Tuesday, October 16, 2007


By Barkley Rosser

A front page story in WaPo today reports that the proposed agreement between the US and India for the US to assist in providing fuel for civilian nuclear power plants in India may be going down due to opposition from leftist parties in India to India becoming "too close" to the US, although the right-wing BJP has also joined in opposing this agreement (the leftists are in the coalition government, the BJP is not). This is true on the surface, but the report leaves out important details. One is that the US has been pressing India not to build a natural gas pipeline to Iran, long an ally (neither is too fond of Pakistan), which feeds the complaints of the opposition. Also, there has been opposition in the US over India violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty by actually building nuclear weapons, with vague US pressure on that issue also raising hackles in India.

The further wiggle on this not covered in the story is that many nuclear scientists in India also oppose the plan because they see it bringing to an end India's efforts to develop an alternative, independent, cheaper, and safer nuclear technology, thorium reactors, while putting India into a dependent position on the US for nuclear fuel. Beyond this, failure of this agreement may well make far more difficult any meaningful effort to restrain global carbon emissions over the next few decades. The thorium tech is not really ready to go. India will be massively increasing its electricity production potential over the next couple of decades, no matter what anybody says. Given its poverty, they are only going to go for the cheapest available "off the shelf techs." The hard bottom line is that those alternatives for India in a serious way are coal or nukes (although natural gas from Iran might help a bit). Failure of this agreement may mean that they will go with coal, and that will be that, too bad for the world with respect to global warming.


Anonymous said...

Spare a thought for non-US readers for whom a "deal going down" means that the deal is actually going to happen. The whole world has absorbed this usage, thanks to innumerable movies and cop shows on TV. Has US slang reversed the meaning of "going down"?

Anonymous said...

@ gordon, i think Barkley means going down as in a ship, not as in the cop movies :)

@ barkley: the fact remains that the US-India nuclear deal required a large shift in indian foreign policy to bring it in line with the so-called 'US interests' and the Hyde Act presented an easy out for the US if India did ANYTHING that the present US Govt. considered out of line, which many consider an unreasonable constraint. meanwhile, the deal itself was conducted in secret with the actual details not being debated about in parliament or any other forum until after it was signed. the left, being the biggest prop holding the government up, was visibly pissed off at this, whereas the opposition BJP who had initially advocated such a deal are now saying they would have done something better, basically because their poll numbers are down.

and here's some guy who thinks that nuclear power is not necessary.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

I apologize. Yes, you are right that many may think that. In this case, it is a deal that is not in place. So, "going down" means that it is falling apart, apparently not to happen, although it has not yet been completely shut down. Indian PM Singh has not "made the phone call" to Bush to formally end the process of moving to the ageement, although WaPo said that the agreement is "on life support" at the moment. Singh has said that maintaining the coalition government is more important than achieving this agreement.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...


Guess your comment came in while I was doing mylast one.

Well, we have debated nuclear power and global warming when Gar Lipow was around over on the old maxspeak. Think you were in on some of those debates. Gar is all for wind power in particular, although there is enviro opposition to that in many parts of the US. I see no evidence at all that it or solar are even remotely applicable in either India or China, and the Three Gorges Dam pretty much shows the limits of hydro.

The Greenpeace guy is talking about efficiency improvements up to 15%. Wow. That really does not cut it. These countries are talking doubling or tripling their elecricity output over the next decade or so. That 15% will not amount to doodley-squat.

As for waste storage, there is a very simple solution to that, what the French and the Japanese are doing. Just use the waste as fuel. That pretty much gets rid of nearly all of it. Much of this anti-nuclear feeling is just knee-jerk leftover emotions. People really need to face the music here. India and China will not do this with efficiency improvements or wind or solar or biofuels or natural gas or hydro or geothermal or carbon capture and sequestration. They are going to increase their electricity capacity by enormous amounts soon, and they are going to do it by existing technologies of coal or nuclear. One massively emits carbon, one does not.

Anonymous said...

hi barkley! glad you remember me :)

i realize that nuclear in the short term is not that bad. i just want to see nuclear power used as a part of a migration from fossil fuels to renewable energy, not the be-all and end-all that it has been projected as being, over here in india. the matter of spent fuel reprocessing is one that i do not have any expertise on, so i will read up on it and lend my voice on that when i feel that i can make some sort of sense.

also, a little honest debate regarding the pros and cons of surrendering a vast section of foreign policy to the US, (even more so, given the hawkish stance of the neo-cons as well as many leading democrats) would help us keep our faith in our democracy.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...


Your points are well taken. We all hope for some serious breakthroughs/improvements technologically. One of the ones that actually looks most hopeful, although it is still a ways off, is the carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), which would allow for using that available coal, but with as much as 95% removal. Of course solar always looks the best, but it is still about ten times more expensive than coal in most places.

I have sympathy for the Indians being suspicious about becoming reliant on the US. Indeed, my noting the US giving them a hard time about their relations with Iran was exactly directed at that point. We have this lunatic war fever against Iran in the US, which Hillary seems to be pretty much a part of, that is just wrecking all sorts of other things, like an agreement that might actually do something serious about global warming.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

Barkley said: "..Much of this anti-nuclear feeling is just knee-jerk leftover emotions. People really need to face the music here. India and China will not do this with efficiency improvements or wind or solar or biofuels or natural gas or hydro or geothermal or carbon capture and sequestration. They are going to increase their electricity capacity by enormous amounts soon, and they are going to do it by existing technologies of coal or nuclear. One massively emits carbon, one does not..."

Barkley, 'facing the music' surely must mean that if China and India seek to massively increase their energy consumption (by whatever means) then we are dead. Dead simple.

And who is 'China and India' in terms of the decision making? From the evidence I have gleaned they are nothing more than the very same corporations who have set Australia and US policy - the energy and other corporations who seek business and profits as usual.

If people are given the choice between more unnecessary consumption or death...Well, you know, they choose life. When a corporation is given the same choice the institution opts for profit maximisation.

I don't see our climate change and ecological crisis as a function of energy option choices. Rather we don't appear to have mechanisms that lead to appropriate choices being made. Doing the wrong thing is, in fact, rewarded over and over again.


rosserjb@jmu.edu said...


In dealing with China and India, I do not think this is so simple, nor is it exactly true, even if the multinationals have some influence in these countries. Both are enormous, mostly closed, economies where the influence of foreign multinationals remains substantially limited, perhaps as much so as anywhere in the world aside from a few cases like North Korea or Cuba.

For all its moves to environmentally destructive development and oppressive labor conditions in many places, the overwhelming majority of the Chinese economy is in the hands of the Chinese, either the central government, China-based private corporations, or, the largest part of the economy, local government-owned town and village enterprises. Even many of the foreign-based multinationals are actually owned by overseas Chinese.

India is one of the most complicated economies in the world, with a greater variation among its states in terms of economic systems than one finds within the continent of Europe. India is one of the few countries in the world that continues to have central planning, if of an indicative sort, with a lot of state ownership. Some states are very social democratic, famously Kerala in the southwest (put in place by a democratically oriented Communist Party), quite capitalist (although mostly domestically owned), in the northwest, such as in relatively high income Haryana, and a feudalistic and poverty-stricken traditional Hindu system in parts of the northeast, most infamously in Bihar. India may be the most closed economy in the world (with the possible exception of North Korea), with on the order of only 2% of its GDP traded internationally, and with foreign corporations still very limited.

In terms of their electricity programs, they are domestically owned and controlled in both countries. Indeed, part of what is so touchy in India in particular is preciseley this issue of foreign influence and control, with the US having damaged its standing as a fair partner in such matters.

The situation is indeed daunting. I think the best we can hope for is probably a minority of this new electricity capacity being nuclear or natural gas or biofuels or wind or hydro, or, well anything other than plain old coal. For now, both countries seem to be pretty ready to do it mostly with coal, especially China. It is just so darned cheap, and they are both poor, even if China is getting noticeably richer.


Myrtle Blackwood said...

Barkley, thanks.
My comments read like an over-reaction (with respect to my suspicion that the same people are making the same decisions - for capitalist expansion - in nations around the entire globe).

I know this is happening to a certain extent, I just haven't figured out exactly how far it goes. How much of it could be a function of the effects of Western teaching and propaganda worldwide?

Anyway, thanks for the enlightening comments on China and India.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...


This is indeed why this is such a particularly difficult problem. While China has experienced substantial real growth with huge changes in the real economic circumstances of a majority of its population, despite some remaining areas of deep poverty, the majority of Indians still live in deep poverty in rural areas. If one starts to tell someone from India about how they need to do something to control carbon emissions, they will start to tell you about how a majority of Indian families heat their homes and cook their meals using cow dung (gathering that is one of the jobs of the Untouchables, the Dalits). This is filhy, stinky, and spreads disease. Should someone from a high income country who drives a car and uses air conditioners tell someone in such a situation that they cannot have electricity because polar bears are threatened? Their representatives, at least, are not at all sympathetic.

India is a democracy, however imperfect, and all parties agree that India should acquire increased electricity production capacity as rapidly as possible to overcome the sort of thing I have just described. It is this imperative that puts us all into the sticky wicket we are in (which, as the Indians and the Chinese willl rightly point out, we would not be in in the first place if the high income countries had not already engaged in so much carbon emitting in the past).

Myrtle Blackwood said...

Barkley, you said: "If one starts to tell someone from India about how they need to do something to control carbon emissions, they will start to tell you about how a majority of Indian families heat their homes and cook their meals using cow dung.."

I was trying to say that I can't comprehend why 'capitalism' is regarded as the way to solve the problem of poverty around the world.

Why is it that a corporation decides the manner in which products are produced? Why are products produced merely to create a profit for the business. While reward for effort is clearly a good thing, shouldn't there be a number of other rationales behind the reason why things are produced? For instance, the resolution of genuinely unmet needs?

Capitalism propped up by dubious theory. Trickle down' to catastrophe. I don't think the world has time to deal with mechanisms that indirectly/hopefully/theoretically provide eventually for our essential needs.

Why is India emphasising production of throw-away goods yet failing to provide well-insulated, comforatable passive-solar housing for its citizens?

Why an apparently uniform global mindset of thoughtless, unsustainable economic growth. At this very time of global industrial overcapacity in many products? Why are government around the world continuing to subsidise those very products already in excess supply? World paper over-production and excess production of new fishing vessels -

A frightening double whammy of pending climate change catastrophe in the context of industrial over-production of useless goods and services.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...


Maybe I am getting technical here, but the power companies in India that are currently building thorium reactors, and that might build uranium reactors under a deal, are state-owned, technically socialist, and under the direction of a central plan. One can call this "state capitalism" if one wants, but it is clearly Indian-controlled. Of course, if there were a deal with the US, stuff from the US would be provided by privately owned US capitalist firms.

Again, I really sympathize with those who react to nuclear power with a big "yuck." But I would point out that when one looks at carbon emissions, France does a whole lot better on any measure than most other high income countries, a lot better. And it is because the solid majority of their electric power is provided by nuclear power, provided by a still mostly state-owned company, EDF (87%) that was wholely state-owned when most of the reactors were built, also part of a central planning system. They have also made the move (along with Japan) to resolve the waste disposal problem by recycling as fuel the waste. The US decided some time ago not to do this because of concerns about nuclear proliferation. I find this utterly stupid, with the Yucca Mountain plan even stupider, given its requirement of transporting all this waste from all over the country to a geologically questionable site in Nevada. Of course, as it is, the waste in the US is sitting in steel drums on the sites of the nuclear power plants. Gag.

The conversation in the US of course is always about how wonderful it is to have these companies privatized and no central planning. But in the longer run we may realize that the places that used central state planning with state ownership: France, Japan, and India, have done a lot better for the global environment than places like the US, whose record, well, frankly sucks.

Myrtle Blackwood said...


the French anti-nuclear organisation 'Sortir du Nucleaire' says that the energy generated by France's 58 nuclear power plants (in 19 different sites) represents only 15% of energy consumption in France. This group believes (and it sounds feasible) that it is possible to halve energy consumption in France without compromising comfort.

See: http://www.sortirdunucleaire.org/english/downloads/happy-atomsland.pdf

I haven't been able to find information on France's overall carbon emissions (such as what they are, how it was calculated, who did the sums etc).

The current state of affairs does point to overconsumption of power and unnecessary release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In rural Tasmania the average backyard burnoff of garden waste must come close to approaching the CO2 release from car transport to and from town for the entire year for a family, IMO. That's putting aside my usual verbal expressions of alarm at the advent of the gigantic industrial forestry burnoffs that began about 8 years ago.

And then, as Michael Perelman points out, the industrial mode of agriculture uses up 10 calories of energy for every calorie of food created.

This is all apart from the fact of nuclear's minimal production of energy (as compared to costs). Well why push for it now? Without any resort to the systematic refitting of housing, with continued ubiquitous advertising pushing for incessant consumption. With mass production of gigantic SUVs, overlit towns and cities. Lack of any cultural change. In Tasmania there is only one windfarm. Apart from that (and some minimal media coverage) there is no actual evolution in evidence that could be construed to result from a concern for global climate change.

The Sustainable Development Commission of the UK concluded last year "that the UK could meet our CO2 reduction targets and energy needs without nuclear power, using a combination of demand reduction, renewables, and more efficient use of fossil fuels combined with carbon capture and storage technologies..." They also said "There is very little certainty over the economics
of nuclear power. A new nuclear power programme could divert public funding away from more sustainable technologies that will be needed regardless, hampering other long-term efforts to move to a low carbon economy with diverse energy sources. Nuclear power is also
prone to moral hazard, which could lead to forced public subsidy regardless of the Government’s original intentions.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

But it is solid majority of electricity consumption. The main alternative to nuclear once again, is coal, which is a very large carbon emitter. France does very well for a high income country on the carbon per capita and carbon per GDP ratings, one of the best, probably the best among the top 20 countries in per capita income, with Sweden probably its closest rival, which also uses a lot of nuclear to produce electricity and uses a lot of hydro also.