By Andrew McKillop
21st Century Wire
March 25, 2011
What the atomic energy lobby calls The Nuclear Renaissance is advance warning of uncontrolled and runaway financial and economic disaster.
This adds on to vastly growing risks of industrial disaster like we have witnessed this month in Japan, nuclear weapons proliferation, and reactors turned into and used as massive Dirty Bombs while their wastes are recycled as Depleted Uranium ordnance.
The so-called ‘Nuclear Renaissance’ could or might see as many as 225 new large-size reactors built in as many as 45 countries, through 2010-2020. World uranium demand – already at least 20 percent more than uranium mine supply – could almost double in the same period.
Presently almost unknown to the public and ignored by the media, national security and even the concept and present reality of nation states is under threat. Nuclear accidents, nuclear weapons production, and financial disaster triggered by the nuclear subprime asset bubble now under way are direct challenges to the existence of nation states. Nuclear power has ever less credibility as its costs spiral upward, pumping ever growing amounts of taxpayers’ money to feed the beast in every country treading the nuclear path, as is shown by any rational analysis of the nuclear industry’s energy and economic facts. But the real strategic role of civil nuclear power, despite it being able to yield nuclear weapons in “a few screwdriver turns”, is now economic and financial.
Fast increasing numbers of civil reactors, uranium mines, fuel fabrication and reprocessing plants, waste fuel centres and “plutonium repositories” across the world have generated a surge of political and corporate, economic and finance sector elite support. Nuclear power is the new “No Alternative”, shading down and crowding out the reality that massive volumes and quantities of nuclear materials, in any country, destroy all reality of national defense and the nation state.
The choice is simple: nuclear power or national defence. In the coming decade we will have to choose between the atom and the nation. Conventional war, like conventional nation states is not credible in a world with 45 or more nuclear power using states. Due to certain assured massive destruction of the economy when, or if , large reactors and nuclear installation are hit… conventional war is finished. Do our political leaders know this, as they sign ever bigger reactor and nuclear fuel contracts with a growing list of low income Emerging economy countries? How many politicians are factoring this into their decision making?
CHERNOBYL – THE FINAL SOLUTION
The world’s civil nuclear power system is a giant-sized Chernobyl-type dirty bomb offering no energy security or freedom from oil. Quantities of plutonium produced worldwide by civil reactors are already about 22 tons a year – enough for more than 2000 Hiroshima-sized bombs every year. By 2020 this could rise to 3500 per year. Oil saving due to the atom is negligible.
In a fast growing number of countries both the size and complexity of nuclear installations is also rising fast.
Reactor building costs and prices are exploding, with the inflation rate in 2010 close to 25 percent per year. Only a few types of reactor, especially underground or ‘hardened’ military reactors can resist a wide-body airplane crashing on them. Their costs are astronomic as shown by the European EPR, whose proud boast is that it could also resist a wide-body plane crash – at fantastic cost. But almost no reactor of any kind will resist entirely conventional ballistic missiles, conventional artillery shells, conventional anti-tank and anti-building munitions, and infantry launched or drone launched missiles. The reality is inescapable. All are totally vulnerable to operator error and IT safety system failures. Every single one of them is a potential Doomsday Machine.
Reactors will also not resist worst-case seismic damage, as the Earth’s tectonic systems shift to a new long-term period of cooling climate and intensified volcanic activity, driving increased numbers of major seismic events. Due to the world’s uranium supply and fuel reprocessing system being totally fossil energy dependent, the vaunted claim of “Low Carbon Nuclear” is more of a marketing myth than the Friendly Atom.
We are promised or threatened the so-called Nuclear Renaissance. This is shorthand for a return to the rates of reactor orders and completions closer to those of the nuclear industry’s previous heydays and high times, dating from the first Oil Shock of the 1970s and by overdrive into the early 1980s. At the time and for 10 years one new reactor came on line every 17 days. Uranium prices and reactor construction costs exploded. The result was simple: the nuclear asset bubble imploded. The industry downsized, restructured, forced mergers took place, tens of thousands of jobs were lost – and Big Government, that is the taxpayers, paid for the party.
Today, like the 1970s, nuclear power is again promoted as the fast track to energy independence – and for delivering supposedly Low Carbon energy to fight global warming from burning fossil fuels. To be sure, the rationale is bizarre: nuclear energy claims to deliver energy security, but there is massive import dependence for uranium supply in nearly all nations using civil nuclear power systems. This is perhaps because uranium exporter countries are not yet seen as “terror supporting regimes”, not yet accused of overcharging for their uranium exports. This will soon change as uranium prices spike up to unknown peaks.
ATOMIC SURPRISES ARE BAD SURPRISES
Nuclear boomers dream in print they have the Final Solution to all safety risks, cost limits and uranium fuel shortages, that might or could bar mankind’s route to nuclear powered Universal Prosperity. This essentially cornucopian dream – very ironically – came from the fusion of two supposedly total opposite world views.
In the deep Cold War period of extreme American defence of capitalism, and extreme Soviet defence of totalitarian state control, through the 40 years from the late 1940s until 1989, both regimes placed all their military faith in nuclear weapons. Both also linked civil and military nuclear power, then fused them into a nuclear technological utopia. This ideology-spanning facet of the all nuclear solution, joining civil and military in a seamless web of myth, makes it unsurprising that China and India, and other big states, or would-be big states of today are fully embarked in the Nuclear Renaissance.
Certainly for the Big 5 UN Security Council declared nuclear weapons states, any pretence that civil nuclear, and military nuclear are not 100% linked and totally interdependent, is a complete farce. All the Big 5 Security Council states started their nuclear story with a fevered race to develop nuclear weapons, then made a few screwdriver turns to spin-off and start their civil nuclear systems – always with fantastic government cash subsidies. Despite this, by a strange form of mass schizophrenia among the political elites of these states, nuclear power is imagined to be cheap and economic – and of course… safe !
Yet, the reality of dirty bomb capability for each and every large sized reactor anywhere on earth, is stoically denied. So as we wait patiently in the shadow of the fallout cloud, the myth of the nation state continues.
The permanent denial of civil and military nuclear power being one and the same has likely favoured the most proliferative-possible, most vulnerable-possible civil nuclear systems worldwide, both in the “old nuclear” countries, and in the 15 or more new nuclear states that the Nuclear Renaissance may bring. In any case, the historic reality of international wars started by one nation and fought against another nation is now obsolete. Any nation with sizeable nuclear installations on its home territory is vulnerable to devastating attack using entirely conventional, non-nuclear weapons of the type possessed by dozens of states and nations, today.
This reality hides the awesome question: who will look after nuclear power using states when they have suffered economic, political and social meltdown in civil, international, or terror wars ? Who can step in to prevent worst-case damage all the nation’s nuclear plants and fuel facilities?
If we ask the key question: “Can we be certain this awesome challenge is understood by our political elites and the opinion formers who control our press and media ?” – and still all we hear is silence, there is no answer.
THE END OF NATIONS?
The fully globalized economy is described by many as a certain death sentence for the nation state. Nuclear power proliferation sets the exact same No Future full stop for the nation. With a fully developed global nuclear power system the historical trend or social instinct of the nation state has no place and must disappear. To be sure, large nuclear reactors and facilities will surely serve, as they already do for Iran today as last-ditch anti-invasion defence, but they are also prepositioned enemy weapons for hostile opponents not necessarily wanting to invade and occupy. Only to destroy.
The asymmetric war potential is almost open-ended. This can inject new themes for the flagging “Bin Laden industry” of technology-terror potboiler books, films and docu-dramas, but the reality of nuclear power’s threat to the nation state must be addressed. In a civil war, which reactor will get hit, first ?
So what are we left with? The linked illusions of the nation state and national security must be abandoned, if the world’s political and corporate elites want to pursue the chimera of cheap and safe atomic energy. Otherwise our leaders will have to stay hopeful and ignore the civil nuclear overkill threat, while they continue to pump state funds into the economic failure of nuclear power.
When we wake up to hear the incredible and fantastic worst case has already happened- as we have these last few weeks with Japan’s own major accident, or later because of operator error, or even in the shape of purposeful military or terror attack on large civil nuclear installations, it will be too late – much too late.
Andrew McKillop is guest writer and energy markets analyst for 21st Century Wire. He has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has extensive experience in energy policy, project administration, including the development and financing of alternate energy.
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