Posted by Big Gav
The series of excerpt's from Tim Flannery's new book continued today in the Herald with a look at nuclear power. While the initial section was a but shallow (and repeated some myths like nuclear power being "carbon free") I thought the concluding section was good.
What role might nuclear power play in averting the climate change disaster? China and India are likely to pursue the nuclear option with vigour, for there is currently no inexpensive, large-scale alternative available to them. Both nations already have nuclear weapons programs, so the relative risk of proliferation is not great. In the developed world, though, any major expansion of nuclear power will depend upon the viability of new, safer reactor types.
Humanity is at a great crossroads. Trillions of dollars will need to be invested to make the transition to the carbon-free economy and, once a certain path of investment is embarked upon, it will gather such momentum, it will be difficult to change direction.
So what might life be like if we choose one over the other? In the hydrogen and nuclear economies the production of power is likely to be centralised, which would mean the survival of the big power corporations. Pursuing wind and solar technologies, on the other hand, means that people could generate most of their own power, transport fuel and even water (by condensing it from the air).
If we follow this second path, we will have opened a door to a world the likes of which have not been seen since the days of James Watt, when a single fuel powered transport, and industrial and domestic needs, with the big difference being that the fuel will be generated not by large corporations, but by every one of us.
This piece was twinned with one on Hot Dry Rock geothermal power. The company trying to commercialise this - GeoDynamics - hasn't been in the news much lately though their share price is doing quite well.
On the nuclear power front, Malaysia is now looking at building a nuclear power plant, and France is urging other countries to expand their nulear power capability.
French Finance Minister Thierry Breton urged the U.S. and other leading oil-consuming nations to invest in nuclear and other alternative energies, and criticized countries that subsidize oil consumption or don't tax it enough.
``We must reduce oil subsidies where they exist, encourage through taxation a development model which is more respectful of fossil resources,'' Breton said today in a speech before the International Monetary and Financial Committee of the International Monetary Fund in Washington. ``Developing alternative energies, nuclear energy in particular,'' is essential to prepare for ``post-oil'' times, he said.
Now - you might be thinking what this has to do with that favourite topic of conspiracy theorists from both the right and left fringes (along with some peak oil circles), the fabled "New World Order".
I have seen a number of references to this in the real (non-conspiracy theory) world this year - from a (far fetched) episode of "Frasier" where Niles falls in with some gun nuts, and only realises they are militia when they invite him to move to their compound in Idaho so that they can resist the coming New World Order takeover, to the lyrics of Eminem's "Lose Yourself" and even a clip in one of the news reports on the union demonstrations against the government's industrial relations changes a few months ago that showed a protestor holding a placard that said "Howard is a puppet of the New World Order" (probably the most famous NWO quote is George HW Bush's "welcome to the new world order" speech after the collapse of the Soviet Union).
Moving back to peak oil (and leaving aside the more conspiracy focussed discussion groups) the most noticeable intersection of the NWO meme with the peak oil meme is the work of William Engdahl, in particular his book "A Century of War - Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order".
Engdahl had an interview (Real Media) with Financial Sense's Jim Puplava a few days ago which makes interesting listening (be warned - its over an hour long). He discusses the history of oil and how this has been intertwined with geopolitics for a century, and then goes on to talk about peak oil in some depth - which is at the gloomy end of the spectrum when talking about likely future developments.
Some of his other writing has included columns on the purpose of the "war on tyranny" (or whatever its called this week) and on pipelineistan and the BTC pipeline.
Now - I don't have an opinion on the conspiracy theories about the NWO (who knows - maybe they are true but I always get an uneasy feeling when people start making accusations about cabals of "International bankers" and the like, even if they seem to be tangential to some of the traditional misuses of this meme) - but one section of Engdahl's book does look at nuclear power, which is the tie in to the first half of this post (I haven't read the whole thing, just some parts of the 2 chapters that are posted on the net) - in particular the phrase "Taking the bloom off the "nuclear rose"".
I'll quote this section below for readers to consider - obviously this thinking doesn't match my view on the subject, but he is reasonably convincing on the subject of oil and geopolitics at least, so I'd be interested in any reader opinions on this other tack that he takes on nuclear power and green groups being some sort of manifestation of a conspiracy by the New World Order to prevent the uptake of it. I have occasionally read people saying similar things about the Club of Rome also being some sort of NWO conspiracy, but I've never quite understood the supposed motive of this - this is one part of the meme pool where the politics are so murky and the motives are so obscure that it is tempting to just to write it all off as madness - except that these ideas clearly seem to have influenced a lot of players over the years.
One principal concern of the authors of the 400% oil price increase was how to ensure that their drastic action would not drive the world to accelerate an already strong trend towards construction of a far more efficient and ultimately less expensive alternative energy source -- nuclear electricity generation.
Kissinger's former dean at Harvard University, and his boss when Kissinger briefly served as a consultant to John Kennedy's National Security Council, was McGeorge Bundy. Bundy left the White House in 1966 in order to play a crucial role in shaping the domestic policy of the United States as president of the largest private foundation, the Ford Foundation. By December 1971, Bundy had established a major new project for the foundation, the Energy Policy Project under the direction of S. David Freeman, with an impressive $4 million checkbook and a three year time limit. Bundy's Ford Foundation study, titled, "A Time to Choose: America�s Energy Future," was released precisely in the midst of debate during the 1974 oil shock. It was to shape the public debate in the critical time of the oil crisis.
For the first time in American establishment circles, the fraudulent thesis was proclaimed that, "Energy growth and economic growth can be uncoupled; they are not Siamese twins." Freeman's study advocated bizarre and demonstrably inefficient "alternative" energy sources such as windpower, solar reflectors and burning recycled waste. The Ford Foundation report made a scurrilous attack on nuclear energy, arguing that the technologies involved could theoretically be used to make nuclear bombs. "The fuel itself or one of the byproducts, plutonium, can be used directly or processed into the material for nuclear bombs or explosive devices," they asserted.
The Ford Foundation study correctly noted that the principal competitor to the hegemony of petroleum in the future was nuclear energy, warning against the "very rapidity with which nuclear power is spreading in all parts of the world and by development of new nuclear technologies, most notably the fast breeder reactors and the centrifuge method of enriching uranium." The framework of the US financial establishment's anti-nuclear "green" assault was defined by Bundy's project.
By the early 1970s, nuclear technology had clearly established itself as the preferred future choice for efficient electric generation, vastly more efficient (and environmentally friendly) than either oil or coal. At the time of the oil shock, the European Community was already well into a major nuclear development program. As of 1975, the plans of member governments called for completion of between 160 and 200 new nuclear plants across Continental Europe by 1985.
The Schmidt government in Germany, reacting rationally to the implications of the 1974 oil shock, passed a program in 1975 which called for an added 42 gigawatts of German nuclear plant capacity, for a total of approximately 45% of the total German electricity requirement by 1985, a program exceeded in the EC only by France, which projected 45 gigawatts of new nuclear capacity by 1985. In the fall of 1975, Italy's Industry Minister, Carlo Donat Cattin, instructed to Italy's nuclear companies, ENEL and CNEN, to draw up plans for construction of some 20 nuclear plants for completion by the early 1980s. Even Spain, just then emerging from four decades of Franco's rule, had a program calling for construction of 20 nuclear plants by 1983. A typical 1 gigawatt nuclear facility is generally sufficient to supply all electricity requirements for a modern industrial city of one million people.
For the first time, the rapidly growing nuclear industries of Europe, especially France and Germany, were beginning to emerge as competent rivals to American domination of the nuclear export market by the time of the 1974 oil shock. France has secured a Letter of Intent from the Shah of Iran, as had Germany's KWU, to build a total of four nuclear reactors in Iran, while France had signed with Pakistan's Bhutto government to create a modern nuclear infrastructure in that country. Negotiations between the German government in Brazil also reached a successful conclusion in February 1976, for cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, which included German construction of eight nuclear reactors as well as facilities for reprocessing and enrichment of uranium reactor fuel. With full support of their governments, German and French nuclear companies entered into negotiations with select developing sector countries, very much in the spirit of Eisenhower's 1953 Atoms for Peace declaration.
Clearly, the Anglo-American energy grip, based on their tight control of the world's major energy source, petroleum, was threatened if these quite feasible programs went ahead.
In the postwar period, nuclear energy was the equivalent improvement of technology which oil had represented over coal when Lord Fisher and Winston Churchill argued that Britain's navy had to convert to oil from coal at the end of the last century. The major difference in the 1970s was that Britain and her cousins in the United States held the grip on world oil supplies. World's nuclear technology threatened to open relatively unlimited energy possibilities, especially if plans for commercial nuclear fast breeders were realized, as well as thermonuclear fusion.
Two nuclear-industry organizations were established in the immediate aftermath of the 1974 oil shock, both based in London. In early 1975, an informal and semi-secret group was established, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, or "London Club" as it was known. This group included Britain, the US, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the USSR. It was an initial Anglo-American effort to impose self-restraint on nuclear export. It was complemented in May 1975 by formation of another secretive organization, which grouped the world's major suppliers of nuclear uranium fuel, the London "Uranium Institute," dominated by traditional British regions including Canada, Australia, South Africa in the UK. These "insider" organizations were necessary but by no means sufficient for the Anglo-American interests to contain the nuclear "threat" in the early 1970s.
As one prominent anti-nuclear American from the Aspen Institute expressed their problem, "We must take the bloom of the 'nuclear rose.'" And they did.