Saturday, March 3, 2007

What is Left Atomics?

Left Atomics is a group of left activists: socialists, progressives, Marxists, etc., who believe that nuclear energy can be a positive force for humanity. We propose that the Left, broadly speaking, should support, not oppose, nuclear energy.

We will be posting here a Manifesto for Nuclear Energy that we hope can be the basis of a discussion on the left among pro- and anti-nuclear activists. We feel that by and large there has been only knee-jerk opposition to nuclear energy by the left. Few have re-examined the technology of nuclear power production, the enormous changes that have been made in operating safely old plants since 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl and the newer Generation III plants currently under construction or being proposed.

We stand in opposition to the capitalist mode of production: we are for the nationalization of energy resources, transparent and open regulation of nuclear energy and in complete opposition to the privatization of energy resources anywhere in the world.


DW said...

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

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

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

The opening paragraph above needs some comment. It is mentioned that anti-nuclear sentiment dominates Left thought in the developed, industrialized "West". This, however, is not the case in developing countries. It is dominant only in those countries with strong economies, that is, in the imperialist countries. Our words, therefore, are aimed at them more than anyone else.


After 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl occurred, it appeared to be the death knell for those state and private concerns supporting or developing nuclear power. In reality, the research and development into nuclear fission as a source for energy accelerated. While some nuclear projects were canceled around the world because of Chernobyl, many others continued to completion, then they were fueled with uranium fuel, and went on line.

It is important to note that the industry as a whole did not slink away after these incidents. Quite the contrary, they addressed the issues concerning how these incidents took place and there have been none of that sort since. Nuclear designers, engineers and workers learned and found solutions to what caused these problems so they would not happen again. Thereafter there has been a virtually unblemished record of power production done safely, cheaply and without threats to the public. The record for nuclear power, across the board, is generally better than any other form of electrical energy production in the world today.

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

• The worldwide, social need for nuclear power has changed dramatically since the 1980s.
• As socialists, we need to deal with technological reality as it has developed in the last 30 years.
• We need to reverse our opposition to nuclear power and instead support its development.
• We need to oppose its privatisation and support its nationalization where it is private as part of state-owned, transparently regulated, nationalized energy monopoly for the sake of economically building of power plants and for their safety.

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

In the last 2 years the media has been running articles on the renaissance of nuclear power. Many countries, including the United States, have seen applications for increasing the world-wide inventory of commercial reactors by almost 20%. In the U.S., there are now 31 proposals for "Construction and Operating Licenses" before the Department of Energy for new nuclear plants, all of them additional reactors to existing nuclear facilities. China and India have plans to quadruple the number of nuclear plants they presently have to meet their incredible projections for economic growth. Japan and China are currently building a half dozen plants between them.

Socialists need to understand what nuclear power is, how to confront the issue, what it means and develop a response to this growth in nuclear power specifically and the needs for developing new sources of energy in general.


From Der Speigel:
“At present, 29 nuclear power plants are under construction and there are concrete plans to build another 64. Another 158 are under consideration.”


The 3rd Generation of Reactors

All but a few of the working nuclear plants in the world today are called "Generation II" plants. These plants were designed in the 1960s and 1970s and came on line in the 1970s and 1980s with a few later in the 1990s. These plants were designed as commercial plants. The Generation I plants, the 1950s variety, were generally submarine reactors taken from these vessels and placed in confinement domes to be run commercially. These military derivative reactors were small, and mostly not suited for commercial base-load production.

Because of 3 Mile Island and Chernobyl, the industry globally responded not by coming up with a hodgepodge of quick fixes to these incidents, but rather invented completely new designs.
These third-generation reactors have:
• a standardized design for each type to expedite licensing, reduce capital cost and reduce construction time,
• a simpler and more rugged design, making them easier to operate and less vulnerable to operational upsets,
• higher availability and longer operating life, typically 60 years and running 90% of the time or better,
• reduced possibility of core melt accidents,
• minimal effect on the environment,
• higher burn-up to reduce fuel use and the amount of waste,
• burnable absorbers ("poisons") to extend fuel life and eliminate any possibility of military use.
The greatest departure from second-generation designs is that many incorporate passive or inherent safety features* which require no active controls or operational intervention to avoid accidents in the event of malfunction, and may rely on gravity, natural convection or resistance to high temperatures.


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


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

Energy Demand

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

Pollution and Global Warming

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

Our view on nuclear power is that it is the only base-load energy available that is non-polluting, can provide for global economic growth, and provide the power needed to fuel the abundance we will have under socialism.

Base load is what constitutes the basic source of bulk energy for any nation's grid. There are only two choices now that can cheaply provide the hundreds of thousands of megawatts for current and future growth: coal or nuclear. Society must make the best choice. Wind, solar, both now and for the foreseeable future, are incapable of providing reliable and cheap power to the world. We are prepared to discuss these issues and more with you.

Left Atomics, 2007

redlion said...

Interesting point of view, David; I have long been of the opinion that nuclear could be cleaner than coal. But the cdes were always of the opinion that I read too much sf.

redlion said...

Incidentally I remember in the middle 70s demonstrating against the export of nuclear power plants to Buenos Aires under the slogan "No Candu to Argentina!" The Candu heavy-water moderated reactor design was then the safest in the world; we on th Left just did not want them going to the regime of the Colonels.

DW said...

Thanks redlion. All well said. This is the only bonafide left pro-nuclear place around. I was explaining to someone that it simply has NOT been discussed at all or, there is knee-jerk anti-nuclearism of the worst sort on the left. This forum is here to gather in those like you and me to show we are not alone out there !!

David Walters

DV8 2XL said...

Welcome and well met. It is about time that the rational minds on the Left started to speak out on this issue.

The Left has a LOT to contribute to this debate, in particular because the political pendulum is beginning its slow swing back, and it is certainly time for a reconsideration of nuclear issues.

I also invite you and your readers to drop into

Nuclear is our Future Forum

and join the several discussions of nuclear related topics there.

J2daROC said...

Interesting blog indeed. It is high time that someone started to not only change how the nuclear option is viewed, but also to change the stereotypical left viewpoint...

I agree with most of your points, but working at a government-sponsored nuclear facility, I am ambivalent on the gov't vs. private ownership issue. As far as strict economics go, there is no credible way that a gov't run nuclear utility can run as efficiently (both atomically and economically) as a privately owned consortium. The abuses that go on with government monies and time, which go completely unmitigated, are appalling.

As well, I agree that an effective regulator is a must, however when both the regulator and the licensee are under the same gov't blanket, it can make for some very strange bedfellows. Any privately administered nuclear facility would be put under more scrutiny, and so long as that scrutiny is effective and efficient, this is a safer path.

Just some thoughts. Look forward to more...

Joffan said...

Thanks for setting this blog up, much needed. Your first comment should really be a blog post on its own; perhaps you could edit it back in the main post?

I think however that you are pushing down two incompatible roads here.

Revival and reconsideration of the facts and realities of nuclear energy, especially the numeric realities of scale, are essential across the spectrum but especially with us on the left. There is way too much dishoenst conflation of nuclear power with nuclear war, half-arsed arguments about terrorists and "nuclear exceptionalism", holding nuclear to different standards than any other industry.

Nationalisation of the nuclear industry is counterproductive. Most of the cost overruns in US nuclear plant construction - a huge cost in nuclear power - were due to government or government-style contracts. This has been a huge stick that nuclear power has been repeatedly beaten with.

053150 has it right when he describes the relationship between producer and regulator. Governments are often good at regulation. They are often abysmal at production. I think the US NRC is an example of a regulator that occasionally gets things wrong but by-and-large sets an extremely good standard both for regulation and transparency. The industry itself understands that it needs a strong regulator, since the failure of one plant reflects on all of them.

DW said...

First, all, thanks for commenting and linking, etc. I appreciate all the comments.

I'm still trying to figure out all this blog-stuff, I'm quite new at it and I seemed to have a different account than the one I'm using now than when I created this!

So...yes, my first 'comment' was actually out Manifesto of sorts, and should of been posted separately. Oh well...

On gov't ownership etc. Well, working from the US outward, something like 13% of all electrical utilities are publicly owned, either via municipalities or co-operatives. While they are often run like typical 'private' utilities or IPPs, they generally come in much *cheaper* than private utilities. This is true in my stat of California as well as across the US.

Secondly, most of the worlds nuclear energy come from gov't, not private, NPPs. France is the best example and with which the NRC (and every other country) is modeling design and building of plants from: originally the state electricity company was formed after WWII during the huge post-war strike upsurge lead by socialists and communists. It's been both productive and corruption free...not to mention cheap for decades.

Only the US built a mostly private nuclear power industry, from production to distribution. I think on certain levels, one can also look at the TVA as a popular "public" energy corporation. This was massive gov't intervention and extremely popular at the time of the New Deal when it was implemented.

At least, though, in this industry, it's impossible to do without direct Federal intervention from a host of angles, from financing (we don't hear the Cato Institute up in arms about the 1.8 cents being given over to the first 6 nuke to be built!) to meltdown insurance guarantees (something I'm opposed to, BTW) to NRC, FERC and other regulators.

The City of Fresno, actually the county around it, are proposing a EPR to be build in California (as part of the effort to sink the moratorium). It is interesting that no private entity has stepped up to try to build a plant here. I doubt they will get their plant, but I can only hope!

LeftAtomics, however, is more interesting in the technology/cost issues from the point of view that Rod Adams expressed on his web site: there really is no "left" or "right" science, there is only science. So, again, I can emphisize that we want to intervene in debates that currently dominate "Left" issues like the issue of the pollution fossil leaves us with. We are not so much interested in proposing 'socialist solutions' per se. We can state, however, that had the US put 1/3 of the money into nuclear power plants that it does in trying to control and own Iraqi oil fields we'd be building up to a 100 new nukes right now!

To many on the left, again as some have pointed out, are totally putting forward essentially Luddite /reactionary positions with regards to energy, specifically, but even development, more broadly speaking (the reactionary "small is better" concept...Rod's Adam Atomics ideas excepted of course!...they are GREAT and fill a real need).

Thanks all for spreading the news!

David Walters
Left Atomics

Randal Leavitt said...

Hi David ....

Glad to see your "Left Atomics" blog. Some clear thinking is really needed in this area. I tend to see the discussion as pro and anti technology, rather than left and right. Or I sometimes think of it as those who fear the future arguing with those who fear the past. I am pro technology, and pro future. Nuclear power can do a lot to improve the lives of a lot of people in this world. I am glad to see you helping.

Unknown said...

Dear Mr. Walters:

What is interesting about the usual left vs. right view on nuclear energy is that a leading anti-nuke was Albert Wohlstetter, the real Dr. Strangelove, and the mentor of today's leading neo-cons (Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, etc.) Wohlstetter worked closely with Amory Lovins on anti-nuclear matters, and he also was responsible for California's anti-nuclear legislation.

Here is a link to an article on Wohlstetter. I will write more about the California issue in the future.


Marje Hecht

D. Walters said...

Marje, hi!
Yes, I think someone mentioned his name a while ago over on the Daily Koz. I'm in this to break down the "left-right" label attached to specific technology issues. Its dangerous and overly partisan.

We need to build a movement FOR human life, for advancement. The problem "our side" has, of course, is that the Greens and anti-nukes took a page from the civil rights and anti-war movement and developed a real activist cadre that has a direct appeal to some segments of the civilian community, even though they are in a minority politically, on nuclear energy.

I enjoy reading and I subscribe.

One of it's writers, Jim Muckerheide writes often on Yahoo's Know_Nukes group and he's always knowledgable.


D. Walters said...

BTW...I'm sort of frozen out of posting to this blog, so I moved over to here: and here:

This last one is a 'liberal Democratic Party' diary-style blog. When I stated it I received 30 replies in the first hour. NNadir and myself are two of several pro-nuclear progressives. Check us out.


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