Socialists debate whether nuclear can generate the power needed to improve the economic well-being of the vast majority of people, without carbon emissions.
Marco Rosaire Rossi is a graduate student in the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois-Chicago. His work has appeared in Z Magazine, The Humanist, and New Compass.
Click here for previous Climate & Capitalism articles on this controversial subject, and scroll down for responses by other Climate & Capitalism readers. As always, we welcome thoughtful and comradely comments.
by Marco R. Rossi
The success of any revolutionary socialist project is dependent on it putting forth policies that improve the economic well-being of the vast majority of people. This is only possible through increasing a national economy’s productive potential, especially for underdeveloped nations. At the same time, such increases have the potential to damage the natural environment. The dire potentialities of climate changes mean that a revolutionary socialist project must abolition poverty through increasing production while at the same time guaranteeing sustainability through using fewer resources. To solve this dilemma, socialist movements must embrace technologies that produce more energy while generating fewer greenhouse gases.
The majority of socialists in developed nations have accepted the idea that this can be achieved through renewable energy, mostly wind and solar. However, as wind and solar continue to be deployed the prospect of a completely renewable energy future appears less likely. Currently, the only technology that can generate large quantities of power without carbon emissions is nuclear. Yet, outside of a handful of few advocates—such as David Walters and Leigh Phillips—socialists have been hostile towards nuclear energy. This hostility is based on misinformation. Amory Lovins and other anti-nuclear advocates have made a career out of misinforming the public on nuclear power.
In the cases of Lovins, this misinformation campaign has been motivated by the idea that the ecological problems can be solved through a technocratic incorporation of nature’s value into market transactions. This incorporation is supposed to lead to new efficiencies that allow governments to “reduce taxes on personal income” because social needs are served through individual technologies. Wind and solar inherently support this goal because their distributive nature has the potential to eliminate the need for a shared energy infrastructure.
By naively accepting the misinformation campaigns against nuclear, socialists have given tactical approval for Lovins’ privatized techno-utopias. In doing so, they have ended up attacking industrialism instead of capitalism, and have failed to provide realistic solutions to the climate crisis that simultaneously addresses the issue of global poverty.
A reliable source of energy is critical to an economy’s productivity. Indeed, industrialism itself was a revolution in energy, where less intensive and dependable fuels (i.e. forms of biomass) were replaced with ones far more predictable and efficient (i.e. fossil fuels). One indication of an energy source’s reliability is its capacity factor. Capacity factors measure the “real world” output of an energy source opposed to its design potential. For example, a power plant could potentially produce 1,000/MWh of energy, but if it has a capacity factor of 50%, in real world terms it will only produces 500/MWh.
The United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) categorizes energy sources into dispatchable and non-dispatchable. Dispatchable energy sources can provide energy on demand. Non-dispatchable sources can only provide energy when available. Nuclear is considered a dispatchable energy source with a capacity factor of 90%. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar have very low capacity factors that range from 29% to 45%.
Not only is the capacity factor of these sources low, but they are also intermittent, meaning the energy is inconsistently produced. The low capacity factor and intermittency of wind and solar require an overbuilding of their infrastructure to produce enough energy to meet demand. This overbuilding of infrastructure creates numerous economic and environmental problems.
|Dispatchable Energy Sources||Capacity Factor %||Non-dispatchable Energy Source||Capacity Factor %|
|Coal with 90% CCS||85||Wind, Onshore||41|
|Conventional CC||87||Wind, Offshore||45|
|Advanced CC with CCS||87||Solar PV||29|
Source: United States Energy Information Association, 2019
In terms of economics, the EIA estimates nuclear energy’s total levelized cost of energy (LCOE) at $92.6/MWh. This is considerably higher than combined-cycle natural gas at $50.1/MWh. Even when combined-cycle natural gas utilizes carbon capture and storage, the cost is still lower than nuclear at $74.9/MWh.
Nevertheless, nuclear is still lower than other clean energy options. Biomass has a LCOE at $95.3/MWh, offshore wind is at $117.1/MWh, coal with 90% carbon capture and storage is at $119.1/MWh, and solar thermal is at $126.4/MWh.
Nuclear is more expensive than onshore wind at $49.8/MWh, solar PV at $45.7/MWh, and hydroelectric at $39.1/MWh. But these figures do not include the full cost of these energy sources. The EIA’s calculations only two types of tax credits: The Production Tax Credit, which is available to nearly all renewable sources, and The Solar Investment Tax Credit, which is available exclusively to solar.
These two tax credits do not cover the totality of subsidies. According to the Congressional Budget Office, nuclear receives less than 5% of all federal subsidies. This is the smallest portion for any energy source. In contrast, renewable energy sources and energy efficiency received over 58% of all federal subsidies.
|Energy Source||Total Subsidies||Percentage|
|Renewables and Energy Efficiency||$12,372 million||~58%|
|Fossil Fuels||$5,280 million||~25%|
Source: Congressional Budget Office, 2017
In addition to these subsidies, unlike other forms of energy, the cost of wind and solar increases the more they are integrated into the grid. The reason for this is because the low capacity factor and intermittency of these sources create problems for grid operators; these problems compound as these energy sources expand in use. Currently, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the social cost of carbon pollution ranges from $12 to $123 per metric ton of CO2. However, the cost of forcing renewable energy sources on to the grid through Renewable Portfolio Standards is well above that, ranging from $130 to $460 per metric ton of CO2 abated.
Even within a socialist context—with the profit margin removed as a consideration—an energy system mostly reliant on wind and solar would still be highly uneconomical and would result in energy being extremely unevenly distributed. Furthermore, the problem of intermittency means that it would be impossible to make wind and solar more economical and accessible through economies of scale.
The environmental impact of energy sources should be evaluated in a multifaceted manner. Many energy sources are environmentally beneficial in one respect but have negative impacts in another. Contrary to popular belief, nuclear power has several environmental benefits. Not only is it able to produce large quantities of power with few greenhouse gas emissions, but it is also superior to other energy sources—including wind and solar—in terms of land use, totals materials used, and waste management.
Nuclear power’s primary benefit is its high energy density. The average person in a developed nation will use approximately 6.4 million kWh of energy in their lifetime. For uranium, this energy output is achieved through 40.7 cm3 (approximately the size of a golf ball). In comparison, for compressed natural gas, an equivalent amount would require 56 × 20,000L tanker trucks. For coal, it would require 4,000 m3. This extremely high energy density means that nuclear can generate large quantities of energy with few inputs.
In the context of climate change, nuclear power has a very low lifecycle of carbon emissions. A literature review by the World Nuclear Association calculates the average lifecycle emissions of nuclear at 29 tons of CO2/GWh. That is fewer tons of carbon than both solar PV (85 tons of CO2/GWh) and biomass (45 tons of CO2/GWh). The only energy sources that have lower emission rates are wind and hydropower which both have 26 tons of CO2/GWh.
Additionally nuclear power is one of the fastest means to decarbonize a grid. Starting in the late 1970s, both Sweden and France aggressively moved nuclear onto their grids. Today, they have some of the lowest emissions in all of Europe. The World Bank estimates that the per capita carbon emissions of France are 4.57 metric tons and for Sweden they are 4.478 metric tons. Both of these figures are below the global average and nearly half the rate of Germany (8.89 metric tons), which has attempted to decarbonize its grid by reducing its reliance on nuclear and increasing its use of wind and solar.
According to the International Atomic Energy Association, the land footprint of a nuclear facility is among the lowest of nearly any energy source. Nuclear energy’s approximate median land use impact is 0.78 m2year/MWh. Only natural gas and hydropower are lower at 0.26 and 0.2 m2year/MWh, respectively. Meanwhile, the land footprint of solar and wind, due to their distributive nature, are both devastatingly large, ranging from 3 m2year/MWh to as high as 57 m2year/MWh. Nuclear also uses far fewer materials.
According to the Department of Energy’s Quadrennial Technology Review, geothermal uses 5,261 metric tons of materials/TWh, wind uses 10,168 metric tons of materials/TWh, hydropower uses 14,078 metric tons of materials/TWh, while solar uses an astonishing 16,447 metric tons of materials/TWh. Compare to those sources, nuclear only uses a fractional amount, at a mere 931 metric tons of materials/TWh.
Nuclear waste is the energy’s most significant shortcoming. Collectively, the nuclear power plants in the United States have produced approximately 90,000 tons of waste. Nevertheless, when compared to the waste from other energy sources, nuclear energy’s waste production is rather modest. In the United States, coal plants produce approximately 130,000,000 tons of coal ash. Yearly, 2,370,000 tons of electronic waste (which solar and wind dramatically contribute to) are produced. In terms of natural gas and oil production, 28,000,000,000 tons of produced water are generated every year.
Out of all these sources, nuclear energy is the only source that produces high-level radioactive waste (HLW), but this is only approximately 3% of the waste. HLW can take 1,000 – 10,000 years to no longer become radioactive, but all the other sources of waste contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and cadmium. These heavy metals are extremely toxic at very low doses and do not naturally decay. Currently, there is no effective waste management system for these heavy metals and many of them pose severe threats to human health and the natural environment.
Finally, the possibility that a nuclear power plant could meltdown has led some to believe nuclear power is uniquely dangerous. The reality is that the likelihood of a devastating meltdown occurring is extraordinarily rare. Per kilowatt hour, nuclear power has the fewest deaths of any energy source. The World Health Organization has calculated that the Chernobyl disaster—by far the worst nuclear power plant disaster ever—could lead to approximately 4,000 premature deaths over several decades due to exposure from radiation. To put that number in perspective, the EPA estimated that approximately 160,000 people in the United States die from air pollution in 2010 alone.
In the context of extreme poverty and global climate change, socialists must support technologies that can produce more energy with less pollution, and embrace the advantages of having a shared energy infrastructure. Nuclear power is an essential means for rapidly decarbonizing the global economy without causing a decline in living standards.
Nevertheless, too many socialists continue to be hostile to nuclear power and remain committed to powering the world mainly on wind and solar. This hostility is counterproductive. There is no time to chase green dreams of privatized techno-utopias. If a revolutionary socialist movement is to be relevant to the working class, it must offer realistic solutions to the climate crisis that directly address the reality that the movement toward socialism requires increasing a national economy’s productive capacity.
Failure to do so, inadvertently gives legitimacy to bourgeoisie environmental critiques that attacks industrial capitalism, and ignore the likelihood of eco-austerity under so-called natural capitalism.
 Amory Lovins and Paul Hawkens, Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1999) p. 2.
 “Levelized Cost and Levelized Avoided Cost of New Generation Resources in the Annual Energy Outlook 2018” U.S. Energy Information Administration, March 2018. https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/pdf/electricity_generation.pdf Retrieved 2 Feb 2019
 “Federal Support for the Development, Production, and Use of Fuels and Energy Technologies” The Congressional Budget Office November 2015.
 “The Social Cost of Carbon Estimating the Benefits of Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 19 January 2017. https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/climatechange/social-cost-carbon_.html Retrieved 12 Dec 2019.
 Michael Greenstone, Richard McDowell, and Ishan Nath Do Renewable Portfolio Standards Deliver? The Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, Working Paper, No. (62) April 2019.
 Corey J. Bradshaw and Barry Brock “Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation” Conservation Practice and Policy Vol 29 (3) June 2015 p. 702-712.
 “Comparison of Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Various Electricity Generation Sources” World Nuclear Association, July 2011. http://www.world-nuclear.org/uploadedFiles/org/WNA/Publications/Working_Group_Reports/comparison_of_lifecycle.pdf Retrieved 2 Feb 2019.
 “CO2 emissions (metric tons per capita)” The World Bank. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC Retrieved 2 Feb 2019.
 “Nuclear Power and Sustainable Development” The International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna 2016.
 “Quadrennial Technology Review: An Assessment of Energy Technology and Research Opportunities” The United States Department of Energy, Washington D.C., 2015.
 “Disposal of High-Level Nuclear Waste” The Government Accountability Office. https://www.gao.gov/key_issues/disposal_of_highlevel_nuclear_waste/issue_summary Retrieved 2 Feb 2019.
 “Coal Ash Basics” The Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/coalash/coal-ash-basics Retrieved 2 Feb 2019.
 “Cleaning Up Electronic Waste (E-Waste)” The Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/international-cooperation/cleaning-electronic-waste-e-waste Retrieved 2 Feb 2019.
 “About Produce Water (Produced Water 101)” Produced Water Treatment and Beneficial Use Information Center. http://aqwatec.mines.edu/produced_water/intro/pw/ Retrieved 2 Feb 2019.
 Agustin, Alonso, Tom Bleese, Barry W. Brook, Daniel A. Meneley, Jozef Misak, Jan B.van Erp “Why nuclear energy is sustainable and has to be part of the energy mix” Sustainable Materials and Technologies Volumes Vol. 1–2 December 2014 p. 8-16.
 “Chernobyl: the true scale of the accident” The World Health Organization 25 April 2016.
 “Progress Cleaning the Air and Improving People’s Health” The Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/clean-air-act-overview/progress-cleaning-air-and-improving-peoples-health Retrieved 2 Feb 2019.
I think this issue should be considered but I did not like the first line:
“The success of any revolutionary socialist project is dependent on it putting forth policies that improve the economic well-being of the vast majority of people.”
NO – in fact;
The success of any revolutionary socialist project is dependent on it putting forth policies that SECURE the [deleted] well-being of the [deleted] people.
It’s hard to know where to start on the utter nonsense in this article. I’ve only recently found this site and most of the articles are quite good but topics on this subject need a good editor to weed out rubbish like this.
Incorrect and out of date costings, misunderstood terminology, incoherent timelines and more. Nuclear is a huge disappointment and has made little cost and safety improvement in half a century. I’d love to support it if it was viable but it isn’t.
Many comments have fallen into the ‘EITHER/OR” trap. Either renewable energy or nuclear. Nonsense. This silo thinking costs us dearly. There are many examples of nuclear/renewable energy combinations that are lost in this “Fist fight in front of a forest fire” Each silo has enough ammunition to negate the other side, but who benefits…the fossil fuel industry.Want to decrease GHG as quickly as possible: build renewable+ nuclear + energy efficiency.That is quickern than any single pathway.
About 80% of the GHG come from the end use sectors like transportation, space heating and making hot water. To make these end uses carbon free we will need vast amounts of clean electricity, far more than we have today. It is far from clear that renewable energy and nuclear energy working together can provide this additional electricity quickly enough. Worse, replacing billions of end use devices like gasoline operated cars, fossil fueled spec heaters, etc.,etc. dwarfs the clean electricity supply challenge.
Get out of your silos. You are missing the larger challenge to a low carbon future.
An article to consider by one of the co-authors of “A Skeptics Guide to the Universe”, be sure to watch carefully the one hour presentation by Dr. Jesse Jenkins embedded within, which is what the article comments on https://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/there-is-no-one-energy-solution/
The author is assuming a great deal when promoting nuclear power: that ‘civilized’ human beings will have the social systems, materials, know-how, and ability to properly care for toxic wastes generated by nuclear facilities for thousands of years, not to mention decommissioning them when their time comes; that coastal nuclear power plants currently in-use in locations susceptible to sea-level rise and increased storm activity (both in frequency and intensity) will responsibly be decommissioned now ( a better use of resources than building new reactors); and that in this time of Earth System and global societal stresses and potential breakdown, that nuclear facilities and their wastes will somehow will be correctly cared for.
In short, this is not the time for building more nuclear power facilities, it is the time for safely decommissioning them; it is not the time for increasing industrial civilizations power load, it is time to end industrial civilization as we currently understand it (taking the living world and turning it into the dead world).
A June, 2018, Dept of Energy memo was leaked and it confirms what people who have been paying attention were sure of. In part it said, ” The entire US enterprise – weapons, naval propulsion, enrichment, fuel services, and negotiations with international partners – depends on a robust civilian nuclear industry. Without a strong domestic nuclear power industry, the US will not only lose the energy security and grid resilience benefits, but it will also lose its workforce, technical expertise, supply chain, and position of clean energy leadership.”
Victor Gilinsky, a former member of the NRC, condemned the memo saying, in part, “the whole point of the body of the Sec. Perry letter is that there is a close connection between US nuclear power and our nuclear weapons program.”
In spite of the Price-Anderson Act, and government subsidies, nukes can’t compete even in the debased capitalist environment we live in. In spite of bankruptcies of Westinghouse and Areva, and international desire for renewable energy sources, nukes carry on mainly in countries with nuclear weapons programs. This was the answer the World Nuclear Industry Status report got when it asked the question for the first time.
An article that starts with a value judgement that is very easy to disprove does not entice me to read the rest of the article. But I will anyway in case there is useful thought hidden within. Good luck with your graduate studies, but I would strongly recommend against using value judgements (opinions) even in popular writing.
The offending statement is the closing part of your opening: “The success of any revolutionary socialist project is dependent on it putting forth policies that improve the economic well-being of the vast majority of people. This is only possible through increasing a national economy’s productive potential…”
No, increased productive potential is the antithesis of any solution. Sorry, I am bedridden right now and cannot get into a full debate on this.
Is intermittency in renewables still a problem in an economy that is not dependent on constant growth and expansion? With the elimination of large sectors of the economy (advertisement, Military, individual car production, production of useless commodities, etc.), shouldn’t we be calculating new possible energy input?
Wow. It is astounding that otherwise sensible people still think this.
Leaving aside nuclear waste and weapons proliferation (which are both reasons to simply rule nuclear out as an energy option) there is also:
* not enough time (to implement nuclear energy in the window we have for reducing emissions)
* it is way more expensive than renewables (and the argument made that renewables are inadequate seems wanting)
* and fundamentally: there is not enough uranium in the world (as far as I understand it) to produce the energy required for a global energy system based on nuclear; and
* impossible to imagine that you could win popular support (for sensible reasons) for any massive expansion of nuclear power.
Mr Rossi is still chasing the Nuclear Dream.
It is physically impossible to build enough nuclear capacity quickly enough to make any impact on the climate. This was made clear back in 2003 in the MIT report on the Future of Nuclear Power. This is true even with the most optimistic estimates for modular designs, mini-nukes, etc. Experience since 2003 has reinforced this hard fact. Even if you disregard all other criticisms of nuclear power this single fact remains an insurmountable obstacle to nuclear power development as a solution to climate change. We simply do not have the time for nukes.
Atomkraft nein danke und atomkraft kein zeit
Insurmountable Risks: The Dangers of Using Nuclear Energy to Combat Global Climate Crisis by Brice Smith, published 2006. A comprehensive review of the many shortcomings of nuclear power.
Chernobyl by Alexey Yablokov. Published 2009. A very surprising and detailed review of the aftermath of the accident. It was much much worse than you think.
Thanks Brian for a brilliant comment!
Others have done a fine job of addressing several of the issues here, but I feel compelled to add that Marco Rossi’s article appears to be wrong on almost every point. A few that stand out for me are:
1. Relative costs: He appears to be relying on very old estimates here, as the costs of solar and wind energy are now falling faster than anyone could have imagined 5-10 years ago, while nuclear costs continue to rise. See the latest reports at carbontracker.org. And remember Fukushima…
2. ‘Dispatchable’ and baseload power: As power grid operators across Europe and in a few US states learn to adapt to a rising mix of intermittent sources, the importance of these considerations is disappearing, esp. the latter. The purported need for ‘baseload’ power to compensate for intermittency is now viewed as entirely mythical — see http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2987376/dispelling_the_nuclear_baseload_myth_nothing_renewables_cant_do_better.html for a popular account, and the same author’s article from Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews (vol. 93, pp. 318-330, 2018) for more details. According to Carbon Tracker, even dispatchable solar (i.e. solar with storage) will soon be cheaper than new gas-fired power plants, much less doubly-expensive nuclear.
3. The ‘French model’: Yes France still relies on nuclear power for a large share of its electricity, but the development of that infrastructure was a quasi-military undertaking, with little regard for costs. Attempts to export this model elsewhere have been utter failures; e.g. the Finnish nuclear plant that was to be build by French companies, and is now many years overdue at many multiples of the original projected cost.
4. Militarism and centralization: No society can manage a nuclear powered infrastructure without an extremely high level of both. Is that honestly the kind of ‘socialist’ future Rossi now wants to see? Back in the 1970s we used to chant, “Nuclear state, police state,” as ultra-militarized police forces came to break up our antinuclear demonstrations. How else are massive quantities of deadly radioactive materials to be managed, safeguarded and stored for millennia? Not the kind of world I think most readers of this website want to live in. Personally I don’t share the prior commenter’s optimism about nuclear fusion: the basic technology has been in development since the early 1970s and still takes vastly more energy to operate than it produces.
Of course there are problems with solar and wind technologies as well, especially on the production side, but the likelihood of their being addressed over time is far greater than the likelihood of solving any of the built-in shortcomings of the nuclear option. Nuclear power has been intensively studied and subsidized for 60-70 years and we’re still no closer to addressing the problems of waste storage, weapons proliferation, or fundamental inefficiency, to name a few. Along with continuing to advance renewable technologies, we also need to pursue strategies to improve everyone’s quality of life at significantly lower levels of excess consumption and waste than the current U.S. norm. That would make a renewable future even more readily feasible, and far more amenable to the kind of popular, democratic control that makes a socialist future worth fighting for.
Other writers have done a very good job debunking this article.
I would like to take this thread in a different direction.
Nuclear FISSION is definitely a dead end, however nuclear FUSION shows great promise.
Most readers are probably aware of nuclear fusion, but only as something that has been “5 years off” for the last 50 years or so. And maybe they’ve heard of big projects going on in France, China, Germany and other parts of the world that are based on the Tokamak design. This is overly complicated and not likely to work. Other scientists have been working on a smaller decentralized device known as Dense Plasma Focus. One such group of scientists is LPP Fusion. They are underfunded and understaffed. In a planned Socialist economy, efforts like this would be well funded, well staffed, and supplied with all the facilities they need.
I urge readers to check out these videos and websites (I put these in the order you should watch in)
Video 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGEGiyGlomk
Video 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HI3Tn-EdVAo
Video 3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcXYPvVxtCY (Only posting the link to part 1, but watch all)
Video 4: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVjjXYOHJFQ
We already have a nuclear fusion reactor generating power for the world, a safe distance 93 million miles away, in the core of the Sun. And it is entirely capable of supplying humanity’s energy needs far into the future.
Nuclear fusion reactors on the Earth’s surface may be decades away, and why divert R&D funds from accelerating the growth of wind/solar power asap, coupled with the rapid phaseout of fossil fuels ? In addition, nuclear waste will likely be a problem with on-site nuclear fusion, though not as bad as nuclear fission.
P.S. Assume that the fusion reactors now under R&D are finally ready to supply energy to the world at a significant fraction of the current capacity (19 trillion watts, primary energy consumption). Unlike wind/solar, at this scale the fusion reactors would generate incremental waste heat, which would contribute to the already unsustainable warming we now witness.
I found your response very ignorant and frustrating.
First of all, Dense Plasma Focus produces no nuclear waste.
We have solar panels on our house, and before that we participated in promoting wind energy, but we recognize that neither are problem free.
We should be building the movements capable of demanding funding for EVERY sustainable energy source. This either / or is counterproductive.
I did not expect everyone to check out ALL the sources I provided, but I don’t believe you checked ANY of them. Why? Because they refute your arguments very effectively. I have run into this numerous times before, and I find it frustrating. Stop thinking like a capitalist!!
The critical test for sustainability is replacing fossil fuels as quickly as possible with technologies that will not generate GHGs to the atmosphere, this is the message from climate science. Wind and solar are ready now and their efficiency will only get better. Fusion power on our Earth surface is not ready now, the fusion reactor in the core of the Sun is ready now. I stand by my comments.
There are a lot of misleading and inaccurate claims as the previous comments emphasized. Our assessment of nuclear fission power: “It has often been argued that nuclear power has no effect on climate change because it does not produce GHGs. But this assertion is not correct since the existing energy infrastructure (mainly fossil fuels) powers all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, including the mining and enrichment of uranium, the decommissioning obsolete reactors, and the construction of new reactors (Smith, 2012; Van Leeuwen, 2013). Hence, carbon dioxide emissions do result, even though virtually none occur during the actual production of electricity by the nuclear power plants themselves. The time necessary to create nuclear power replacing existing energy is on the order of a decade, significantly longer than wind/solar plants for equivalent energy supply capacities. Large wind farms can be constructed in about a year. A case in point is the Hinkley Point nuclear power reactor in Somerset, U.K. now under construction, with a projected time to completion on the order of a decade, and a minimum cost of £24.5 billion. Studies have shown that for the same investment at least six times the power generation capacity could be created with wind turbines, and in a much shorter time (Landberg, 2015). An aggressive reduction of greenhouse gas emission with a chance of avoiding C3 [catastrophic climate change] requires as rapid a replacement of fossil fuels as possible.” (p.98, Chapter 4, our book “The Earth is Not for Sale”)
Further, “….Generation III and IV nuclear power technologies [are] problematic on several accounts (Green 2017; Romm 2019). The vulnerability of nuclear reactors to climate change-induced flooding, fires and sea-level rise must be confronted (Hutner and Cirino 2019). But leaving aside the debate about catastrophic accidents from nuclear fission power, disposal of radioactive waste, etc., an aggressive reduction of greenhouse gas emission with a chance of avoiding C3 requires as rapid a replacement of fossil fuels as possible. Solar technologies are already here for this replacement, faster and at a lower cost than the as-yet-unproven new generations of nuclear fission power. Funding R&D for the latter diverts resources which should go to building wind/solar infrastructure.” (David Schwartzman (2019): Monbiot’s Muddle, Capitalism Nature Socialism.
Cited: Green, Jim. 2017. “James Hansen’s Generation IV Nuclear Fallacies and Fantasies.” Renew Economy, August 28. https://reneweconomy.com.au/james-hansens- generation-iv-nuclear-fallacies-and-fantasies-70309/.; Hutner, Heidi, and Erica Cirino. 2019. “Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer in a Time of Climate Change.” Aeon, May 28. https://aeon.co/ideas/nuclear-power-is-not-the- answer-in-a-time-of-climate-change.; Landberg, R. 2015. ‘For Nuclear’s Cost, U.K. Could Have Six Times the Wind Capacity’, http://www.bloomberg.com/ news/articles/2015-10-21/for-nuclear-s-cost-u-k-could-have-six-times-the- wind-capacity. : Romm, Joe. 2019. “Taxpayers Should Not Fund Bill Gates’ Nuclear Albatross.” Think Progress, https://thinkprogress.org/nuclear-power-is-so-uneconomic al-even-bill-gates-cant-make-it-work-without-taxpayer-funding-faea0cdb60de/.; Smith, G. 2012. Nuclear Roulette, Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, Vermont.; Van Leeuwen, J. W. S. 2013. ‘Nuclear Power Insights’, http://www.stormsmith.nl/insight-items.html.
One example of the author’s idiocy: The South Carolina nuclear plant was abandoned in 2017 after the expenditure of at least US$9 billion. The cost of the twin-reactor plant under construction has doubled from US$14 billion to US$28 billion. The head of the largest nuclear company in the US (Exelon) states that there will be no more large reactors in the US and that ‘small modular reactors’ are “prohibitively expensive”.
And one more example of the author’s idiocy: Not even a passing mention of weapons proliferation and the repeatedly-demonstrated power/weapons connections.
It is hard to know where to start with this article, but let’s begin with the first paragraph. Since at least the time of the publication of The Closing Circle by Barry Commoner in the early 70s, socialists have learnt not to equate economic growth (and by implication material wealth) with the well-being of the masses.
The opening paragraph of this article therefore presents a false picture of the problems facing ecosocialism. We don’t “abolish poverty” by “increasing production”, but by controlling and distributing resources to satisfy the material needs of the people. This is neither a rejection of industry nor an acceptance of Amory Lovins’ techno-utopianism.
On top of the Promethian political approach, there is a very cavalier use of data. One should always anyhow be suspicious of people who cannot distinguish between power (kW) and energy (kWh). I would question a lot of the data used in this article, but I will just mention two examples:
The first is the claim about the “90,000 tonnes of nuclear waste” in the USA and that high level radioactive waste is only 3% of the total waste. This is written is such a way (in separate paragraphs) as to obscure the fact that the 90,000 tonnes IS the 3% that is high level waste (spent and reprocessed nuclear fuel) and doesn’t include the higher volume of intermediate waste generated by decommissioning reactors and buildings or stuff irradiated during routine running of reactors, for example, and which also requires special treatment. Such waste comprises 7% by volume of the total. We should add that the high level waste is so radioactive that in many nuclear countries there has been no agreement about what to do with it. For this reason, the costs of dealing with it are unknown. One thing is certain, which is that encapsulation and/or vitrification massively increases that mass of waste that needs to be dealt with: currently a lot of it is held in ponds awaiting decisions.
The second example is the lumping together of energy efficiency and RE in one category when discussing subsidies. One could go on at length about hidden subsidies, government support for nuclear due to the needs to produce weapons and so on, but the blatant example of distortion of data is enough to discredit the argument.
You have to ask the question that, if nuclear power is such a wonderful thing, why has the capitalist system not adopted it wholesale? After all, climate change poses an existential threat to its system because it jeopardises the lives of all of humanity. Even so, they have only managed to build about 500 power station reactors in nearly 70 years, of which about 440 are currently operating. These supply 1.7% of the word’s current energy needs (see link below). So a Promethian would presumably say we need 8,000 reactors, which would supply possibly 80% of energy requirements, to get a fully decarbonised economy (there’ll be some RE and hydro). It can’t happen.
Furthermore, with only about 500 reactors built, about ten have been destroyed by accidents. Although not many people are known to have died, a 2% attrition rate is incredibly high, so we should probably expect 160 of those 8,000 reactors to blow up (more if they’re built as part of an accelerated crash programme).
Others can comment on the political and state and private militarism and surveillance issues connected to nuclear power.
To answer your question that, if nuclear power is such a wonderful thing, why has the capitalist system not adopted it wholesale? Because there is no price on CO2 which means externalities are not factored in. Because the most powerful industry in the world is the fossil fuel industry and they have enormous political clout and they damn well know that, if nuclear were allowed to flourish that they would go out of business. That’s why the CEO of ARCO Petroleum gave the equivalent of $500,000 to the anti-nuclear friends of the Earth to break away from the Sierra Club over their pro-nuclear position and they have been funding and participating in the anti nuclear Jihad ever since. Because renewable energy is more compatible with Market forces in that it’s ability to “plug and play” makes it fit nicely into the business cycle. Nuclear, on the other hand, is incompatible with markets because massive build outs that can only achieve economies of scale with massive government investment as happened in France and is presently happening in China. Because there is no level playing field, Renewable mandates which were designed to incentivize clean energy expansion have actually caused the opposite effect. These mandates, which exist in 29 states so far, require that utilities purchase a percentage of their electricity from qualifying renewable sources. This has ended up driving nuclear power plants out of business simply because their profitability is dependent on them running full time and they are physically incapable of turning on and off quickly to accommodate the prioritization of renewables. The big winner is natural gas which ends up replacing nuclear power as a backup system for intermittent renewables or just by itself. The end result is that we end up digging out of a giant hole in the clean energy grid every time instead of moving forward. We need to keep in mind here that over 55% of our clean energy is nuclear. Because the risk due to radiophobic paranoia has caused a regulatory environment that has nothing to do with the real risk which is piddling in comparison to other industries. Because there is no true price on CO2 which means externalities are not factored into the cost equation. The only nuclear accident that has caused radiation casualties is Chernobyl and nuclear is actually rated as being the safest energy industry on the planet based on WHO fatality statistics. I hope that I have answered your question
The meltdowns at Fukushima in March of 2011 are an ongoing environmental disaster. After all these years, a solution is not forthcoming and there are hundreds of thousands of tons of radioactive water waiting to be dumped into the ocean. Fukushima, and the other nuclear disasters – especially including the military’s nuclear programs which, in total, are as bad or worse as the civil disasters – show that nukes are a death trap.
In northern Arizona, to cite one location, people are still getting cancer and dying from the uranium mining, transport, processing and on-site waste.
The author seems to equate prosperity with consumer goods and ignores the health and well being of the population. It is an extremely bourgeois position to take and one that global financial capital would readily endorse.
According to the WHO there were ZERO radiation casualties from Fukushima. The amount of natural seepage of natural Uranium and other radioactive substances from the highly radioactive mantle of our planet dwarf the increase in radiation from Fukushima in the ocean which has shown to be so insignificant as to be equal to a banana. On the other side of the grim ledger nuclear power is estimated to have saved 1.8 million people from deaths from fossil fuel pollution worldwide. The idea that defending nuclear is an extremely bourgeois position is quite ludicrous given the fact that the fossil fuel industry has a long history of funding anti nuclear politics and the fact that nuclear power REQUIRES public investment to thrive due to the fact that it is a sixty to eighty year investment. It would require a private investor to put the bulk of his money up front knowing that he won’t get a full return on investment until he is extremely old or dead. The added risk is that an accident anywhere on the planet could cause him to take a complete bath on his money as happened with LILCO after the Shoreham protests. None of your critique adds up.