roughly equivalent to the output of 1,200 nuclear power reactors.) Therefore, we only have to capture a little more than 1/10,000th of incoming solar radiation to satisfy all of humanity’s energy needs.

Wind energy is not so abundant, but still plentiful. A recent report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory put the total wind energy available in the United States was 37 million gigawatt hours of electricity, which is 12 times the demand. A 2005 study by Stanford University researchers found worldwide 72 terawatts of “sustainable class 3 winds,” meaning they are highly efficient for generating electricity. This estimate, which researchers call conservative, is nearly five times global energy demand.

A comprehensive 2006 report by MIT, “The Future of Geothermal Energy,” estimated that if the United States accessed just 2 percent of its geothermal potential, it would amount to 280 times our entire annual consumption. One recent study carried out at Stanford detailed how 100 percent of California’s energy needs could be reliably met by 2020 with a mix of geothermal, solar and wind power alongside existing hydroelectricity.

The October 2009 issue of Scientific American featured another study detailing how to generate 100 percent of the world’s energy from renewable sources by 2030. It would require manufacturing 3.8 million large wind turbines and 90,000 solar plants, and deploying geothermal, tidal and rooftop photovoltaic installations. The cost estimate was significantly less than if the same power was generated via fossil fuels and nuclear power. The construction of 3.8 million wind turbines might sound like a lot over a 20-year period, but as 70 million cars are manufactured every year, it is very feasible.

Clearly, the amount of energy available from solar, wind and geothermal sources, even without adding in tidal and wave energy, dwarfs current and foreseeable demand.

Now, there are two common arguments against supplying all of our energy from renewable sources.


Renewable energy sources are supposedly too diffuse to capture efficiently, even if it’s technically free. Skeptics claim huge swaths of land would be gobbled up by the wind turbines and solar arrays needed to replace coal, oil and nuclear power. This raises another problem: the overall cost to build and maintain the new infrastructure and the resources required to do so.

At least in the U.S., dispersion is not an issue. High-quality wind power is abundant in the Great Plains and Texas and along the Eastern seaboard. The Southwest is bathed in sunshine that can be efficiently collected.

A considerable amount of space would have to be devoted to turbines, solar plants and the storage, transmission and distribution grid. But these would be located in sparsely populated areas, and would take up far less space than the existing infrastructure for oil, coal, natural gas and nuclear power, without even including all the waste dumps and poisoned lands.


The second argument against renewables is because the sun and wind are somewhat unpredictable, we need carbon-based or nuclear power systems to smooth out fluctuations in supply or to account for demand spikes. Built-in redundancy to account for this problem is prohibitive in terms of cost, land and resource use.

The intermittency problem can be solved with a mix of renewables. First, wind and solar energy complement one another: wind is more prevalent and predictable at night, while solar is obviously limited to the day. Geothermal energy is highly predictable, as is tidal and wave-based energy. Second, if the mix of renewables is spread geographically, then there is a high probability that energy will be reliably available.

Third, to iron out any spikes, an electrical system based on renewable energy would require storage rather than redundancy–which in any case is already required with fossil fuel and nuclear plants. There are a number of proven technologies that can be used to store electricity. Solar energy can be stored for nighttime use by heating up salts during the day. And solar or wind power can stored by compressing air, pumping water uphill, or by employing flywheels.

Clean energy highway

To make this system viable, electricity grids must be upgraded. In the U.S., the antiquated grid is a hodgepodge of three semi-autonomous regions with little inter-connectivity and a morass of smaller lines zigzagging haphazardly across states. These grids are prone to costly accidents, power shortages and blackouts. High voltage power lines take up less land than those currently in use and are more efficient. Incorporating some high-voltage direct current lines–which lose far less electricity in long-distance transmission than alternating current lines–would also reduce energy usage.

Such a project would require federal intervention. However, when one looks at the interstate highway system–a huge subsidy to the auto industry–building a national super highway for clean-energy electrons is hardly unprecedented.

A 2009 publication, “Energy Self-Reliant States,” found that 30 states could be entirely self-sufficient in energy without requiring long-distance power transmission. Therefore, a mix of decentralized and centralized energy is entirely possible.

Other advantages of renewable energy over fossil fuels and nuclear power include greatly reducing the possibility of breathing poisoned air, drinking polluted water and living on an irradiated and dying planet. Also, contrary to prevailing belief, wind turbines and solar photovoltaic panels require far less downtime for maintenance than fossil-fuel or nuclear power plants.

As renewables are dispersed by nature and most will not be grouped in massive gigawatt-sized plants, taking turbines or solar panels offline is much less disruptive than shutting down just one large coal-fired power plant. Out of the more than 1,000 wind turbines operating in Japan, only one was damaged by the earthquake and ensuing tsunami. Therefore, resilience to natural disasters is another bonus of renewable energy sources.

One of the most intriguing benefits of renewable energies is that energy consumption would drop dramatically. According to Scientific American, “electrification is a more efficient way to use energy. For example, only 17 to 20 percent of the energy in gasoline is used to move a vehicle (the rest is wasted as heat), whereas 75 to 86 percent of the electricity delivered to an electric vehicle goes into motion.”

The cost of subsidies

Perhaps the most common argument leveled against renewable is its expense. Nuclear-power proponents claim nuclear power is the cheapest form of energy per kilowatt-hour, less expensive than coal, oil or wind. This is true–if one ignores decommissioning costs for hundreds of nuclear reactors; the hundreds of billions of dollars that it will cost to handle the Fukushima disaster over the next 100 years; lands devastated by uranium mining; at least 150,000 deaths from the 1986 meltdown at Chernobyl; and tens of thousands of years of continuing poisoning from highly radioactive waste that no one has a clue what to do with.

Wind is already cheaper than natural gas and coal, with almost none of the environmental drawbacks from mining and fracking to acid rain and climate change.

According to the winter 2011 issue of Good magazine, U.S. government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry in the form of tax breaks and direct spending totaled $70.2 billion from 2002 to 2008. Corn-based ethanol received $16.8 billion more while all other renewable technologies received only $12.2 billion.

Globally, price and production incentives for fossil fuels were an eye-popping $650 billion in 2008; this for the most profitable industry on the planet. Exxon Mobil alone reaped $30.5 billion in profit for 2010.

As for investments in green energy, last year the United States spent $18 billion, while China allocated $34 billion. China and South Korea far exceed the United States in the manufacture and production of green technology and will move further ahead over the next several years as public funding increases.

The dinosaurs that won’t die

Wind energy is now so plentiful and inexpensive that U.S. utility companies are trying to squelch the wind industry.

According to a March 2010 account by environmental reporter Peter Behr, “A group of mostly East Coast utility companies calling itself the Coalition for Fair Transmission Policy fears that the prime conditions in the Great Plains will make the region’s wind power too cheap for its members to compete with, unless developers there are made to pay the costs of moving wind power eastward.”

Along with natural gas producers, the utilities want wind developers to pay for back-up generators, penalties if they don’t deliver energy as scheduled, and want the government to deny them subsidies.

Another case of the fossil-fuel industry trying to kill renewable energy is occurring in Ontario, which has undertaken highly successful measures to support its renewable energy sector. The Canadian province is being sued for unfair trade practices by the U.S., Japan and the European Union.

Since 2003, coal use in Ontario has dropped 70 percent as 8,000 megawatts of clean energy have come on line. Its plan is to replace coal with renewable sources by 2014. Because the provincial government has enacted tariffs to guarantee prices for wind and solar energy as well as domestic manufacturing requirements–similar to “Buy American” laws–competing nations claim it is unfair competition.

A simple way to address the issue of energy consumption is through enacting efficiency regulations for appliances and retrofitting housing stock. As one example, U.S. regulations for new refrigerators, dishwashers and washing machines have led to the manufacturing of appliances that use 80 to 90 percent less electricity than old devices. A counter-example is provided by televisions. After vociferous lobbying by the electronics industry to block efficiency regulation, electricity consumption by televisions has soared because designers haven’t been pushed to reduce energy use.

In terms of transport, we need to move from single-passenger vehicles and airplanes to a mix of bicycles, buses, subways, and light and high-speed rail. Bus systems, such as pioneered in Curitiba, Brazil, show how to move huge numbers of people around a city quickly, at low cost and with minimal energy usage. In terms of high-speed rail, China’s network didn’t exist prior to 2008; in two years, it will have more miles of high-speed rail than the rest of the world combined.

Social power

It is clear from all the studies and possibilities–as well as nearly two decades of delays and sabotage of international treaties to address climate change–that the central problem is the political priorities of the social and economic regime of capital. This point was made forthrightly by the United Nations in its 2011 report “Towards a Green Economy”:

Although the causes of these crises vary, at a fundamental level they all share a common feature: the gross misallocation of capital. During the last two decades, much capital was poured into property, fossil fuels and structured financial assets with embedded derivatives, but relatively little in comparison was invested in renewable energy, energy efficiency, public transportation, sustainable agriculture, ecosystem and biodiversity protection, and land and water conservation.

Hardly a hotbed of radical thought, the United Nations says the system is to blame.

The real answer to whether or not we can power the planet on clean energy isn’t so much a technical question as a social and political problem. Either we change the social power relations or we will continue to obtain our electrical power from fossil and nuclear sources.

Fortunately, we have a current example. In Germany, a mass anti-nuclear movement that took to the streets after the Fukushima meltdown has forced right-wing Chancellor Angela Merkel to do a U-turn. Rather than expanding nuclear plants, the German government has committed to dismantling all nuclear plants by 2022.

Switzerland has since followed suit and Italy, Thailand and Malaysia are discontinuing or putting on hold their plans for a nuclear program.

Ultimately, we need a revolution in social power in order to create a sustainable world based on clean power. Under a different social system, one not predicated on profit-taking, but one based on cooperation, real democracy and production for need, we can finally live sustainably with the planet on which we depend.

Glossary: wind and wave, solar and geo

The main advantages of wind, wave, tidal, solar and geothermal energy are they are practically limitless, free once constructed, and they don’t emit greenhouse gases or radiation, destabilize the climate, cause respiratory ailments or cancer, contaminate water or leave behind spills or toxic waste.

The main drawback is high up-front costs. Building a new energy infrastructure requires a new and more efficient electrical grid and a shift from private to public transport. And at least during the build-out phase, there would be a rise in energy usage.

Wind is the most advanced and least expensive renewable energy, but some people claim towering turbines are eyesores and complain about noise pollution from the whooshing blades. However, turbines are downright pleasing compared to giant high-voltage electrical pylons. Offshore wind is more expensive, but it would be competitive if it received a fraction of the subsidies lavished on fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Concentrated solar power (CSP) uses hundreds of mirrors to focus the sun on a central tower. Water inside is boiled to create super-heated steam that turns a turbine connected to a generator. Turning mechanical energy into electricity is how all thermal plants–coal, oil, natural gas, biomass and uranium–operate. The difference is the fuel is sunshine, not mined, drilled or extracted from the earth.

Constructed of semi-conductor material, photovoltaic cells (PV) turn sunlight directly into electricity. CSP is cheaper than photovoltaic and takes up less land, but like other thermal plants it uses large amounts of water. PV cells are expensive compared to other forms of energy, but prices are dropping rapidly. In a recent interview with Bloomberg News, Mark Little, global research director for General Electric, projected that thin film PV cells would be cost competitive with fossil fuels in five years.

Geothermal plants sink pipes up to three miles below the surface to siphon heat. Iceland already obtains over 30 percent of its energy from geothermal sources. The United States has abundant geothermal potential in the West. One disadvantage is that heat cannot be withdrawn faster than it can regenerate. Also, geothermal plants in California and Switzerland have been implicated in earthquakes.

Tidal power takes advantage of the moon’s rotation around the earth, producing very predictable energy. The largest one in the world at Rance, France, has been operating since 1966. However, one proposed for the River Severn estuary that straddles England and Wales has encountered environmental and cost problems. Tidal plants also only produce electricity while tides are flowing–about 10 hours per day.

Underwater turbines are more expensive and need more research and development, as does wave power, which relies on long snakes of turbines rocking back and forth to extract energy from wave motion.

Chris Williams is the author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis. This article was first published in The Indypendent, and then in Socialist Worker.


  • Corey, I don’t see a reason to delete your comment. I suspect Ian is worried about more insulting, swearing and belittling. You didn’t do that. You were heart spoken. Nothing wrong with that.

    Corey, that ‘something’ is dangerous for 10,000 or 24,000 years is quite besides the point. You know that mercury, a terrible heavy metal (and a product of coal burning) lasts “forever”. You hear this “10,000 years!” (add exclamation marks) as if this is *worse* than anything else. That”anything else” never goes away and combined from every toxic substance known to humanity is in quantities MILLIONS of time more dumped into the worlds ecology than any radioactive, or more perciesely, radiotoxic, substances from nuclear energy.

    I believe you and most others on the left have lost perceptive. In the US we have 70,000 tons of this “10,000 years” nuclear spent fuel. ALL of it, every last bit, can fit in ONE warehouse of moderate size. There simply is NOT tht much of it.

    Secondly, while very dangerous if it were to get out, it doesn’t. It is the most managed ‘waste’ in the world bar none. Which is why *this* waste has never caused any harm.

    Thirdly, only nuclear energy can actually get rid of it via recycling/reprocessing and using it as feed stock for the next generation of nuclear energy. We, ‘our side in this debate’ actually have ways of getting rid of the stuff; reducing it’s toxicity to 300 years and reducing it’s volume by about 30 times.


  • It’s me again, advocating for tolerance, compassion and respect. As long as we are attacking and not listening to each other, the “powers-that-be” are winning. As I have said before, “evolution,” “mother-nature,” or you could say, the human species genome seems to find that a great variety of personalities, interests, intelligence types, natural talents were of high survival value for the human species. (Of course I know that there was no actual force making this decision. Its just a convenient way to talk about species traits.)

    Anyway, there are a host of reasons why an intelligent, concerned person who is trying to figure out how we can save the planet, might advocate for nuclear power. Not my first choice BUT the problem is huge and complex and NONE of us definitely know EXACTLY how to solve it. Some of us are passionate purists and willing to make whatever sacrifice might possibly be necessary. We need that outlook, that purity. Some of us are more pragmatic and if it seems in the long run that using Nuclear power will have the best chance of getting us from A to B, if it proves to be the lesser of thousands of evils and the most likely to work, we will go there in a minute. Most of us are somewhere in between but we need the insights of both extremes.

    Most of all, if we are going to have any hope of success, we will need to learn to join forces and learn how to function as a united but widely varied whole. Kind of the ultimate “mut” or street dog, if you will. Nature loves to mix things up.

    So have some respect for each other. I have no idea how most of my favorite people come up with some of the stupid, thoughtless, crazy, unworkable ideas that they have, BUT my life is richer for knowing them and they probably think the same thing about me anyway.

    I worry about people who “seem” unable to accept that we sacrifices will be unavoidable. But we all change and learn over time. Eventually I have no doubt, we humans will figure out how to make life workable and rewarding non-the-less once we stop being mindless consumers.

    But I also worry about trying to work with extreme personalities from the other end of the spectrum who are so angry and desparate about the situation that they are willing to sacrifice the human race completely (especially the greedy ones) to let the earth and it’s life forms survive without us. First of all, the only way that will happen is if someone developes a dastardly virus that wipes us all out. We won’t go down without causing a great deal of damage first. That is just the way we are. So Corey, unless you have designed that virus, lighten up and join the work for no other reason than to just possibly stop the species from causing even worse damage.

    I understand the feelings because I have them too but we have a lot of work to do and we are going to need each idea, every ounce of energy, scads of creativity and every view point. We will all have good days and bad days. Our opinions will change, we will learn new facts and hopefully we can develope our compassion skills and get to work.

  • Moderator: you may have to delete this comment.

    The first label I apply to myself is an Earth defender, which I suppose is loosely translated to environmentalist. To me, capitalism and socialism are both rotting detritus on the field of ecological ruin and the utter inanity of this thread is mind-boggling. Anyone advocating for perpetual growth fueled by massive amounts of nuclear power can not possibly be considered an “eco” anything, but a deluded Earth antagonist. It is so infuriating to see someone parading around thinking they are so wise and cutting edge with their thinking when they are merely advocating for another human exceptionalist, anthropocentric hubris laden delusion of safe nuclear power. Just stop it, my goodness. Yes, people die from breathing coal particles… stop burning coal, people stop dying. Spent nuclear fuel is hellish poison for 10,000’s of years. Stop thinking in the here and now and try to have some foresight for the sake of future generations and other species; any Zen master will tell you life is some part suffering. Stop thinking that any system can alleviate suffering, unfairness, death, disease and advocate knowingly for the least bad options we have. “…we have to figure out how to grow, expand our forces of production, and still save the planet…” why don’t you try figuring out to have the sun rise in the west instead? What an inane, impossible statement!

  • On life spans. Yes, statistics and all that. In many of these countries you have a VERY low birth survival rate. We know that coal burning and mining kills hundreds of thousands, lowering still what should be a higher life span. Regardless of how you cut the numbers, Chris…underdevelopment means a much lower life span. Higher development of the productive forces means a longer, and, I might add, a more comfortable one.

    The purpose of developing the productive forces is to decrease the amount of drudgery in society. It means lowering the quantity (and the thus the value) variable capital in any commodity *for our class* benefit. It means lowering the number of hours spent each day to produce the same or greater amount of use value. It doesn’t mean “explosive uncontrolled consumerism”. That’s capitalism definition.

    People have a right to a high tech, democratically distributed, forces of production that society can produce. When you get down this it means *energy*. I will repeat: no matter how much you ‘conserve’ or make efficient, growth will wipe those gains out. So we have to figure out how to grow, expand our forces of production, and still save the planet. I believe nuclear can provide this, especially Gen IV nuclear which doesn’t need extractive industries like uranium mining.

  • Chris W, I agree…there is huge waste and misuse. But it also becomes something a chimera of sorts, with, if you’ve noticed, so many greens put this forward AS the answer, it is not, at all.

    You make a HUGE assumption that when I say that people want a standard of living, it means like I have in the US. But you use of the term “just live” is really “just survive”…and that’s true to a certain extent, especially as the crisis deepens. To get away from that barbarism being imposed by Imperialism, or rather Imperialist disaster, it doesn’t mean that *if given the choice* the want a serious bump in their standard of living. Let me explain what I mean by this:

    2 billion people in the world live with out any electricity at all. Sure, some, like the Inuit or Amazonian indigenous, prefer what is a hunter-gather lifestyle. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about billions of people who *want* electricity and live in…cities, or are actively part of the exchange-value economy of the world. There are another billion or so who have electricity but don’t have a reliable grid to access or one that provides what they want. What do I think they “want”?

    I think they would like a damn light switch. One where something so ubiquitous for us is something *non-existent* for them! 24/7 power when *they* want it, to be able to cook without filling up their house with smoke (30,000 dead a year from this in India alone: see For “lawn lighting”? Nope. For fancy haligen track lighting? No…just a light or two to give their kids a chance to read by light for their studies after a day in the fields.

    How about a refrigerator? A big 28 cu ft, $6,000 SubZero side-by-side? No, a small, half-height fridge with about 4 to 8 cu ft so any left over food won’t spoil or any anti-biotics given out to the clinic won’t go bad. Can’t have this with “solar cookers” and other, quite honestly, pathedic solutions that many NGOs have come up with.

    How about a power to power a laptop computer, a cheap one, with internet access? I think this is a *right* to have, do you? How about a television…not a 51″ LCD Toshiba that chews up 400 watts an hour but a small CRT type one that uses about 60 watts?

    How about a small air conditioner to make their children more conformable when slipping in the tropics? Central air conditioning for the whole house? No, maybe just a very small one.

    Everything above, to bring this to the minimum level of human decency requires a *massive* expansion of the productive forces. It is for THEM to decide their course of development, but any “plan” that denies them this right, or points to the “nobility of the poor” is going to fail and fail miserably, as it means you are on the wrong side of history.

    To do this, to get to this, we will need anti-Imperialist struggles and the overthrow of pro-Imperialist gov’ts. But any gov’t that doesn’t provide a pathway to a human-oriented development of the productive forces doesn’t deserve to be in power.

  • And…
    Thanks Jeff for your comments and link. You are always clear and concise. And I agree that becoming individually green as a means to avoid activism won’t work. It will take everything we have to pull this off in time. Starting with a whole new mind set, a major cultural change. How do we make this happen? How do we reach our fellow citizens of the country and the planet? And how do we stop those who are in control, break their stranglehold on our society and our minds?

    David W.
    Yes, we should live where we can walk to work and that would increase our average life span.

    Suburbs are a problem we will have to deal with. I don’t know the answer but we need to ask the question.

    The planet is limited. We can only do so much to it. Nothing except cancer keeps “growing” and even that is self limiting eventually. Why is the fact of the finite quality of the earth so hard to imagine? And why not stop producing all the unneccesary “JUNK” so that what resources we have last just a while longer. Maybe, changing to a simpler lifestyle IS the next advancement of human civilization. More, bigger and more complex isn’t neccessarily the ONLY approach to progress.

  • “…and wind and solar can’t? Who do you think owns, operates and sells this? The *same* companies, with vastly more subsidies per kwhr…that private companies can rack up. The fantasy of solar and wind is being “projected” beyond the labor theory of value as it can exist in a different alternate, non-capitalist reality.”

    @David W. What I wrote was, “…the plant can be owned, subsidized and invested in, producing profits and concentrated control. SAME SITUATION WITH TAR SANDS, NATURAL GAS POWERED AUTOS OR PRIVATELY DEVELOPED BIO-FUELS, EVEN WIND FARMS.

    I would have to say that those who want nuclear power don’t want to give up all the “goodies” of the wasteful lifestyles developed in modern Capitalist Countries.

    Where to start? I could respond to so many thoughts and opinions. This time, I want first to respond to the idea that the overpopulating masses in developing countries are causing the huge need for a big increase in energy production.

    The people in developing countries seem to be demanding the same kind of “growth” focused economy as we have now because Capitalists have taken their land and resources to produce large quantities of products such as palm oil to export to developed countries for the profit of those Capitalists which is NOT then put back into the developing country. The citizens of such raped countries no longer have the means to support themselves. I’m sure the rich, the global corporations, the capitalists PROMISED the developing countries that the lives of the citizens would be made so much better if they gave up their rights to their own resources. Not that the people were asked what they thought before their resources were taken from them.

    Often, certain, unamed developed countries have destroyed real democratic governments so that puppet dictators could be installed that would freely privitize the resources within the country and go along with the promised perks of a growth focused, capitalist economy. This is a long and often repeated story but you get the point. The citizens of these countries were able to support themselves, productively with much lower carbon footprints than the footprints of the agribiz companies that have taken their land from them. Now the people need to work for the capitalist owners in order to purchase the minimum requirements for life. Lacking ownership of their own resources, the promise of more money from a “growing economy” seems the only possible solution to their problem although we know that the promise is a lie. (This is now being done to the workers in the “developed” countries as well which are beginning to function very much like “third world” countries.) The citizens of developing countries are not asking to live like we do, they are asking just to “live.” The answer is for them to have possession of their resources for sustaining their lives, not growing monocrops or exporting their resources.

    Anymore, the only ones who benefit from growth economies are the Capitalists. The planet is not benefitting either. The necessary resources to maintain this kind of economy will soon become too expensive for most of us to have access to them. One of the first malfunctions will be our food system and I’m not sure nuclear power plants and wind farms will help. When life gets difficult and we, the workers, have to hunker down, get creative, and start trying to meet our own basic needs, I would rather do this without nuclear accidents and extreme climate change.

    One last comment about “average life span.” An average life span of 45 years does not mean everyone died at age 45. As Margaret Mead pointed out, she personally knew many old people in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s when she was a child in the early 1900’s making those old people born in early to mid 1800’s. They were still alive.

    Mead explained that these low averages include higher infant death rates, and illness due to lack of antibiotics, and less access to the kind of emergency medical care and certain modern medical knowlege etc. Better plumbing and sanitation made a big difference as well. But if you lived through infancy, chilhood diseases, the accidents of physical labor and no antibiotics, the longer you lived the older you were probably going to get before you died. (Think about that since it is still true today.)

    Just because we give up many perks that aren’t doing much for us anyway, such as unlimited, cheap transportation, plastic junk products, giant houses, cheap electronics and junk food, it doesn’t mean we will be thrown back to the dark ages where we will all drop dead from old age at 45. We now have antibiotics, health departments, plumbing, medical knowlege, the internet, lots of land in those suburban yards, and a great deal of scientific know how. Being less wasteful doesn’t mean those advances will disapear. And there is reason to expect that when we live more simply, people actually have more fun, are more connected with their community, more empowered, creative, healthier and find life more meaningful.

    I agree our energy needs aren’t going to decrease very quickly but there is such a great deal waste due too greed, misuse, ignorance, stupidity, inefficiency, lack of concern and vision there is no reason to argue for increased production.

  • Jeff, then we have a quite huge different understanding of Karl Marx and, what socialism is and could be. But more specifically, the problem you have, and many others on the left, is the disbelief that the expansion of the productive forces is a “good thing” (and thus totally a-historical and counter to everything the classics of Marxism ever taught us); its a disbelief that humanity cannot expand the forces of production and do so both exponentially and in an environmentally friendly way. Fitz’s perspective can only be classified as ‘reactionary’ (small ‘r’ reactionary).

    The somewhat fake dichotomy between “anti-growth” and “de-growth” narrows when one talks about developing countries raising their forces of production and general population growth as a whole.

    Additionally, as I commented up the tread, we will need a lot more energy, not less, to get off of fossil fuel production.

  • Please stop with the “eternal accumulation of objects” business and tend to the key issue, which is that “the bottom line is that to move away from carbon as the population grows, and the *billions* in developing countries want electricity and other forms of energy, we will have to produce prodigious amounts.”

    A planned, egalitarian steady state economy will require great amounts of energy.

  • on g’boro, the costs of this “renewable energy” are over 35 times the price of gas plant (I think), and would still be parasitic on the gas plant.


  • Nuclear plants were born as a physical manifestation of social relationships underlying growth without need.”

    This makes no sense. Nuclear power is obviously compatible with a hi energy steady state economy. Fitz’s claim is technofetishism, attributing magical (here demonic) powers to a technology.

    Where I live in G’boro, we have become a finalist for the largest solar farm in the country, 400 MW installed. Cost of 1.4 billion dollars. With a 10 to 20 % CF, this comes to 35 billion dollars/GW. And it will take up 20 sites of 200 acres each.

    It gets worse of course since, due to clouds, varying insolation due to seasons, and varying length of days, there will be periods when the sun is giving us near nothing. Gas will back up.

    what sort of intrinsic relation to capitalism might one make up from this example? solar power is the “physical manifestation of social relationships underlying stagnation ridden crony capitalism.”

    The latter makes at least as much sense as the former (no sense).

  • Chris Rogers is on the mark when he says we have to use less energy, not more. I heartily endorse his last post in its entirety, which makes a striking contrast to David Walters’s productivist dreams of endless economic growth fuelled by abundant nuclear power.

    A recent article at Links by Don Fitz makes a strong case for “anti-growth”, not to be confused with “degrowth”. “The ideology of growth,” says Fitz, “is the bedrock of nuclear power. Growth requires the expansion of energy….Nuclear plants were born as a physical manifestation of social relationships underlying growth without need.”

    The idea of “anti-growth” is that people can have better lives even as society produces fewer commodities. Current forms of production under capitalism result in overproduction of goods and the production of useless, obsolescent, and dangerous things (like military weapons).

    Unfortunately, as Fitz points out, many of the environmentalists who understand this concept try to substitute lifestyle changes for social action. And too many leftists dismiss the anti-growth position as requiring huge sacrifices in our quality of life.

    Says Fitz:
    – – –

    “Socialists” and wooden “Marxists” walk less than a shining path when they demand a planned economy for the purpose of “unleashing the capitalist’s fetters on production” (i.e., unlimited growth). Planetary extermination under workers’ control does not fulfill dreams of Karl Marx.

    In the wake of Fukushima many scream that we must abandon nukes as rapidly as possible. Yes, yes and yes. Join their screams and demand a halt in the production of new nukes and a rapid shut down of those that exist!

    We must do the almost the same for fossil fuels, with a rapid reduction to 90% of current levels, then 80%, and so on until we level off at perhaps 10% of where we are at now. If and only if this reduction is made can solar, wind and geothermal (along with a very judicious use of fossil fuels and biofuels) meet energy needs in a sane society.

    – – –

    Fitz’s article doesn’t acknowledge that the drive for continual growth and expansion is built into the very fibre of the capitalist system of production, and that reversing growth is impossible without replacing capitalism. But he does affirm that “if we change our values, change our society and change our economy, we can have great lives by focusing on people rather than the eternal accumulation of objects.”

  • “One reason nuclear is appealing is that the plant can be owned, subsidized and invested in, producing profits and concentrated control.”

    @Chris R…and wind and solar can’t? Who do you think owns, operates and sells this? The *same* companies, with vastly more subsidies per kwhr…that private companies can rack up. The fantasy of solar and wind is being “projected” beyond the labor theory of value as it can exist in a different alternate, non-capitalist reality.

    “I continue to say, use a whole lot less energy!”

    Whose ‘we’? Nigerian? Chinese? Peruvians? Should everyone use energy more wisely? Yes and this, of course, is hard to do under capitalism. We in fact need to use *more* energy not less. To get off of fossil fuels in the U.S. will likely take 50% again MORE energy than we use now… unless Chris R., you think we ought to go back those wonderful years of the 19th Century where we “walked to work” (or rode horses) and the average life span was about 45 years old.

    I believe *socialism* cannot be achieved without a continued *expansion* of the forces of production, regardless of how much we concerve, or how efficient we can make equipment, we will be growing and raising not lowering our standard of living.

    I agree about mass transportation. But ever look at the US? the majority of the population lives is suburbs, not cities like NY and Chicago. Only 5% of Americans use mass transit…there is more to it besides just building out subways and buses…a whole different social archetectural needs to be gradually introduced but along with finding ways to make cars run on non-carbon fuels.

    But the bottom line is that to move away from carbon as the population grows, and the *billions* in developing countries want electricity and other forms of energy, we will have to produce prodigious amounts.


  • I continue to say, use a whole lot less energy! We are going to have to figure out how to do this one way or another! We cannot and will not live as wastefully as we do now. Everyone finds it a comforting thought that lots of properly functioning nuclear power plants will make it possible to proceed forward with the same good-old American Dream but that is avoiding reality.

    If we gave everything we have in scientic thought, money, time, energy etc. to solve our energy and carbon crisis, life would still need to be very different. We cannot mine enough uranium, grow enough biomass for fuel or accumulate enough of the component materials for solar cells to live as we do now and avoid burning oil and coal which might be better used for medicine, needed plastics or fertilizers etc. We can make the needed changes gradually, hopefully and confidently or we can refuse to face facts and watch as civilization tears itself apart.

    One reason nuclear is appealing is that the plant can be owned, subsidized and invested in, producing profits and concentrated control. Same situation with tar sands, natural gas powered automobiles or privately developed bio fuels, even wind farms. This is an appeal that is hard to give up for many reasons. It is a frightening idea to those in power that citizens might feel empowered and inspired by decreasing their dependance on “those-in-control,” and by themselves solving energy problems for their own community, town, or region with a mix of locally relevant, citizen owned energy sources. Not much chance of making huge profits and controlling the labor force that way. However it would also I’m afraid, be harder to control the amount of carbon entering the atmosphere because of the types of local energy production chosen.

    A major decrease in energy wasted could offset the carbon production from some forms of energy. A simple example would be the waste of driving a petroleum fueled auto of massive weight with one driver versus public tranportation and “walkable” neighborhoods. Or another example, smaller, local family farms produce healthier food while being less dependent on petroleum based transportation, fertilizer, packaging and pest control than huge factory farms.

    Create less wasteful forms of transportation, end profiteering from energy dependence, war, food and healthcare, while living a simpler more secure lifestyle and the result is smaller carbon production. Rewarding work, connected and safe communities, involved citizens can decrease the need to accumulate possessions, power and money also resulting in a smaller carbon foot print.

  • @Chris:

    “2010 marked the year that installed renewable energy (from wind, biomass/waste to energy and solar) outstripped installed nuclear (381GW to 375GW).”

    Doesn’t this include HYDRO as well? I don’t know, I’m really asking and hope you look it up. Solar is like .01% of that number. But if we translate into *real world* number around energy *delivered* that is the actual out put of the *capacity factor* it would look more like this: Nuclear 350GWs and the others around 110 GWs.

  • @prianikoff… “sophamoric”? Moi? And then you accuse me of arguing that nuclear is “fall-safe”? Right. I don’t, not at least until the Gen IV reactors get deployed in China.

    “How you can say Fukushima is “relatively unscathed” is completely beyond me.” Cuz there was far more damange and death by the quake to areas outside the power plant than there was to the plant it self. How can you say otherwise? Do you have some information on the quake’s effect on the plant that the public is generally unware of? I’d be interesting. I stated “It *seems* to have gone unscathed”.

    “Is it in cold melt-down yet? No.
    That’s not projected to happen for months.
    What you have 3 badly damaged containment vessels , with molten fuel at the bottom of them.”

    Yes, all true. Temperatures reported are under 100C in the core areas of all three reactors. Pool for No. 4 reactor, appears to have escaped any damange with fuel rods in tact (contrary to the scare mongers out there). It’s a terrible accident and it could effect for a period of time…we don’t know, the ability to repopulate the area. Bet we don’t know yet. It is terrible and we have to prevent it from happening again. My solution is to…prevent it from happening again and your solutions is to eliminate nuclear power. I disagree.

    No…on “atomic bombs”… do you really think I said “we don’t have to worry about them”? I never said that, I said the cat is out of the bag and you don’t need a civilian nuclear power plant to get them. That in fact it’s cheaper not to. That in fact, no one has. That if you want to to fight for nuclear diarmament, you don’t focus on countries acquiring nuclear energy, you focus on a country’s WMD wants and desires and you ATTACK THAT.

    I argue that nuclear energy is the material basis, or a big part of the material basis for socialism as it allows for the epxansion of the productive forces; the development of underdeveloped societies, and the continuation of humanities use of ever cheaper, ever abundant and ever *denser* forms of energy. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing.

  • @Jeff:
    The argument is that they are burning more *dangerous* fossil fuel. I haven’t seen the percentages of what they are burning…the last time they lost some reactors for a period of several months they had to burn more oil. If they had over capacity in nuclear, it wouldn’t be a problem.

    The statement: “The reality is that nuclear is a risky, unreliable, and in the end ineffectual replacement for fossil fuels. The proliferation of nuclear reactors would mean that full fossil-fuel generation capacity would have to be kept on standby in perpetuity, waiting for the next Fukushima.”…

    …is so the opposite of the reality I don’t know where to begin…”risky” is a weezel like word. We are talking *relative* risk with any energy sources. “Unreliable”..Jeff…seriously? The capacity factor of nuclear is greater than coal. “unreliable” describes wind. Solar on high cloud days (look at the now famous solar meter show Germany’s solar energy production). In the US nuclear capacity factor is over 90%. Sounds reliable to me. Its there when you want it, which is not the case for solar and wind.

    “In effectual for replacing fossil fuels”. Let’s see…the US gets 80% of it’s non-carbon energy from nuclear, not hydro/wind/or solar. Given the % of coal in the US generation scheme, 49.9%, it’s clear than for every 2 nuclear plants not built, a coal plant would of BEEN built. What would of replaced nuclear in the 1970s and 1980s? Oil? Coal? Natural gas? take your pick. Additionally, for every nuke you do build, you can shut down a coal plant. can you say the same for a “500 MW” wind farm? They all need extensive back up as Germany is showing and Switzerland will show if they actually don’t back out of their “20 years phase out”.

    In China, for sure, every nuclear plant built IS a coal plant not built. They should replace every MW of coal with nuclear and they will start with saving about 400,000 lives a year from coal induced disease.

    You don’t need any fossil fuel back up if the reactors are built to load-changing parameters like they are in France. As we transition to Gen IV reactors then load changing is even easier.

    Where solar and wind totally need “fossil fuel” back up which is why it’s planned that way in countries like Germany and Spain…or import on demand power from nuclear France.

    The waste of money on solar, in particular, is astounding. Better it be put into developing even safer more deployable nuclear than wind and solar.

  • I don’t seek to “impose” anything on developing nations! Simply to undermine your soporific mantra that nuclear power is fail-safe and we don’t need to worry about the atomic bombs.
    To be honest, that sounds exactly like what the capitalist nuclear industry says.

    How you can say Fukushima is “relatively unscathed” is completely beyond me.

    Is it in cold melt-down yet? No.
    That’s not projected to happen for months.
    What you have 3 badly damaged containment vessels , with molten fuel at the bottom of them.

    In order to cool them, a large and growing vessel of radioactive cooling water has accumulated.

    This will have to be disposed of somewhere.
    Where d’ya think? My bet is the sea.
    Fukushima is an ongoing environmental crisis.

  • Now that Japan is forced to burn more carbon in the wake of the catastrophic failure of nuclear, you use this as an argument that we need more nukes?

    The reality is that nuclear is a risky, unreliable, and in the end ineffectual replacement for fossil fuels. The proliferation of nuclear reactors would mean that full fossil-fuel generation capacity would have to be kept on standby in perpetuity, waiting for the next Fukushima.

    Better instead to spend the nuclear billions on renewables and gradually shut down nuclear as the new technologies come online.

  • prianikoff, this overlap is purely historical…from the early 20the century through the Manhatten project.

    The early “R&D” reactors were not civilian commercial reactors despite them being within in the guidelines of the NPT (of which Israel and India are not signers). The “Industry” as such, out grew any such ties in the 1960s.

    The *Indians* had in mind WMD from day one. This is well documented. For them it was never about civilian nuclear energy until the 1970s.

    The Israeli’s did the same thing, garnering enriched uranium from the French. You don’t need a civilian nuclear energy program to develop nuclear WMD. That is the point (as Israel proves, as S. Africa proves — which had a nuclear plant but their program was done with the help of Israel; which N. Korea). If a country wants nukes they will *always* go the “R&D” route.

    But again…you miss the *political* point: nuclear weapons programs exist as function by the ruling class of any nation that wants to go WMD. From the US to Russia to Libya. The issue then isn’t “civilian nuclear energy”, it’s WMD and *opposing* nuclear energy in developing countries means opposing *their* right to develop such carbon-free energy as they see fit.

    The ideas you are projecting here are more in line with the liberal NGOs that seek to tear up the sovereignty of developing nations and *impose* on them a schema that will prevent development with the excuse of opposing proliferation.

    The fact that Fukushima *appears* to have gone relatively unscathed by the quake itself does prove that plants, contrary to the misstatements that plants are only built to withstand a specific sized earthquake, the previous earth quake in Japan that damaged but did not cause radiation releases and are now back on line, do in fact show nuclear plants are quite robust.

    BTW…without the Fukushima and other plants on line now…Japan’s carbon footprint, AGAIN, is climbing. Who pays for the increase in carbon?

  • David Walters:
    “…preventing a country like Vietnam or China from developing any form of energy sovereignty because YOU think THEY “might” develop a nuclear weapons industry”

    How is that revelant to any of the points I was making above?

    Imperalism has NEVER been too concerned about under-developed countries having nuclear power, as long as they can exercise political control over them.

    The main point is that there is a close overlap between the nuclear power industry and the nuclear weapons industry.

    India and France illustrate this;

    Your point about India is factually incorrect.
    The plutonium used for the first Indian bomb came from the CIRUS reactor at the Babha Atomic Research Centre near Bombay, which was supplied by Canada in 1954.
    This was set up as an Atomic Energy research facility, not for the production of weapons, which only happened 20 years later.

    In 1945, France was the first nation to establish a civilian atomic energy authority, the Commissariat a l’Energie Atomique, or CEA.
    Like the U.S. AEC (established later), it had authority over all aspects of nuclear affairs – scientific, commercial, and military.

    A small Civil Nuclear programme developed in the early 50’s, from which plutonium was a by-product.
    The decision to develop nuclear weapons happened after the twin defeats of Dien Bien Phu and Suez, with the first French bomb test in 1960.

    I appreciate your B-52 plane analogy, but as you known, planes can crash. Nuclear plants can blow up too.

    The difference is, the effect of a nuclear accident is much more long-lasting.
    Fukushima is an excellent argument for renewables, not as Greens like Monbiot seem to think, an advert for more nuclear power!
    Just ask the Japanese who live nearby.

    A nuclear war would probably be the biggest environmental disaster conceivable.

  • Sorry this: “Israel, North Korea, S. Africa and Pakistan had totally distinct military programs before they went into civilian nuclear energy (and Israel and N. Korea have a military program and ZERO WMD one…how to explain this).” should of read “…have ZERO CIVILIAN programs…” that is, Israel and N. Korea *pretended* to have a civilian plan but don’t, *at all*, yet they have nuclear weapons.

    I might add that yes, nuclear armed nations have ‘stashes’ of enriched uranium…from their *military* enrichment plants…so we need to get rid of this and they need to disarm. Yes? So…the way to do this is run the enriched uranium after down blending it to single digit enrichment rations and down blend the plutonium (as we are doing right now) and BURN them up in nuclear reactors under an extended and universal “Megaton-to-Megawatt” program!

    Othewise there is *no way to get rid of the WMD feed stock*!

  • If I have time I want to respond to Chris’ thoughtful comment but now I want to respond to the proliferation issue that Prianikoff raised. He takes as good coin the belief that nuclear weapons grow organicially from nuclear industry even if as he points out that the nuclear weapons program pre-dated the energy side of nuclear fission.

    Prianikoff notes this:
    “In fact, it’s cheaper to develop nuclear bombs this way, than to use a dedicated military route.” This is patently false. It’s an urban legend drawn from false analysis and flies in the face of the actual facts.

    In fact, it’s WAY cheaper to use the military reactors, which are smaller, “R&D” reactors and much, much cheaper to build, than civilian reactors. This is why *no nuclear bomb material has ever been developed from a civilian nuclear plant*. Yes, from “R&D” reactors design from the get go as plutonium savaging reactors built for that purpose. This is why for all these “tons” of fissionable materials that could be used for bomb making has *never* been used in this way…it’s simply not worth it. The way the various isotopes of plutonium are created in a civilian reactors works *against* reprocessing it out *relative* to the specifically military designed plutonium breeders.

    Secondly, there was no ‘diffusion of civilian technology’…the heavy water plants were designed from from the get go for nuclear WMD production, not part of any civilian program. In fact, and this goes the issue…you don’t need a *civilian* program at all if all you want are bombs…India’s was *military* from the get go and they had no civilian plants online when it was developed, as they stated they did from the 1950s and their reason for resistance to the NPT.

    Israel, North Korea, S. Africa and Pakistan had totally distinct military programs before they went into civilian nuclear energy (and Israel and N. Korea have a military program and ZERO WMD one…how to explain this).

    Also, it should be pointed out, that Mexico, Sweden, Beligum, Spain and a host of other countries with civilian nuclear programs have no program, even hinted at, to develop nuclear WMD from their civilian nuclear programs. It is, at the end of the day, Red Herring discussion and avoids the bigger issue, especially for socialists, that I will get to in a moment.

    It is true that there is a cross over in nuclear engineering for nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. There is a larger more important one for something that you have missed. Nuclear energy on the civilian side *in the US* has very little real connection with the military side, except via the Navy Nuclear Propulsion program where today most or many union plant operators get their initial training. But this IS in fact a peaceful use of what came out of military program.

    It is also true that for many year the majority of US wide body and narrow body civilian passenger air lines got ALL their training flying B-52s and and K-135 transport planes. In fact, today, when you fly on ANY passenger plane you can thank the US military primarily for developing the atomic-bomb carrying B-29 and B-52s as they are direct ancestors of the B707 and every air liner since. Surely you don’t expect that this “connection” is a problem for anyone do you. The exact same thing is true with nuclear energy.

    The other area is the “Atoms for Peace” where the Eisenhower administration as you noted wanted to use the early Fast Breeder Reactor Program to breed both Pu138 and Pu 139 simultaneously for both reactor fuel (plutonium makes good fuel). This was an attempt to *merge* what hitherto and since are distinct industries together. It failed, miserably and fortunatly.

    But it is true that much of the engineering and physics part of things like enrichment (done in distinct plants for different purposes) are tied technologically and educationally together. My communist answer to this is: So What?

    The issue you are avoiding, and shouldn’t, is that preventing a country like Vietnam or China from developing any form of energy sovereignty because YOU think THEY “might” develop a nuclear weapons industry, even though I proved above how falatioius this, *avoids* the real issues of proliferation as a function of POLITICS and program.

    I stated this before: nuclear WMD doesn’t “just happen”, organically, from nuclear energy. It happens because nations want to arm themselves with dooms day weapons. No stopping of carbon-free nuclear energy programs will at all, ever, stop this, unless we develop a moment that demands Unconditional Nuclear Disarmament! It is *politics* not ‘technology’ that is the only issue with regards to proliferation.

    If want to stop nuclear weapons we need to stop the *policies* that the ruling class uses to justify them. Period.


  • Just to elaborate a bit further on the question of the relationship between nuclear power and nuclear weapons;

    Sir Brian Flowers (hardly a crusty anti-nuclear campaigner) said in his 1976 UK Royal Commission Report ‘Nuclear Power and the Environment’:-

    “The spread of nuclear power will inevitably facilitate the spread of the ability to make nuclear weapons
    …we see no reason to trust in the stability of any nation of any political persuasion for centuries ahead.
    The proliferation problem is very serious and it will not go away by refusing to acknowledge it.

    [para. 167”


    Any country engaging in a civil nuclear power programme creates the same skill-set required to construct Nuclear weapons. It also builds up a stockpile of fissionable material, even if it’s initially just at the research stage.

    Once this has been achieved, the decision to embark on a nuclear weapons programme is made much easier.

    A nuclear power station can produce enough weapons grade plutonium for 20-50 bombs/year, subsidising this with sales of electricity.

    In fact, it’s cheaper to develop nuclear bombs this way, than to use a dedicated military route.
    This was one of the reasons why Dwight Eisenhower announced “Atoms for Peace” in 1953.

    By selling nuclear fuel and plant overseas, the USA could recoup the huge cost of its nuclear weapons programme.

    Ironically, one of the first countries to benefit from this was Iran, followed by Pakistan.
    The USSR responded by supplying North Korea and Libya with their own reactors.

    Of course “Atoms for Peace” was also used as a method of gaining political leverage over the recipient countries.

    Initially the US only supplied low grade Uranium and required an undertaking from them not to make bombs with it. But by the 1960’s it started supplying high grade uranium overseas.

    Bomb making in France, China and India arose out of the diffusion of technology from Civil programmes.

    India detonated its first nuclear bomb “Smiling Bhudda” in 1974, using a reactor supplied by Canada and heavy water from the USA.

    This contravened the terms under which the reactor had originally supplied in the 1950’s.
    But 20 years later, India and Pakistan had fought a major war and Pakistan was on the verge of disintegration.

    Not to be outdone, the Pakistani government started its own crash nuclear weapons programme, using a civil research programme as the basis for it.

    Taiwan was probably trying to produce bombs from a similar reactor, until pressure was applied on them to stop.

    The US government has spent a lot of time and effort over the years monitoring and trying to control reactors using enriched uranium or plutonium.

    For its own mirky reasons, the Reagan administration obstructed these efforts during the 1980’s. But in the aftermath of 9/11 it’s become a hot topic again.

    Only 7% of US supplied nuclear fuel has ever been recovered. Around 18 tons are in 100 research stations and reactors around the world.

    The Russians have their own stash of nine tons of highly enriched uranium –enough for more than 300 atomic bombs – at a research station near Moscow.

    Not to mention the so-called “rogue states” like Iran, Libya and North Koreas, whose civil nuclear programmes have led to serious political confrontations.

  • I apologize for the longer reply earlier, it seemed apposite. One correction, nuclear power accounts for only 5.5% of primary energy use, 13% of electricity globally. The idea that the long lead times, huge expense, the lack of trained workers and public resistance to new nuke plants could counteract global warming and contribute significantly to a decrease in climate change is pure fantasy.

    Finding out whether Gen III plants are safer than prior models – when one actually becomes operational – means moving from computer models into the real world and sitting around waiting for another nuclear accident caused by a design flaw, lax regulatory or maintenance oversight, cost cutting or another natural disaster. This is a risk I’d rather not take, especially as it throws vast quantities of money on more nuclear boondoggles and prevents an earlier transition to clean energy while generating more waste and leads to nuclear proliferation and nuclear weapons manufacture.

    My prediction for Gen IV plants is that they will never be built. No country is going to move to Thorium or fast breeder reactors with a completely new and untested fuel cycle when the current nuclear industry is already in decline. Decades of research by multiple countries support that contention.

    The renewable energy sector by contrast, continues its rapid growth, despite all of the subsidies and government support of nuclear and the trans-national’s profit-driven obsession with digging for every last gram and liter of fossil fuels. Half the world’s new generating capacity in 08/09 came from the renewable sector. Every nuke plant being built is being undertaken as a state enterprise, private business won’t touch them (even prior to Fukushima).

    2010 marked the year that installed renewable energy (from wind, biomass/waste to energy and solar) outstripped installed nuclear (381GW to 375GW).

    Unfortunately, while this growth is impressive, it’s not nearly large enough or fast enough to combat climate change due to entrenched corporate interests and the historical development of capitalism.

    Hence we are returned to the social and political question and away from a narrow and rather abstract focus on technical arguments. This means fighting to build a movement for social and political change that has the power to demand not just the closing of fossil fuel and nuclear plants, increases to energy efficiency, the building of new public transit systems and electrical grids that prioritize energy conservation rather than energy consumption but more broadly fighting for a completely different society.

    As I wrote in the original article, a society based on cooperation, real democracy and production for need; one of social and ecological justice. Of necessity this means carrying out a revolutionary onslaught against the citadels of wealth and power and ultimately fighting for an end to the anti-human and anti-ecological system of capitalism.

  • It’s simply a fact that the nuclear weapons programme pre-dated any peaceful uses of nuclear energy and there is still a clear link between the two.

    Not only must the countries that have nuclear weapons programmes retain nuclear reactors, but the International control over nuclear re-processing from civilian reactors remains a means of ensuring the domination of the nuclear “establishment”.

    BTW in relation to my earlier post, I’d accept a role for Coal-fired power stations in the mix with CCS, up to a certain limit.

  • Can you re-write your last paragraph? Are you trying to say that countries rushed to nuclear *energy* to reassert their militarily dominance?

  • One answer to the “intermittency” problems of Wind and Concentrating Solar Power is simply to build much more of it and spread it over a wider area.
    Then it becomes more a question of managed variability.
    The most advanced CSP technology such as Torrasol’s plant in Seville Spain can store enough heat in the form of molten sodium salts, to drive its generators for up to 15 hours/day.
    Using such technology a 185 hectare plant can generate enough domestic electricity for a town of 25,000 people.
    A quick back of envelope calculation leads me to conclude that 10,000 sq miles of desert with CSP could power most homes in the US this way.
    If backed up by wind-power, hydro, pumped storage and natural gas, this would be enough to signficantly reduce fossil fuel use.

    Linked together with a continental grid, Wind and Solar can make serious inroads into fossil fuel emissions.
    The equipment needed is relatively easy to mass produce and it will become much cheaper with economies of scale.
    Given the political will, this expansion could happen very quickly, with none of the serious enviromental dangers posed by nuclear plants.

    These are really a big shot in the dark.
    Nukes take years to develop, usually over-run their costs, have major security and safety issues.
    They’re prone to serious down-time and there is the question of clean up afterwards.

    The Advanced Capitalist countries rushed in to this technology at the end of WW2 to reassert their military dominance.
    But only one part f the nuclear life-cycle has been solved as an engineering issue,
    The pro-nukes simply sweep this problem under the carpet, but it’s a deal breaker.

  • Fossil fuels will get more expensive while the effects on our climate will worsen to the point of no return. Many think we have passed that point already. As much as I dislike nuclear energy, it may be that we will have to let it continue for the time being while we figure out and establish renewable sources regardless of their use. Nuclear power does require input of money I’d rather see spent in better ways but we don’t have time to wait while the arguements are resolved. There are other issues that need to be addressed immediately.

    We need to put thought, concern and action into drastically REDUCING our use of energy while putting a great deal of thought, creativity, experimentation and action into structuring a civilization that is socially, politically and economically radically different from what we have now. The key words here are “experimentation” and “action.”

    Of course everyone wants to imagine the future as pretty much like it is now but with wind generators and solar arrays in the desert instead of nuclear generators and coal fired power plants but it won’t be that simple. Capitalism is going to make sure, high percentages of its citizens believe it is just a matter of time before technology solves the problem and life can go on as it does now. Meanwhile every ounce of possible profit will be wrung from our environment including the climate.

    Joining in on a debate about WHICH technology is going to “save” our way of life only serves to keep the majority of people passive and uninvolved. The “people” are relegated to a helpless, ignorant position of trust in “those-who-know” since they are never told their help is needed or what that would consist of. Meanwhile, our economic system will continue to emphasize solutions that will generate the most profits for capitalists.

    Somehow we need to get information and a new mind set to the common, everyday people because those are the people who can create change and do the needed work. Otherwise it is all pointless. They are truely the ones who matter. Unless WE are all on board and working for the changes that need to take place, unless we all claim our responsibility and ability to protect and care for our families and communities, nothing will happen fast enough. Once we manage to do that, I believe we can make the sacrifices and take the actions needed. WE may decide avoiding nuclear power deserves the sacrifices we will have to make.

    I believe that the less dependent we are, on centrally located control and production, the better. Nature works this way. The more decentralized and local our production of any of our most important needs the better, cheaper, more efficient and resiliant our production will be. Everything that can be, is best organized and accomplished from the bottom up, where the specific knowledge, desire, sacrifice and labor come from. How this might apply to energy production is complex and difficult to imagine but the REDUCTION of energy use can best be accomplished locally and regionally. Reducing energy use is a key component in a total package of solutions to reduce climate change as well as developing systems for living with the results of climate change.

  • I am only going to respond to a few missives Chris gave us. His response was three times longer than his original essay so it would be unfair to the readers in this important discussion to respond in kind. To wit:

    Chris takes up France, a country where 80% of it’s generation is nuclear and thus, carbon free. By a slight of hand, Chris comes up with this:

    “Furthermore, for all the hype about France’s green-tinged nuclear credentials, 70% of the total energy consumed in France in 2006 came from fossil fuels. ”

    How to explain this? Because of the growth of fossil fuels is a direct out come of *every* European economy since the 1970s: a growth in automobile transportation, where almost 100% of this “70%” comes from. Why does Chris then try to twist the *reality* of French state-owned electrical production which has almost the lowest carbon footprint…even WITH th “70%” from fossil overall energy consumption? Why Chris?

    France shut down every one of it’s oil burners and almost all it’s coal fired oil production in a 20 years program of nuclearization. It did so as the fruits of the post-WWII strike wave forced the nationalization of energy resources there.

    On a MW per MW basis…France got rid of it’s coal and oil fired generation. That’s a fact that renewable…that is solar and wind…have yet to do on a permanent, plant closure basis.

    France’s electric car charging stations that are being deployed there are based on *nuclear* not solar or wind, electricity.

    In addition to failing to take up our concerns about renewables he ignores our criticisms by simply asserting otherwise.

    More whoppers: Chris write: “However, storage of electricity when it is over-supplied for free is worth highlighting as it negates the need for excessive redundancy and isn’t practiced under the present system as they just burn more fossil fuels.”

    ??!! the reason there IS over-supply for “free” is because there exist a massive amount of excess generation when it’s not needed…because it’s *overbuilt* and at *great cost*. You are putting the cart before the horse, here, Chris. You need to brush up, quite honestly, on electrical grids and generation before stating such…nonsense. Respectively, really.

    EVERY MW of capacity of solar and wind needs some back up. I explained this with solar, but wind it is true as well for those days a year when no wind blows enough to provide for the full amount of power. Any on demand power doesn’t need this because it is available…well…on demand. This is why every plan outthere for renewables that is being implemented requires MORE not less, fossil fuel, either coal or gas. The carbon footprint goes up, not down or, at any rate, never goes away.

    Also, Chris, the biggest point, IMHO, is this, you write:
    “Coal is worse than uranium in terms of global warming, atmospheric pollution and mining and that’s what we’ll get if we eliminate nuke plants.”

    And you don’t refute this. Coal is, of course, by *any* measure, much worse than nuclear as nuclear is low-carbon (about as carbon intensive as wind) and coal is the worse. On top of that Coal kills tens of thousand of Americans every year. Nuclear? None or close to it.

    When you build a nuclear plant, you can shut a coal plant. You can’t say the same for solar and wind and no region, to my knowledge, including Denmark, has ever done this.


  • More later, but I read the executive summary of the IPCC RR, as opposed to the press release where Sven Teske highlights his own report.

    For the fraud involved here and the assumptions underlying the greenpeace scenario, see

    I would note the following especially:

    The magic trick of getting rid of nuclear whilst generating 80% of the world’s energy from renewables is performed by making an absurd assumption that primary energy use will fall (from 469 exajoules today to 407 in 2050) even as population rises from 7 to 9 billion and GDP per capita more than doubles. I doubt this is even thermodynamically possible, let alone the basis for good policy. [from Lynas]

    At any rate, the executive summary of the IPCC RR indicates that the median scenario has renewables accounting for 17-27 % of energy generation. (I’m going on memory. Don’t trust it). It’s not ethical knowingly to treat the outlier greenpeace report (up to 80% renewables!!!!!) as representative, especially when their numbers vary so greatly from the median.

    Chris asks what would it take to make me (pro nuclear) turn away from nuclear power: if the promise of third and fourth generation nuclear power turns out to be empty. Then, we’d be in a pickle.

    If the passive safety is fraudulent; if the efficiency of IFRs and LFTRs is hype, then I’d be forced to reconsider. You, Chris, on the other hand, are a priori betting that renewables can do it, and a priori rejecting nuclear power. Rejecting nuclear on the basis of TMI/Chernobly and Fukushima is irrational. Yet you treat this irrational rejection of nuclear power as the ethical highground. Nonsense. In your calmer moments, you can’t really think that.

    You have to just assume that gen three is fraudulent. I’m not going there. There’s too much at stake.

    You make many more assertions, which will draw a response.

  • I wonder if you are trying to solve climate change or solve other problems. I’m surprised, perhaps naively so, at the number on both the right and the left whose solutions to climate change resemble their solutions before climate change.

    Chris, I addressed most of your pre-Fukushima points and more in an article on climate change and nuclear power:

    The IPCC report says that excepting expanded hydro and biomass, the most optimistic scenarios reach less than 1/3 renewables.

    Wishful thinking and the same solutions one has always advocated are insufficient to the magnitude of the climate change problem. After years of dismissing people’s worry about everything under the sun, from cell phone cancer and power lines and …., I am now accepting that the best case scenario for climate change in my lifetime is terrifying. I can’t imagine that anyone in the future will thank people who stood by their principles and found source on the web that agreed with their principles and didn’t listen to the best understanding of policy experts, can you?

  • Thanks Frank. Your comments are always welcome. I hope I didn’t offend you with my abrupt dismissal of the Socialist Standard — it was an interesting link, and I was only trying to give it some context.

  • Ian, thanks for your informative feedback: “Frank … I can’t imagine paying any attention to anything in the Socialist Standard. They are the last tiny remnant of the pre-1914 Socialist Party of Great Britain, a weird simultaneously sectarian and reformist group with no relevance to the real world.”

    For clarification (although it may already be obvious), any comments that I contribute to your excellent website are those of an interested spectator and not those of one steeped in the knowledge of the socialist movement, its literature, its conceptual framework or its prime movers.

  • While wishing to have a fraternal debate, for the leftists still trying to justify being pro-nuke I have to ask: Is there any scale of nuclear catastrophe that would dilute your enthusiasm for nuclear power?

    I find it staggering that placing the most dangerous technology known to humanity in the hands of corner-cutting capitalists hell-bent on profit maximization – and calling for its expansion – worries pro-nuke leftists less than figuring out how to build a reliable renewable energy system. Siding with the nuclear corporations and other vested interests determined to expand nuclear power come what may, against the interests of the majority of people in 24 countries who want nuke plants shut down, not to mention 95% of Italians, would seem to me as a socialist to put oneself on the wrong side of history.

    How can trusting bottom-line-driven corporations, who we know from reams of data on the nuclear industry and the government bodies that are supposed to regulate them, that they are more than willing to lie, obfuscate and cover-up serious design flaws, operating mishaps, maintenance oversights, near misses and accidents, be a better bet than working out how to design, integrate and build an energy system based around solar, wind, geothermal and tidal/wave power?

    While we know we are not going to get all of these things and a truly sane energy policy without a titanic social struggle, a basic tenet of socialism is that struggle, and victories through struggle, tend to beget more victories. Hence, if the Japanese manage to build a protest movement large enough to end nuclear power in Japan, are they more or less likely to be okay with replacing nuclear plants with coal plants? Or will they have gained through that struggle the requisite social and political strength to demand a plan for a comprehensive clean energy system? Not to mention gained a much safer country to live in.

    The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change just released a Special Report Renewable Energy Sources illustrating how it would be possible, given a change in political priorities, to generate 80% of world energy from a mix of six renewable sources (bioenergy, direct solar, geothermal, hydropower, ocean energy and wind) by 2050. While I would take issue with promoting the extension of biofuels as a future source of clean energy the report is significant in that it has to be reached by consensus – all of the participating governments have to sign off on it. It can therefore be taken as eminently possible.

    Other, more radical but still comprehensive reports have been released by Price Waterhouse Coopers, GreenPeace, the European Climate Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, and the Institute for Policy Research and Development all indicating how 100% carbon-free and nuclear-free generation of electricity is entirely possible within 40 years. Whatever skepticism people may have about renewable energy or the individual entities concerned, carefully and expensively cultivated by the fossil-fuel and nuclear lobby’s, they can’t all be wrong. While the cost of fossil fuels and nuclear plants continues to rise, solar power and wind power costs continue to drop.

    Then there is the completely unresolved issue of what to do with the tens of thousands of tons of radioactive waste piling up around the world, the potential for future catastrophic accidents, which will increase with the numerical and geographic increase in nuke plants. Not to mention the deep and abiding connections to the nuclear weapons industry, nuclear proliferation and the national security apparatus.

    Pro-nuke arguments rest on the following:

    Chernobyl didn’t kill that many people.

    Notwithstanding Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island (to name only the largest nuclear accidents, each one worse than the last) nuclear plants can be made safe.

    Coal is worse than uranium in terms of global warming, atmospheric pollution and mining and that’s what we’ll get if we eliminate nuke plants.

    Renewable energy is too expensive, unlike nuclear power

    Renewable energy is not dependable. Or to make it dependable would require hugely destructive amounts of resources; more than for the equivalent in nuclear power.

    We can deal with the nuclear waste issue and in any case, it’s basically safe.

    There’s a new generation of clean, safe nuke plants that don’t generate as much radioactive waste or lead to nuclear weapons proliferation and they are just around the technological corner.

    I don’t see any evidence that would support even one of those propositions.

    Even before Fukushima, nuclear power represented a declining percentage of world energy provision (13% and dropping). This is despite massive and ongoing government subsidies and 60+ years of research and development with virtually unlimited funding. Even in such a wildly skewed market, it still can’t be made competitive, as many studies from businesses, government agencies etc. have shown, some of which I documented in a previous article.

    No-one at this point can say exactly how much Fukushima will eventually cost because they’re at least a year away from shutting down the three cracked reactors which have melted down. While they have managed to stabilize the situation by pumping in vast quantities of seawater and though electricity has been restored, the normal pumping machinery can’t be used because it is inoperative and because as fast as they are pumping water in it is flashing to steam or leaking out through the cracked reactor vessels. Current water use pumped into the reactors is running at a rate of 500 metric tons per day, three months after the disaster struck.

    The desperate, last ditch, definitely-not-out-of-the-training-manual use of seawater to prevent more explosions and an even worse situation has resulted in the radioactive contamination of more than 100,000 tons of water. As they are running out of space to store it, the likelihood of another enormous dump of radioactive water into the ocean is becoming virtually inevitable. While they tried to filter out the radioactivity from the seawater to use it again for cooling, the filtration system had to be shut down within 5 hours of operation as it sequestered as much radioactive cesium-137 in that time as had been expected in a month. Then there’s the hundreds of thousands of tons of irradiated topsoil spread over 600 square kilometers.

    High concentrations of the more than 50 longer-lived radioactive isotopes have been found up to 225 miles away. These factors, along with the fact that the stabilization process will have to go on for months through rain, storms and changing wind patterns, hot spots will develop which will mean that several nearby towns and farming areas may well become permanently uninhabitable. Primary school children are going to school with dosimeters. And there is no safe level of radioactivity – at least according to the US Dept of Energy.

    How does one quantify these things? Or the permanent mental anguish from having to live the rest of your life worrying about potential health effects to you and your children?

    While the Japanese nuclear regulatory agency is still assuring people that the release of radioactivity is ‘only’ 10-15% of that at Chernobyl, no-one can trust their estimates due to their consistent lying and this is very likely going to be revised significantly upward, as other studies are beginning to indicate.

    The disaster at Three Mile Island took 14 years and $1 billion to clean up (in 1993 dollars). That was one reactor and only a 30% meltdown. At Chernobyl, there has been no clean-up because the whole place is still too radioactive. 25 years later the Ukrainian government is desperately trying to raise a $1 billion to build a new sarcophagus over the plant before the old one collapses and re-contaminates the surroundings. As a result of Chernobyl, the British government still has control orders in place at 374 farms, home to 200,000 sheep; sheep that are over 2,000 miles from the plant and two and a half decades into the future.

    At Fukushima there are three complete meltdowns, at least one melt-through and 4 spent fuel pools to deal with. The clean-up will go on for decades and conservatively cost tens of billions of dollars.

    Nearer to home: “The Department of Energy is decommissioning eight reactors at Hanford and plans to process about 58 million gallons of radioactive sludge now in leaky underground tanks, all at an estimated cost of $100 billion to $130 billion, according to outside estimates. But unlike Fukushima Daiichi, none of the Hanford reactors melted down and virtually all of the site is accessible to workers without risking exposure to dangerous levels of radioactivity.”

    So a price tag in excess of $100 billion for the multi-decade clean-up is unlikely to be far off.

    The people and the land will never be the same. Japan is well endowed with geothermal, wind and solar energy and could absolutely replace the 35% of its energy it currently gets from nuclear with those sources of energy.

    Of course, I was not implying that there would be no need for some built-in redundancy, as there is with any grid system. However, storage of electricity when it is over-supplied for free is worth highlighting as it negates the need for excessive redundancy and isn’t practiced under the present system as they just burn more fossil fuels. Of course we need some redundancy, the point is that we can also store energy overnight in hot salt or for longer periods of time with pumped storage, compressed air and flywheels.

    Redundancy currently means burning fossil fuels or the fission of uranium as plants have to be kept on hand and sparked up to full power in an instant. Redundancy for wind and solar means building extra turbines and panels and having them collect free energy when it’s not needed without the pollution.

    No energy system or human endeavor is without trade-offs. Obviously we will have to mine the raw materials for wind turbines etc. and use energy and water to manufacture them and resource conservation, energy efficiency and pollution from all mining activities are not trivial.

    Uranium mining however is an extremely toxic and wasteful activity. As U-235 is only .7% of total uranium and useable uranium from the ore represents only about 1%, digging up 2 tons of ore produces only about 4 kg of yellowcake. These 2 tons of radioactive ‘tailings’ litter and pollute the landscape for thousands of years with low-level radioactivity, often on indigenous lands. Yellowcake then has to be treated and refined to weed out the U-235 and enrich it to 3-5% for use in nuclear reactors (or if you keep going to 90%, in nuclear bombs), which utilizes enormous amounts of electricity and generates more tons of radioactive waste.

    Furthermore, for all the hype about France’s green-tinged nuclear credentials, 70% of the total energy consumed in France in 2006 came from fossil fuels. Apart from growing safety problems and issues with water sufficiency for the cooling of its 59 nuke plants, France (along with Japan) imports its uranium from its former colony of Niger. Niger is ranked 167 out of 169 in the UN’s Human Development Index. Life expectancy is 53 and the only decent road is the one that takes the uranium out. This represents a resource curse of the most appalling kind and is the basis upon which France claims ‘clean’ energy and ‘energy independence’.

    France is contracted to build the largest nuclear facility in the world in Jaitapur, India, site of several earthquakes, despite massive local resistance. This has nothing to do with providing electricity for ordinary Indians as 400 million of them are currently without electricity despite a nuclear program stretching back more than three decades. Indeed, when faced with the decision in the ‘70’s of whether to use its remaining uranium for nuclear power stations to generate electricity or to build more atomic bombs, the government unhesitatingly chose weapons manufacture. Now out from under the uranium and nuclear technology import ban courtesy of the United States, the government is forging ahead with more nukes.

    I notice that no-one questioned the abundant quantities of solar, wind and geothermal energy I mentioned was available, quantities which easily outweigh demand. If we are reasonably satisfied that an electrical system based on renewable energy could be made dependable without placing unacceptable pressure on land and natural resources within the timeframe available to us then the only real question is: what will help drive the ecological and social movement against capitalism and for a clean energy future forward?

    Is it a defense of nuclear power? Self-evidently, such a position puts us on the side of the corporations and against the people. We are not in this case helping to propel the movement forward but weakening it and ultimately leading it back into the willing embrace of the corporations.

    Real battles are waged in the streets and factories, rather than via a keyboard. While we need to be informed by science, I’m sure we agree that what will ultimately count as to whether we avert climate crisis will not be technical arguments about different energy systems, but what resistance can be mobilized against the corporations and their political appointees in government. Hence, my focus is on showing that renewable energy is viable in order to aid that struggle and help build the movement against capitalism, for it is surely capitalism that is killing the biosphere.

  • Ian, generally I would agree. However, sometimes these groups that outside general social discourse because of self-isolation have the time, and zero pressure, to come up with some truly fascinating analysis. I haven’t yet looked at the S. Standard item but I will glance at it.

    Another interesting piece that is very, very detailed is a piece published earlier in “The Communist”, the journal of the ultra-left and sectarian (IMHO) Progressive Labor Party. It was written by non-PLers, it seems. Is well annotated and sourced and makes an amazing case for the climate change issue (the focus of the article) and for nuclear energy. I reproduced it here on my site:

  • Frank … I can’t imagine paying any attention to anything in the Socialist Standard. They are the last tiny remnant of the pre-1914 Socialist Party of Great Britain, a weird simultaneously sectarian and reformist group with no relevance to the real world.

  • Two items of possible related interest —

    1) Chris Williams is a Long-time environmental activist and Vice President of the Union of Adjunct Faculty at Pace University, where he teaches courses in energy and the environment, physics, and chemistry. He is also the chair of the science dept at Packer Collegiate Institute.

    2) The Socialist Standard has an unflattering review of Williams’ book: “Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis”. In the review’s concluding paragraph, the author, JB, who has titled his piece “Inconsistent”, writes:

    “He has shot himself in the foot by seemingly offering an alternative, having given ample reasons why capitalism can’t change its logic, but by being far too ambiguous about the solution(s) he offers. Conspicuous by its absence is just what Williams proposes is our actual route to this ill-defined alternative.”

    Here’s the link to the review:

  • Exactly how does one get around the seasonal demand/seasonal generation problem associated with wind?

    Bonneville Power Presentation June 2001
    I recommend slide #5 to understand the scale of the seasonal wind generation imbalance.
    I recommend slide #12 to see the proposal to get rid the the PNW’s only coal fired plants.

    How does one store the wind power from May when the windmills are operating near 50% of nameplate capacity until December when they are operating at 20% capacity?

    The windmill promoters imply a ‘daily’ intermittancy problem…it’s a seasonal intermittancy problem…instead of having to store a few days supply…one needs to store a few months supply.

  • The idea is that one has any form of “grid storage”, like pumped-hydro.

    What Chris and other solar/wind advocates are doing is pushing a form of ‘micro-storage’, or ‘unit-storage’ using onsite limited hours storage. This is in fact what is used at some CSP plants. It gives a the plant the ability to dispatch some of it’s power during lower solation periods (when the sun is dipping down). They are based on insulated heated liquids: water, mineral oils, sodium salt, etc. All are limited by their small size and inability to last more than a half a day or so at whatever capacity they declare them to be.

    The problem is that it doesn’t really solve the problem of intermitency or 5 out of 24 hour sunshine. So my point is that any way you look at it, any solar input into the grid has to be made redundancy with *several* more plants of equal size to give you that baseload capability.

    You could build a plant that is a 1,000MW with storage and declare it to be a 200MW, 24/7 plant. that would work, it would be honest, and it would cost a lot money. It at the end of the day, literally, it’s mwHOUR output would be what ever the maximum generation is for 5 hours or so. That is how plants like these should be rated not “a 1000MW CSP was built today in…”. That would be a lie.


  • Exactly…another point is there is ‘storage’ and there is ‘storage’. If you look at what a system really needs, as a whole, ‘storage’ becomes more critical with on demand requirements. *Accumulating* storage is then very important. There is a storage facility that was pared with Diablo Canyon Nuclear PP at Helms. It was designed to absorb *excess* megawatts when the plant was put on line. It can *absorb* close to two weeks of 100% of the output of the plant. That is, it is a highly flexible form of storage.

    But the constructed storage for the CSP plants tend to be for only a few hours to a dozen or so hours of *reduced* generation. That’s it. A few cloudy days and it’s all over. It’ll see there in a shutdown condition. Not good.

    Almost all storage concepts, as it happens, tend to work far more efficiency with nuclear or other on demand power than with renewables.


  • David: sometimes solar thermal advocates will say that with “storage” (how much), capacity factor can be upped (to 40% or so).

    but this just pushes the redundancy onto the generation side (more collectors) instead of the turbine side. so it’s a bit of a trick, if I understand things correctly, which is never a given.

  • Tom. There are about 900,000 grams in one ton of CO2. So 900 grams/kwh means 1000 kwh per ton of CO2 for coal.

    If you divide 70 trillion kwhs by 1000 kwh/ton, you get 70,000,000,000 tons of CO2.

    If generation three, three plus and four are even close to advertised, or put another way, if China’s generation threes pan out, this a priori anti nuclear business will lose steam. Rejecting gen three and four a priori is irrational, and that’s what Chris seems to do.

    Chris is right about one thing: Germany is a test case and so far it’s failing.

    My engineering pal at my university has some strange faith in the “German national character” (no, he’s not a nazi). He thinks they will do Desertec. Ha. Are socialists going to support that?

    huge footprint, land takeover, massive water requirements and transmission infrastructure?

    I didn’t raise these issues with my friend so impressed with german ingenuity. I asked him, what about base power. “That will have to come from nuclear,” he said.

  • I wanted to respond to only one part of Chris’ submission here:

    Third, to iron out any spikes, an electrical system based on renewable energy would require storage rather than redundancy–which in any case is already required with fossil fuel and nuclear plants. There are a number of proven technologies that can be used to store electricity. Solar energy can be stored for nighttime use by heating up salts during the day. And solar or wind power can stored by compressing air, pumping water uphill, or by employing flywheels.

    This is incorrect from start to finish. That fossil fuel and nuclear (and add hydro to this mix) need ‘storage’ is just not born out by the facts. It is precisely because of each of these *baseload* sources of generation are to varying degrees load-driven, on demand power, they need no storage at all. They need only the redundancy per what they can’t cover, which is from 75% for coal to 95% for nuclear with hydro being seasonal somewhat. That is a somewhat small over building of capacity to handle the 25% to 5% times when a particular plant is off line, which, 70% of the time is scheduled and known. It is a gross distortion to dismiss, as you do, the differences between the intermittency of wind and limitations of solar by comparing it to any on demand and baseload power sources.

    Secondly, you off-handily note the existing “storage” technologies and argue this proves that redundancy in production of renewable generation is not needed. I do find this an astounding statement from someone who appears to have studied the energy needs generally and grid operations specifically.

    That you store any generation means you are removing some of the name place capacity to store for later purposes. Thus, a concentrating solar power plant with a name plate capacity of 100 MWs either can do one of two things: it can simply send out that 100 MWs for the 20% of the day it can achieve that and have ZERO to send out at all other times OR it has to have enough storage to send out “some” power for the rest of the 80% of the day. Either way something is ‘redundant’: to get that 100 MWs for 24 hours you either have storage that can provide for what you do not send out for later and then it is no longer a “100MW” plant but a “20MW” plant and thus it’s down-rated as such OR you build 5 of these plants with storage to get you that 100MWs 24/7. You cannot have it both ways, Chris. The “redundancy” is in the configuration for what ever load you will be sending out because actual, “real” generation only takes place for those 5 of 6 hours. Everything else has to be back-up and THAT has to be taken into the cost of say, producing 2400 MWhours.

    David Walters

  • I think your argument on costs is flawed. You’ve really only asserted that “Wind is already cheaper than natural gas and coal” (which certainly is NOT true – externalities not withstanding). The rest of the section on costs is just about fossil fuel subsidies. Even without subsidies, the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) for fossil fuels comes in much cheaper. We NEED energy cheaper than coal, or it will continue to be burned.

    As for your diatribe about nuclear energy – well, it’s a bit tired old.

    1) The per kWh figure (i.e. the LCOE) includes decommissioning costs.

    2) Your statement about the “hundreds of billions of dollars that it will cost to handle the Fukushima disaster over the next 100 years” is baseless. I don’t know where you got a hundred years figure from. And even if does cost 100 billion dollars (sounds highly unlikely), I’ll quote what someone else wrote elsewhere:

    “Total nuclear electricity generated: ~70,000,000 GWh (
    Assume that has displaced black coal at ~ 900 grams/kWh CO2 gives an emissions saving of ~63,000,000,000 tonnes CO2

    For an assumed cleanup cost of $100,000,000,000 at Fukishima that is an additional CO2 abatement cost of ~$1.40 per tonne CO2 over the whole history of nuclear power.”

    3) Renewable energy (particularly wind and solar) infrastructure requires far more mining than nuclear infrastructure + fuel (see: The amount of uranium (or thorium) needed to power a nuclear plant is tiny, especially compared to coal. And there is no evidence that uranium mining is more harmful to the environment than any other form of mining.

    4) Your claim of “at least 150,000 deaths from the 1986 meltdown at Chernobyl” is just plain untrue.

    The World Health Organisation have concluded that a MAXIMUM of 4000 people died ( The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation have put the offical death toll at 64, and there is no statistical evidence to suggest more have died (

    5) You state “tens of thousands of years of continuing poisoning from highly radioactive waste that no one has a clue what to do with”. Yet this “waste” can be safely and completely used up in modern reactors as fuel (, and has NEVER harmed anybody anyhow.

    I share your enthusiasm for getting rid of fossil fuel plants, and the role renewables will play in this. But don’t rule out nuclear – renewables simply won’t cut it without it. Germany are abandoning nuclear now to build 10 – 20 GW of new fossil fuel plants ( That’s telling us something, and I find it extremely worrying.