Logic and Swedish Nuclear Energy: An UpdateProfessor Ferdinand E. Banks
October 3rd, 2012
In the early summer of 2011 I saw a notice in a Swedish newspaper that the well known nuclear debater, Amory Lovins, had been invited to a large conference sponsored by the Tallberg Foundation. It was to be held at Sigtuna (Sweden), which is located between Stockholm and Uppsala, and comparatively close to my home.
I therefore wrote to the foundation and suggested that the Dr. Lovins' invitation should be immediately rescinded (i.e. cancelled), and instead I should be given the honor of presenting one of my dazzling and provocative lectures on nuclear energy. If that was impossible, I suggested that since Dr. Lovins had once challenged me to an 'on-line' debate on this topic, the Sigtuna meeting would provide an excellent opportunity for him to obtain the satisfaction that he desired.
My request was ignored, but when I was asked to present a short course on energy economics in Spain, I made sure to refer to my offer in the long lecture I prepared, and also to refer to an encounter I suffered with the environmental celebrity Jeremy Leggett at the Singapore Energy Week later in 2011. My part in the Singapore program, was to present a short but brilliant lecture on nuclear energy (which I later published under the title of 'The Real Nuclear Deal'), and also to participate in a general debate on energy topics, which of course I dominated.
I was warned that feelings could run high when nuclear was discussed, or for that matter just referred to or mentioned, but as usual I didn't care. You see, I am not only the leading academic energy economist in the world, but unbeatable in a seminar room or conference. But what I did not expect in Singapore was the gratuitous outrage levelled at me by the good Leggett when I informed him that it did not take 10 years to construct a nuclear reactor. I also might have mentioned, en passant, that he would be doing himself a favour if he adjusted his mental processes so that they at least came up to the level of a course in remedial freshman economics at Boston Public, because the nuclear reactor (of the CANDU type) constructed at Quinshan by the Chinese moved from ground break to criticality somewhere between 4 and 5 years.
Leggett's neurotic reaction to this advice was to contact Professor (of physics) Kjell Aleklett of Uppsala University, and inform him that I had disgraced that noble institution - an establishment at which I had brilliantly taught economics and international finance for almost 30 years. Now, I don't think much of Aleklett or his research achievements, but whenever there is a question about my bona-fides, i.e. my professional status, I will gladly confess that I am the most productive economist in the history of Uppsala University (500+ years), and in addition I have held more full visiting professorships outside Sweden than all the professors in the department of economics at Uppsala University during the past 50 years. In fact this is the problem: no economics teacher in Sweden can match my international publication record, nor can they match my visiting professorships, brilliant lectures in every part of the world, and research positions in exotic locations. I'm sorry but those things are absolutely too much for them to take, and so they react with the toxic envy for which Sweden is famous.
1. ALBERT EINSTEIN AND AMORY LOVINS
Two things are eternal, the universe and stupidity, but sometimes I have doubts about the universe.Something that Professor Einstein forgot to say however was that when stupidity turned out to be inconvenient or unsightly, it could usually be dressed up with lies and/or misunderstanding. With all due respect, consider the following testimony by the energy debaters Amory Lovins and Joseph Romm in the prestigious organ of the (United States) Council on Foreign Relations, Foreign Affairs (1992-93):
"...., the Swedish State Power Board found that doubling electric efficiency, switching generators to natural and biomass fuels and relying upon the cleanest power plants would support 54 percent increase in real GNP from 1987 to 2010 - while phasing out all nuclear power. Additionally, the heat and power sector's carbon dioxide output would fall by nearly $1 billion per year. Sweden is already among the world's most energy-efficient countries, even though it is cold, cloudy and heavily industrialized. Other countries should be able to do better."This statement is mostly fiction: it is the kind of bunkum that you might get from Greenpeace ignoramuses, and it does not even have a slender association with reality. Hopefully, biomass can someday fit into the mix of energy assets that Sweden will require in order to ensure that my pension and any medical assistance I may require in the future will be made available, but thus far biomass is little more than a gleam in the eyes of certain environmentalists. As for other 'soft' energy options - e.g. wind and solar - there is a great deal of talk but little action. The reason for the lack of action is that Swedish managers and engineers are too smart to play the fool for Greenpeace busybodies. But please let me say that I am not opposed to these 'soft' energy options, nor the subsidies that might be necessary to bring them about, assuming that in the long run they will be economical.
I never get tired of repeating the above, and if given the opportunity would sing it in a local karaoke club, although to a certain extent it is irrelevant when the issue is logic. The basic issue here is the inter-temporal panoply (or turnout) of nuclear 'generators', by which I mean past, present and likely future of this technology, irrespective of countries or regions.
Generation 1 (Gen 1) reactors were the gas-cooled, graphite moderated reactors developed by Britain and France, using 'natural' (or unenriched) uranium. Gen 2 is the light-water cooled and moderated reactor (or LWR), which is the kind that the research director of a major oil company called "tacky", and compared to a "Saturday night special" handgun. The following generation was supposed to be a fast-breeder reactor (FBR), which was the reactor that the cognoscenti were naively thinking of when they talked about "electricity being too cheap to meter". As things worked out, the engineering associated with its construction was more complex than anticipated, while uranium was more plentiful, and so at present light (and heavy) water (or Gen 2) equipment constitutes all except a few pieces of the global nuclear inventory.
If I were asked to guess, I would say that a commercial breeder is about a decade away, which would have been a certainty before the so-called 'shale gas revolution' (some of which is nonsense). This is not to say that everybody welcomes the breeder, because in a sense it represents the first step into a plutonium community, but unfortunately it happens to be inevitable. In the meantime Gen 3 equipment has started to appear (e.g. in Finland and France), where the emphasis seems to be on safety. The problem with these reactors though is expense, although this is a problem that the Chinese have already solved, to the great satisfaction of future purchasers of that kind of equipment.
2. A TEN YEAR ITCH
In case you did not know, Sweden constructed 12 reactors in 13+ years, and these reactors eventually provided Sweden with about 45 percent of its generating capacity (in megawatts), and more than fifty percent of its electric power (in megawatt-hours). They also helped to provide Sweden with the most inexpensive electricity in the world, which in turn caused Sweden to be referred to as an "Industrial Powerhouse" by an American business magazine. This would still be the case if Swedish politicians and voters had not been tricked into deregulating electricity. As things now stand, few things are more worrying, more burdensome for both Swedish households and businesses, than the price of electricity, and so I am going to employ my extensive economic expertise to inform the present and future Swedish governments how to deal with this menace: PUT AN EXPORT TAX ON SWEDISH ELECTRICITY!
I once proposed cutting the power lines between Sweden and e.g. Germany, but an export tax might be more effective, especially if the crazy German nuclear retreat actually takes place, and in addition the tax revenues are properly allocated.
In his brilliant and stimulating book Energy and the Earth Machine (1976), Donald E. Carr - an industrial chemist and oil company executive, who calls himself an environmentalist - refers to nuclear fission as "The Light that Fails", although his industrial background apparently gets the better of him, and he regrets the inability of industrial societies to produce a commercial fast-breeder. What he says he believes is that there is a shortage of "brainpower" as well as commonsense in energy matters, which may or may not be true, but in the course of his deliberations he informs us that at the time his book was written, the Japanese were capable of constructing a nuclear reactor in 3 years. This is probably wrong, but for reasons that he did not comprehend.
After a workshop in Vienna, and in the course of a walk through that city, a Japanese gentleman, probably an 'insider', informed me that regardless of the circumstances, constructing conventional (Gen 2) 'thermal' reactors was a waste of time and money. He assured me that eventually the voters in Japan would give the decision-makers permission to construct breeders, and I believed him. I believe him more than ever now, because given their demographic situation, a large supply of cheap energy is crucial for the Japanese.
The next number that is relevant for this discussion is 5 years, which was on the contract that the French firm Areva signed with buyers in Finland. Their reactor will not be constructed in 5 years however, but probably in 8. According to the former director of Areva though (Anne Lauvergeon), the Chinese are able to construct 1000 megawatt reactors in 5 years or less, and here I want to say that a construction period of 5 years is sufficient to make nuclear cheaper than any alternative. Moreover, the 4 reactors that are supposed to be constructed in the United Arab Emirate are scheduled to be completed in 5 years each, although I was told that it might take 7 years.
Actually - according to the economics I teach - it doesn't make any difference how long it takes to construct a reactor outside of China: the Chinese figure of 5 years or less is the figure that counts. In mainstream economic theory it is what is called the long-term equilibrium value. What that means is that every industrial country in the world that wants to construct reactors in 5 years or less will eventually be able to do so. Accordingly, the 10 years cited by Mr Leggett is a misreading of the theoretical evidence, and as far as mainstream logic is concerned, it doesn't make any difference what he or anybody else believes. Eventually the right number will be at the disposal of voters, and they will take steps to obtain the energy that they cannot do without.
But even if the voters do not smarten up, their political masters will do what is necessary. By that I mean that eventually reactors will be constructed in the same manner as ships were constructed in the U.S. during WW2. The reason those ships were constructed as rapidly as they were is the same as why the Swedes could construct their reactors as fast as they did: it was because the decision makers came to the conclusion that it was a matter of preventing a collapse in the standard of living, and so there was no point in relying on voters or politicians of EU phonies who believe that they can find instructions for obtaining their economic redemption in the words of popular songs, or antics on 'reality' TV.
3. CONCLUSION: SWEDISH NUCLEAR AND GREENPEACE
Any truth is better than make-believeI have published thousands of comments, and written hundreds of articles, for various (network) forums. No money has ever changed hands, but even so something eventually goes wrong - e.g. my bragging about my books and guest professorships - and my precious contributions are refused. Frankly I don't care at all, because my basic goal is not self-expression, but demonstrating to folks in both the cheap and expensive seats that I intend to remain the smartest boy in the room where energy economics is concerned.
As I point out on several occasions in my forthcoming energy economics textbook (2012), observing the Swedish nuclear past provides a valuable but generally unappreciated insight into the almost certain arrival of what Professor Ken-Ichi Matsui has called the "Seventh Energy Revolution", which he believes will be based on nuclear energy. When the first oil price shock took place, six reactors were rushed to completion in Sweden, while work on four others commenced, and planning began for two others. This was a stunning industrial achievement, and I think it possible to predict that with world populating increasing, and the relative supply of fossil fuel resources decreasing, a similar phenomenon will eventually be observed everywhere. Among other things, an enormous quantity of electricity will be necessary to avoid a partial deterioration of the transportation system. For example, in a country like Sweden, neither nuclear haters nor nuclear lovers have the slightest intention of losing access to 'the friendly skies' or the 'open roads': e.g. the open roads leading to the skiing and 'apres-ski' at Are and RiksgrAnsen in Sweden, or for that matter the friendly skies that lead south to the slopes and discos of Courchevel (France) and St. Anton (Austria).
Today, just a few hours ago, I read in an article by Tobias Brandel in my morning newspaper (Svenska Dagbladet), that Swedish nuclear energy has been graded below an acceptable standard by none other than experts associated with GREENPEACE. According to these Greenpeace know-nothings, security arrangements are bad, there is corruption somewhere (in that regulators and Swedish nuclear operators are in cahoots), earthquakes and tsunamis could take place in the vicinity of Swedish nuclear facilities, and in addition terrorists could be looking for 'soft' Swedish nuclear targets. Hearing that sort of thing makes me think that it is time to take off for a very long vacation in one of the stone-age countries that receive so much attention and admiration from Swedish intellectuals and journalists, but instead I will offer all interested persons and their supporters the same opportunity that I offered a certain former EU energy expert. They can occupy a front row seat during my next lecture on nuclear energy, and on that wonderful occasion make a fool of me or I can make a fool of them. I hope that I don't have to say how that rendezvous would likely turn out if it took place. Or don't you agree?
Banks, Ferdinand E. (2012). 'Energy and Economic Theory' World Scientific: London. New York and Singapore. (FORTHCOMING).
______. (2000). Energy Economics: A Modern Introduction. New York: Kluwer.
Brandel, Tobias (2012. 'Svensk karnkraft doms ut'. Svenska Dagbladet. (2 October).
Kullander, Sven, Henning Rodhe, Mats Marms-Ringdahl, and Dick Hedberg (2002). 'Okunnig att avveckla karnkraften'. Dagens Nyheter (7 April).
Matsui, Ken-Ichi (1998). 'Global demand growth of power generation'. The Energy Journal (No.2).
Tanguy, Pierre (1997). Nucleaire: Pas de Panique. Paris: Editions Nucleon.
Professor Ferdinand E. Banks
October 3rd, 2012
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