Individual Statements by CONAES Members
I am glad to accept the report as the product of 4 years of very hard work on an extremely intractable problem, in regard to which there are unusually wide but legitimate divergences of opinion. It may be that the most significant conclusion of this report is its constant emphasis on the profound uncertainties that beset even the most crucial aspects of this problem. This is cold comfort to the decision makers, whose position indeed is not to be envied. With all the evidence and wisdom that the scientific community can muster, we are forced to admit that our areas of ignorance in this subject are very large. Under these circumstances, the best advice to the decision maker is to avoid delusions of certainty and to put a high premium on decisions today that allow a wide range of decisions tomorrow. If there is any conclusion to this report of practical significance, it is that there is a strong case for having our eggs in as many baskets as possible and that we should avoid foreclosing any line of development too soon.
I am prepared to accept the report, therefore, as one of a long series of interim statements, each of which provides the basis for the next. There are a number of aspects of the report that make me uneasy, none of which are wholly indefensible, but which should provide material for further discussion and study. I wish the report had stressed more the divergence of the feeling on the committee instead of trying to concentrate on areas of
agreement, for these divergences are a very important part of the picture. They do come out in the concluding comments by members of the committee, and these should be taken not as a sign of failure but as a sign of the immense difficulty and complexity of the problem and as pointers toward further work.
I would raise one or two questions about the general assumptions underlying the study that might lead to misleading conclusions if they were not brought up. One is the assumption implicit in many of the models that the GNP of the United States will grow by at least 2 percent over the next few decades, though there is some recognition that this rate of growth will eventually slow down. It seems to me at least possible that rates of economic growth will be much less than this. It is very dangerous to extrapolate the rates of growth for a very complex aggregate like the GNP.
Two factors suggest that the GNP of the United States may have a much slower rate of growth in the future than it has had in the past few decades. One is that as technological development proceeds, those industries that are subject to productivity increase usually decline in relative importance as the economy moves into industries and occupations where the increase in productivity is very difficult, like education, the arts, medicine, and government. A good deal of the increase in GNP in the last 30 years came out of the extraordinary increase in productivity in agriculture, which released some 30 million people from agriculture to produce other things. This process is now reaching its conclusion, even in agriculture, and agriculture is now such a small proportion of the labor force that even a substantial increase in productivity would not release very many people. Productivity in manufacturing was not rising very rapidly even in the last 30 years, and has now virtually slowed to a stop. Increase in knowledge and improvements in technology will, of course, continue to take place and will in part offset the increasing costs of energy and materials. But whether this offset will be sufficient to prevent virtually stationary or even declining GNP per capita is a real question. If we add to this the change in the political climate in the last 10 or 15 years, which has imposed great uncertainties on private enterprise and has created an increasing unwillingness to take risks, particularly those imposed by somewhat uncertain regulations, the chances of actual decline in GNP per capita seem much greater than the economics profession is willing to recognize.
It may be, of course, that this gloomy prophecy will be falsified as many similar prophecies have been in the past by unexpected advances in knowledge and technology. There are indeed a few possible technical developments that would transform the whole energy and economic picture of the world in a relatively short time. The development of a cheap and portable battery for storing large quantities of electricity might
transform the whole energy picture. It would make electricity a real substitute for fuels, which now it is not.
Something indeed which the report implies, but does not perhaps emphasize enough, is the great heterogeneity of the energy problem. Energy sources are very heterogeneous, and energy uses are even more so; the structure and storage of different forms of energy may be much more important in the total picture than the number of “quads.” We must not be misled by the physical homogeneity of the measurement of energy in terms of ergs or Btu’s, for energy is only significant socially when, where, and in the form that it is wanted by human beings. These times, places, and forms are extremely diverse, and are frequently not substitutable one for another.
I detect in the report a slight prejudice in favor of nuclear power and a certain prejudice against biomass and energy farms, though great pains have been taken to present all points of view fairly and even to try to reach a compromise statement, which like most compromise statements will not satisfy any of the contending parties. The main thing I have learned myself in the course of this study is to recognize the enormous uncertainties that are involved, even in such a basic question of future policy as to whether the net advantages of coal are greater than those of various forms of nuclear energy. We do not really know whether carbon dioxide is worse than plutonium as a hazard to the human race. Professor Holdren’s claim that the report underestimates the long-run hazards of nuclear power seems to me to have some weight and broadens still further the spectrum of uncertainty. It is also true, however, as Professor Cannon has suggested, that the report does not deal with the social and human costs of severe energy shortages, which could be very large. The balancing of these costs and benefits in the light of the enormous uncertainties is an unenviable task, and one hopes that the sense of uncertainty will at least modify the heat of the inevitable controversies.
A curious general characteristic of the report that reflects, however, almost all discussions of this subject is that the “risk” always involves costs or negative goods, whereas benefits are often implicitly assumed to be certain. Under these circumstances, risk of the loss of benefits can easily be grossly underestimated, and this can distort the whole judgment in regard to the net benefits of different policies. If overestimation, or over-visibility, of the real costs of different forms of energy leads to a loss of the benefits— often invisible and taken for granted—we may find ourselves in very bad shape. While this is certainly recognized, there is something in the rhetoric of the discussion of this problem that takes benefits for granted and puts all the emphasis on uncertain costs. The environmental and antinuclear movements are particularly subject to this danger, which should be pointed out to them.
The staff of the project is much to be commended for trying to put together the various scenarios that emerged from the Demand and Conservation and the Supply and Delivery panels, respectively, as well as the modeling groups. The value in these scenarios, however, is that they point to a very wide range of possible futures, which have at least some degree of probability and stress the need, again, for highly flexible policies, constantly subject to revision as new data come in from experience.
A methodological point is that in model building and scenario construction there is everything to be said for doing the simplest possible models first, then elaborating the models with successive introduction of complexities. The Modeling Research Group model is a very good case in point. An extremely simple model would have come to much the same basic conclusion that the elaborate model came to, and it would be much more comprehensible to the ordinary reader. The conclusion, for instance, that a substantial rise in the real cost of energy could take place with only a relatively small impact on the GNP will surprise many readers, and it will not be clear to them how this emerges out of the elaborate model, simply because the elaborate model cannot be understood, even by the quite sophisticated reader, who has not actually participated in its construction.
A very simple model, however, will illustrate the point. What might be called the “energy industry” now represents something like 7 percent of the GNP. If the real price of energy quadruples, as it might do by the early twenty-first century, this will rise perhaps to 15 or 20 percent. The proportion itself will not quadruple because the rise in the price of energy will offer very large incentives for conservation and for technical changes that economize energy in both consumption and production. Even if energy goes to 20 percent of GNP, however, this still leaves 80 percent for other things instead of 93 percent. Quite small changes, therefore, in improvement in productivity of other parts of the economy would offset the increase in the real cost of energy, so it is not surprising that unless the overall impact in the rise of energy prices is very small indeed, both in terms of elasticity of demand and of the impact on technology both of production and of utilization, the conclusion that the impact on GNP will not be very large is quite reasonable, although there are circumstances in which the technological changes will fail to come through, and the effect would be much larger and much more deleterious than the above very simple model would suggest.
All model building involves assumptions about constancy of parameters of the system. In social systems, however, parameters are not constant, which is why model building must always be treated as productive of significant but rather dubious evidence, and certainly never as productive of truth. The great uncertainties here are in the area of the future of human knowledge, know-how, and skill. There is a nonexistence theorem
about prediction in this area, in the sense that if we could predict what we are going to know at some time in the future, we would not have to wait, for we would know it now. It is not surprising, therefore, that the great technical changes have never been anticipated, neither the development of oil and gas, nor the automobile, nor the computer.
In preparing for the future, therefore, it is very important to have a wide range of options and to think in advance about how we are going to react to the worst cases as well as the best. The report does not quite do this. There is an underlying assumption throughout, for instance, that we will solve the problem of the development of large quantities of usable energy from constantly renewable sources, say, by 2010. Suppose, however, that in the next 50, 100, or 200 years we do not solve this problem; what then? It can hardly be doubted that there will be a deeply traumatic experience for the human race, which could well result in a catastrophe for which there is no historical parallel.
It is a fundamental principle that we cannot discover what is not there. For nearly 100 years, for instance, there have been very high payoffs for the discovery of a cheap, light, and capacious battery for storing electricity on a large scale; we have completely failed to solve this problem. It is very hard to prove that something is impossible, but this failure at least suggests that the problem is difficult. The trouble with all permanent or long-lasting sources of energy, like the sun or the earth’s internal heat, is that they are extremely diffuse and the cost of concentrating their energy may therefore be very high. Or with a bit of luck, it may not; we cannot be sure. To face a winding down of the extraordinary explosion of economic development that followed the rise of science and the discovery of fossil fuels would require extraordinary courage and sense of community on the part of the human race, which we could develop perhaps only under conditions of high perception of extreme challenge. I hope this may never have to take place, but it seems to me we cannot rule it out of our scenarios altogether.
I myself feel I have learned a great deal from being on this committee. I became aware of the enormous complexity of the problem in a way I had not been before, and many of my views changed quite radically as a result If the report can have the effect of questioning established positions on all sides of the great controversies, it will have been well worth doing.
A very crucial problem that underlies the report, particularly important to the scientific community, is where are the areas in which research in pursuit of further knowledge and skill is most likely to pay off in the next generation? Whether this question could have been directly addressed in a separate chapter is a matter of debate, but one hopes that this is the question that will be most frequently asked by those who read the report.
I would personally like to thank the staff of the committee for their patience and persistence in an extraordinarily difficult task. The rewards of
anonymous writing are meager, and this report is testimony to the devotion and self-sacrifice of those who have written it.
I concur with the above statement.
Definition of the Energy Problem: I wish it had been stated more forcefully in the report that we have, not an “energy” problem, but an oil problem. By focusing on the primacy of the oil problem, it becomes clearer what we have to do:
Use less oil
Get more oil
We could get eloquent about all the reasons that this is the problem. The impact of our oil use on a seller’s market is the most demanding of them. Industrializing countries of the third world are impacted by our continued consumption of the most appropriate fuel for them at this stage of their developments and by our reluctance to reduce our consumption by fuel substitutions or resource substitutions.
Energy conservation is a fine thing. I am all for it. Yet, it will do us little good unless it is applied in such a way as to conserve oil. For example, if it takes more energy to substitute coal for oil, we should nevertheless do it, and do it quickly. The same thing holds for substituting electricity, made from coal or nuclear power, for oil.
In this context, nuclear power offers, at present, an excellent combination of economy, environmental blandness, and low health effects. It therefore deserves support for its properly regulated expansion.
Similarly, it would be very nice to get, if we can, economical energy from solar sources. However, it would not be worth a great economic “front-end” payment (a payment that could be used for other things, and is rarely recovered) unless this energy replaces oil use.
There are problems, of course, with all substitutions. Some are environmental, some are political. These problems can be resolved by proper use of technology, good management in the public interest, and the replacement of adversary-type political confrontations by honest attempts to understand problems and come up with solutions. I believe that CONAES has made such an attempt, and that is why I endorse the report
Natural gas from “unevaluated and unconventional sources” could also contribute to arresting this decline. Compare Tables 22 and 25 of the CONAES Supply and Delivery Panel report (National Research Council, U.S. Energy Supply Prospects to 2010, Committee on Nuclear and Alternative Energy Systems, Supply and Delivery Panel (Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, 1979), pp. 81, 84). For the enhanced-supply case, which probably corresponds to the new conditions as of 1979, as much as 6 quads could be added to the gas supply by 2010, keeping production approximately level with 1975. This does not include highly speculative abiogenic sources, which have received recent press attention but are too conjectural to be included in quantitative estimates.
The assertion that coal and nuclear fission are the “only readily available domestic energy sources that could even in principle reverse the decline in domestic energy production over the next three decades” rests on a judgment I do not share. This judgment is that the obstacles to significant penetration of the energy mix by renewable energy sources in this period are more fundamental and less tractable than the obstacles in the way of expanded use of coal and nuclear fission. The obstacles for the renewables are technical and economic—extensive penetration between 1990 and 2010 would require some technical breakthroughs yielding large cost reductions early in the period, or willingness to spend significantly more for renewable energy supplies than we have been spending for conventional ones. The obstacles hindering coal and nuclear are different—they are environmental and sociopolitical more than technical and economic—but they are neither less real nor more easily circumvented than the liabilities of the renewables. The choices are increased flirtation with CO2-induced climatic change, other potentially excruciating environmental costs of coal, and nuclear debacles (those arising from malevolence as well as from miscalculation and mismanagement), on the one hand, and the probability of considerably higher energy prices (for renewables), on the other. The notion that society should prefer the former to the latter may be the majority view of this committee, but that position should be recognized as a value judgment that does not deserve to be paraded as the “only” possible outcome.
I and others had repeatedly challenged the Modeling Resource Group on the composition of the “consumer market basket.” The answers given were broad, with no indication of a real understanding of the specific implications of the model output. Specifically the answers were: “The goods would be less energy intensive”; “we’ll have a lot more oboe players”; “consumers will own more pairs of shoes.” I submit that although the report carefully qualifies the results of the work of the Modeling Resource Group, chapter 1 places too much emphasis on the results. The models in my opinion are not sophisticated enough to extrapolate so far into the future. Further, the models address only the situation in the terminal years. There has been no real attempt to explain that perhaps serious economic problems could occur during intervening years, and what might be done about these.
HENDRIK S.HOUTHAKKER AND HARVEY BROOKS
A 2 percent growth rate would be consistent with full employment only if output per man-hour grew much more slowly than in the post-World War II period.
This statement needs to be repeated perhaps more often in the preceding discussion. The models really provide mechanisms for carrying out the calculations necessary to indicate the implications of certain types of assumptions. For instance, when one assumes a “high energy tax” that will be “pumped back” into the economy and a high elasticity factor, it is almost obvious that the impact of decreasing energy demand on the GNP will be small. This in no way suggests that I do not agree that the energy/GNP ratio will decrease. It is simply a question of how much, and although a low energy growth may provide an adequate standard of living, a higher energy growth may well provide an even better one.
It is misleading not to note that pure price increases were consciously used in the work of the Modeling Resource Group as a surrogate for the nearly infinite variety of combinations of increased prices and conservation-inducing policies that might be used in real life in place of price alone. There was no consensus in the committee as to the relative role that price increases and policies not related to price should have in the promotion of
more efficient energy use. The issue was finessed by letting price represent the combined intensity of price and nonprice conservation pressures, mainly because the effects of price could be rather easily captured by the economic models at hand, while the effects of policies that could substitute for price increases could not be. Thus the seeming unreality of the price increases the text associates with the lowest-growth energy futures should not lead the reader to reject these futures as implausible; they could come about at lower price levels than stated, with the help of suitable policies. (This clarification also disposes of the otherwise natural objection that such low-energy futures at such high energy prices are inconsistent economically because of the enormous energy supplies that would be forthcoming at these prices.)
The reserves of oil shale in this country are vast and should be included with coal and nuclear. The report as written presupposes that oil shale extraction will not be developed to any significant extent. It seems possible to me that we will find ways to exploit the huge reserves.
There is some indication that the potential for unconventional gas sources, such as Devonian shales, coal seams, and geopressured brines, may have been underestimated, especially in relation to prospects for ultimate decontrol of gas prices and proposed tax benefits for unconventional gas sources. Some recent estimates (such as those of the Electric Power Research Institute) of natural gas production by 2000 have run as high as 30 quads. Since gas is substitutable for fuels derived from petroleum in a large number of applications, new sources of gas may represent the most likely favorable future development to offset the forecast rise in demand for oil imports. Hence energetic further exploration and assessment of this possibility are warranted. I would be inclined to give this even higher priority than the suggested pioneer plants for oil shale and coal-derived liquids. However, like other possible favorable developments in supply, enhanced natural gas supplies cannot be counted upon in prudent planning in comparison with fully developed technologies such as coal and nuclear electric power generation, which are already commercially proven.
HENDRIK S.HOUTHAKKER, EDWARD J.GORNOWSKI, AND LUDWIG F.LISCHER
Who decides what are “unnecessarily high rates of growth in electricity demand”? The development of electricity has been a major contributor to our economic performance and is likely to be equally important for the presently less developed countries.
LUDWIG F.LISCHER AND EDWARD J.GORNOWSKI
The counter view is not stated. That view holds that even with a moderate growth in demand for electricity after 1990, the development of the LMFBR is not only desirable but necessary. The LMFBR is further along in development than any other advanced reactor. A prudent basis for planning energy policy, it seems to us, should not rely on completely achieving all the goals of conservation and extreme optimism on uranium resources. History tells us that future events rarely, if ever, turn out as planned. Therefore, proceeding at a reasonably expeditious pace with the LMFBR is a necessity if as a nation we wish to have this resource available to us on a commercial basis by the end of this century. At that time it may turn out to be a vital necessity; and if not, at the worst, it provides a reasonable-cost insurance.
In our view, the nuclear industry will not undertake commercialization of advanced converters because at best the converter is an interim solution (good for perhaps 20–30 years) and neither the suppliers nor the users will believe that there is sufficient incentive to bring it to commercial status.
Without reprocessing, the growth of nuclear power will be slow, at best. No manufacturer could afford the high development costs to bring an interim nuclear reactor system to licensable status. If reprocessing is permitted, any advanced converter would have to compete with the fast breeder reactor. In that event, the breeder is the obvious choice.
No mention is made of the Clinch River breeder reactor (CRBR), yet this was the primary issue leading to the formation of CONAES. To proceed with the orderly development of the LMFBR, the construction of the CRBR is of vital importance. The United States has operated successfully the 20-MWe EBR-II at Idaho Falls for over 15 years. CRBR represents the next logical step (350–400 MWe) in scaling up plant size. It is essential to construct and operate a unit of this size prior to proceeding with commercial designs on the order of 1000 MWe. At the present stage of development, one learns little from more paper and analytical work as proposed by some. The direct scale-up from 20 MWe to 1000 MWe is simply too large a step for prudent engineering and design. CRBR is not an
outmoded plant; its design has been continually updated, and it has flexibility for accommodating a variety of nuclear fuel and core designs.
(Harvey Brooks: I subscribe to the views expressed in the first two paragraphs of the above statement.)
(Henry I.Kohn: I agree with the general approach of the above statement.)
This is not a very likely example, since nuclear power is only useful as base load. It would be plausible only if the load curve were considerably leveled, e.g., due to the widespread use of electric cars with batteries charged on off-peak power, or the production of hydrogen by off-peak power, or by an inexpensive energy storage system. Some progress, however, is being made in the development of fuel that is more resistant to thermal cycling and hence suitable for use in reactors operating in a load-following mode.
Tailings piles, under present practices, are the largest source of ultimate human radiation exposure from the routine operation of nuclear power. If the linear hypothesis about radiation damage is correct, the million-year burden of extra cancer deaths produced by these tailings, although undetectable against the background of cancers from other causes, could amount to a total that almost certainly would be deemed unacceptable if it had to be borne by the present-generation users of the electricity. This situation poses an ethical dilemma that is not made less troublesome by the possibility that other energy sources also produce health costs that are spread over millennia (e.g., toxic effects of trace metals mobilized by burning coal) but that cannot yet be estimated quantitatively. In these circumstances, I am unconvinced that one should “solve” the problem of alpha-emitting wastes from elsewhere in the fuel cycle by making the tailings problem worse by even an iota. If the tailings problem itself were actually solved today, in the form of the existence of a scheme that manifestly would reduce the ultimate human exposure from this source by, say, a factor of 1000, I would feel differently about putting other alpha wastes in the same basket
BERNARD I.SPINRAD, HARVEY BROOKS, AND DAVID J.ROSE
This statement, made as a catalog of fears popular among nuclear opponents, is correct. Nevertheless, the fears themselves are neither
peculiar to nuclear power nor necessarily commensurate with physical realities. A similar criticism can be made of the sentence at the start of the next paragraph, stating what many supporters of nuclear power believe. Such myths must be discarded and replaced by usable information if reasonable resolution of the outstanding nuclear issues is to be made.
LUDWIG F.LISCHER, HARVEY BROOKS, AND DAVID J.ROSE
The section “Public Appraisal of Nuclear Power” appears to say that public appraisal dominates (or should dominate) the role of nuclear power in the future. Public perceptions are important. But if they are based on erroneous or distorted information, then there is a role for government and other institutions to correct those perceptions by providing facts in an understandable manner.
BERNARD I.SPINRAD, HARVEY BROOKS, AND LUDWIG F.LISCHER
Since nothing is certain, this statement cannot be disputed. However, the technical grounds for selecting the LMFBR as the breeder of choice were strong when that decision was made originally, and no intervening technical developments have ensued that would negate the decision. Unless alternative breeders are, in fact, developed toward commercialization first, nothing in the future is likely to change that decision, either.
This argument rests, in my opinion, on double counting of social costs. The massive controls and restrictions on nuclear power have forced internalization of not merely its own intrinsic social costs, but also the social costs that have been artificially loaded onto it by politicized opposition. The social costs of coal seem to be going the same way. If solar power cannot make the grade economically, given this favorable handicap, it doesn’t deserve to be further stimulated.
“Additional technical developments,” “best technology,” “final choice,” and “lowest risk” are terms used in several places in this chapter—each time with the implication that nothing can be done now because we do not know what is best or lowest in risk or what additional technical developments will bring. This seems to me a negative outlook. If one waits
until everything is known, then nothing is ever accomplished. At some point, one can only learn more by doing rather than by further studying,
Technically the preceding statements on risks are correct, but they do little to help public understanding. All risks are relative, and unless we make comparisons (even if they are less than 100 percent correct), we do little to assist people. For example, to say that the maximum calculated dose received by an individual was 80 mrem (as in the case of Three Mile Island) is less than helpful unless one adds that if one moves from Chicago to Denver he will receive an increased dose of 80 mrem/yr because the natural background radiation in Denver is about that much higher than in Chicago. If public perceptions are important (as stated elsewhere in this chapter), then surely comparisons of risks in an understandable manner are pertinent to energy policy.
BERNARD I.SPINRAD, HARVEY BROOKS, LUDWIG F.LISCHER, AND DAVID J.ROSE
We cannot concur with this policy, and we think that the stated reason is fallacious. It is important to compare energy-related risks with nonenergy risks that are accepted, to gain perspective.
Overemphasis, often to the extent of single-minded concentration on risk reduction from energy sources—often, of particular energy options—diverts attention from more serious problems. We have:
Risks of war
Risks of poverty
Risks of disease
Risks of crime
Risks of “normal” accidents
All of these risks are major, and the rather low risks of properly controlled use of coal and the very low risks of properly controlled use of nuclear energy pale by comparison.
We enter into the “how safe is safe enough?” controversy here. It is unpopular to attack the problem objectively, so the graceful cop-out of calling it a social and political issue was used by CONAES. Yet, how can people make social and political decisions that are valid in the absence of contextual information and evaluation?
Another area where objective thinking needs to be done is the issue of immediate risks versus delayed risks. We would be far more willing to take
a risk, such as exposure to a carcinogen, that might lead to morbidity 20 years from now than we are to take a risk of equal probability that would lead to similar harm immediately. (Such a risk might be in the class of letting hunters practice their hobby within half a mile of residences.) Yet, much of the literature, and virtually all of the recent press coverage of risks, concentrates on how much more scary delayed risks are. Is this a real psychological fact, or a learned response? If it is a learned one, shouldn’t it be unlearned?
LUDWIG F.LISCHER AND HENRY I.KOHN
HARVEY BROOKS AND DAVID J.ROSE
In our opinion the section on emissions gives a misleadingly optimistic impression of the health risks associated with air pollution from the burning of coal, especially in comparison with the risks of nuclear power. Admittedly the epidemiological studies that have so far been conducted are of questionable validity; see chapter 9 for a detailed assessment of these. However, because we cannot quantify adverse health effects with the same confidence as in the case of ionizing radiation, it would be wrong to conclude that the risks of coal are not substantially greater than those of nuclear power with high probability.
It is not enough to note that the use of more reasonable uncertainty bounds alone would make the expected number of fatalities from nuclear accidents larger by a factor of 10 or more than the median value stated in WASH-1400. The size of the risk at the upper end of the uncertainty range—its value if the pessimists are right—is also relevant to the public’s comparison of the liabilities of this technology with the liabilities of alternative ways to get electricity. (That a large uncertainty is itself a liability, above and beyond the liability associated with the “best-estimate” or “expected” consequences, is a well-established principle in benefit-cost analysis.) WASH-1400’s own estimate of the upper limit is higher than its median value of 0.024 deaths per reactor-year by a factor of about 15 (3 in consequences and 5 in probability). But the prestigious Ford/MITRE study (Nuclear Power: Issues and Choices (Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger Publishing Co., 1977), p. 179) found that “the WASH-1400 probability estimate
could be low, under extremely pessimistic assumptions, by a factor of as much as 500” and that the expected number of cancers for a given accident “could be several times higher” than in WASH-1400, based on the dose-response modeling alone (leaving out, for example, uncertainties in the dispersion model). The product of these Ford/MITRE “upper limits” on probability and consequences implies an upper limit risk 1500–3000 times the WASH-1400 median value, or 36–72 cancer deaths per reactor-year. This result puts the upper-limit health risk of nuclear power well above the upper-limit health risk from burning coal in new power plants. (See my dissenting view on the coal-nuclear comparison, statement 1–59, Appendix A.)
This statement is in conflict with Sandia and NRC studies that conclude that sabotage could cause embarrassment and public apprehension, but actual harm to the public is extremely unlikely.
While hydroelectricity destroys old ecosystems, it creates new ones that are not necessarily less valuable. Moreover, hydroelectricity is benign in environmental respects other than damage to ecosystems.
The situation is even more ambiguous than the text suggests because it is not actually possible to do what is implied by the words, “if one takes all health effects into account” Specifically, the statement that coal’s health effects “appear to be a good deal greater” than nuclear’s requires either that one ignore the million-year accumulation of excess cancer deaths plausibly attributable to uranium-mill tailings if the linear hypothesis is accepted (an excess that could amount to 30–400 deaths per GWe-year of electricity, according to the Academy’s own recent report, Risks Associated with Nuclear Power; A Critical Review of the Literature, Committee on Science and Public Policy, Committee on Literature Survey of Risks Associated with Nuclear Power (Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, April 1979)), or that one assume without any quantitative support that the health effects of today’s coal use over the next million years will be as large or larger Suppose this troublesome issue, which is completely unresolvable at present, is neglected. Suppose one also neglects genetic illness from nontailings routine emissions, for which there is an uncertainty range spanning at least a factor of 20 on the nuclear side
(extending on the high end to consequences about equal to those of the excess cancers) and for which no quantitative estimates at all are available on the coal side. Suppose one neglects, further, the health effects of emissions of oxides of nitrogen, hydrocarbons, and trace metals from coal combustion, which are generally presumed (but not proved) to be smaller than those of the sulfur oxides and generalized particulates that existing dose-response relations include. In the restricted comparison that remains after all these troublesome factors are excluded, the widespread view that coal comes out “a good deal” worse than nuclear rests on various combinations of the following three errors: (1) attribution to coal of practices in mine health and safety, power plant siting, and pollution control that are illegal or inconceivable (and usually both) in the new, large facilities relevant to comparisons with nuclear power; (2) failure to note that the “excess deaths” attributed to air pollution from coal typically deprive the victims of far less life expectancy than the cancers attributed to nuclear power (the ratio is almost certainly more than 10:1); (3) refusal to take seriously the upper end of the range of responsible opinion on conceivable nuclear accident risk, while taking completely seriously the upper-limit estimates of excess deaths from air pollution. When these errors are avoided, the “best estimates” of the years of life lost per GWe-year of electricity from coal and nuclear differ by an amount small compared to the uncertainties associated with each.
HENRY I.KOHN AND HARVEY BROOKS
The dangers of nuclear power are primarily contingent on the probability of major accidents (or sabotage) that release radioactivity and thus endanger employees and the general public. These probabilities are under discussion (they are largely hypothetical projections) and have large ranges above and below their best estimates (median, mean, or otherwise). The risks in the coal energy cycle, on the other hand, arise from different steps (mining, transportation, routine emissions from power plants), all of which are susceptible to materially better control in the future than the overall average at present. Given these variables, the reader may appreciate the complexity underlying any brief, simple statement.
HARVEY BROOKS, DAVID J.ROSE, AND BERNARD I.SPINRAD
Although we agree with the statement, we fear it might be interpreted as implying that government planning should accept the most irrational appraisals of risk put forward by politically active minorities.
HENRY I.KOHN AND LUDWIG F.LISCHER
We object to some of the general attitudes that appear to underlie this paragraph. As one major example, the paragraph fails to mention its beneficiaries as major determinants of schemes for their own benefit. As another, we note that there are problems that cannot be fruitfully solved with money. The subject is politically more complex and philosophically more sophisticated than this paragraph indicates.
LUDWIG F.LISCHER AND HARVEY BROOKS
But if we place great reliance on CONAES’S study projections (which are in reality ranges of possibilities), we may well turn out to be wrong, with far-reaching consequences.
By this risk is meant the probability times fatal consequences, both delayed and prompt, integrated over the full spectrum of possible accidents. If the probability distribution of each event is assumed to be log normal, then the mean is much larger than the median, and hence the mean fatality rate is sensitive to the width of the error bar attributed to the accident risk calculations. The events that make the greatest contribution to the mean risk are those that lead to small incremental exposures over background to relatively large populations; hence the mean risk is also sensitive to whether the linear dose-response hypothesis is adopted.
ROBERT H.CANNON, JR.
The energy/GNP ratio of the United States started to fall in 1923 (Figure 2– 2). Six years later came the Great Depression, which continued until World War II started in 1941. Is this significant?
It is most unfortunate that this document nowhere gives adequate attention to the role of population growth as a primary variable driving the growth of GNP and energy use. Over the last 100 years, population growth has been roughly equal in importance to increasing energy use per head in producing the growth of total U.S. energy demand. In the most recent part
of this period, population growth has been relatively slow and growth of energy use per head relatively rapid, but population’s contribution is still far from negligible. The difference between energy requirements in 2010 depending on whether U.S. population growth in the intervening period is “medium” or “low” is significant even if expressed simply in quads. (See chapter 11.) Given, however, that quads “on the margin” will be supplied from the most expensive and perhaps environmentally disruptive sources, the importance of the incremental contribution of extra population growth will be greater than that suggested by simple addition.
If population growth makes energy problems less tractable for the United States, then of course, its contribution is even less welcome in developing countries where providing adequately for people now alive is already a formidable problem. And, for the world as a whole, the chances of providing enough energy at tolerable economic and environmental costs will be far greater if the population stabilizes at, say, 6 billion people than if it stabilizes at 12 billion. For the United States and for the world, the question of how best to discourage or otherwise limit population growth is a thorny one, for which it is widely admitted there are no easy answers. The question’s thorniness and political sensitivity, however, are matched by its importance to energy futures and to practically every other ingredient of the human predicament. The issue will not be made to go away—indeed it will be made much worse—by ignoring it, which sadly is essentially what CONAES did.
This is especially true for long-lasting equipment when future prices are considered. Even if the consumer made a rational trade-off between first cost and lifetime energy cost as estimated from today’s prices, he would be unlikely to fully anticipate future price increases in his calculations. In my view it is the necessity of anticipating future prices that provides an important justification for mandatory standards. An equally important consideration is the effect of reduction in aggregate energy demand on world energy prices, which is also not taken into account in the calculations of the individual consumer.
While generally supporting market forces as an allocator of resources, this chapter states in several places and for different situations that government regulations and mandates are often required. In special situations, mandates might be appropriate. However, in general, mandates are not as
sound as market forces since they obscure the cost of reaching a target and are not adaptable to changing circumstances.
That personal transportation would be reduced by denser living patterns is fairly clear. It is not so obvious for freight, however, since this would involve reclustering of manufacturing activities in city centers, which is contrary to all recent trends, and probably implies regression with respect to environmental standards and manufacturing efficiencies. Some gains might be achieved through clustering of closely interrelated industries in industrial parks, which might also result in energy savings through the sharing of cogeneration facilities. However, without much more detailed analysis of possible future industrial location patterns, and their detailed energy and transportation requirements, it is dangerous to accept overfacile generalizations based on intuitive impressions.
This statement of the potential of selling heat from utility stations is unduly pessimistic. There have been a number of cooperative projects on “energy centers” that include both centralized electricity and steam production. One example, by Consumers Power of Michigan and the Dow Chemical Company, for a dual-purpose nuclear station, seems to have failed more because of licensing delay than for any other reason. Others involving oil and chemical complexes on the Gulf Coast are moving along.
This discussion of cogeneration does not make sufficiently clear the complex trade-offs between market penetration of cogeneration and increased demands for fluid fuels. Cogeneration with coal or on-site coal-derived fluids is not practical today, and in the future would be considerably more expensive than cogeneration with direct use of fluid fuels, especially natural gas. Only where cogeneration replaces purchased electricity supplied from oil- or gas-fired central generating stations would there be a net saving of fluid fuels. The most economical cogeneration installations, and hence those with the fastest potential market penetration, would probably be those using natural gas. From an import savings standpoint they would be most desirable in cases where they displace centrally generated electricity produced with residual oil or distillates. Incentives and regulations to facilitate and encourage cogeneration should be adjusted to take into account the degree of displacement of imported oil
offered by each project. However, to the extent that natural gas can displace oil in other applications where coal is not an option, this must be considered also in evaluating cogeneration projects.
The assumption also neglects the effect of political climate surrounding various types of energy systems apart from their relative costs (for example, the political resistance to nuclear plants and the favorable political climate for solar energy). History teaches us, though, that these political factors can be quite volatile in response to various external events such as the Indian nuclear explosion, the accident at Three Mile Island, or an oil embargo.
In my opinion, CONAES did not sufficiently face up to this issue. The price increases assumed in order to reach the lowest energy growth projections are very large even in comparison with the increases that have occurred in the period 1972–1979. They will very probably require taxation on various forms of energy which will raise consumer prices substantially above the market prices, even taking into account the effect of OPEC actions. The political resistance to much more modest price increases that has frustrated the implementation of a national energy policy since 1974 is indicative of the practical difficulty of carrying out the policies necessary to achieve large reductions in the energy/GNP ratio. An alternative would be to use general tax revenues to subsidize conservation investments in all sectors, but concentrating especially on low-income consumers, nonprofit institutions, and small businesses. Because of the effects of U.S. aggregate demand on OPEC prices (and hence on all domestic energy prices if a free market is allowed to operate domestically), the investment of general tax revenues in this manner might have substantial benefits on equity through restraining the rate of increase of world prices. This is true because the source of revenue used for the conservation subsidies is more progressive in relation to income than the impact of higher energy prices. A strategy of conservation investment financed by progressive taxes would be politically more popular than energy taxes to restrain demand growth. However, it would probably be much more complicated to administer, since it would involve millions of governmental decisions to evaluate millions of individual consumer investments and specific conservation technologies. In practice, it may tend to freeze in specific, and ultimately obsolescent, technologies and discourage innovation that would yield much greater conservation in the long run.
Conservation must play a major role in improving the future energy situation in the United States. However, emphasis should also be placed on encouraging the development and production of this nation’s domestic oil and gas. This will provide a balanced, two-pronged attack to the U.S. energy problem.
There is some indication that the potential for unconventional gas sources, such as Devonian shales, coal seams, and geopressured brines, may have been underestimated, especially in relation to prospects for ultimate decontrol of gas prices and proposed tax benefits for unconventional gas sources. Some recent estimates of natural gas production by 2000 (such as those of the Electric Power Research Institute) have run as high as 30 quads. Since gas is substitutable for fuels derived from petroleum in a large number of applications, new sources of gas may represent the most likely favorable future development to offset the forecast rise in demand for oil imports. Hence energetic further exploration and assessment of this possibility are warranted. I would be inclined to give this even higher priority than the suggested pioneer plants for oil shale and coal-derived liquids. However, like other possible favorable developments in supply, enhanced natural gas supplies cannot be counted upon in prudent planning in comparison with fully developed technologies such as coal and nuclear electric power generation, which are already commercially proven.
The financing of expansion of coal transport capacity will be critically dependent upon long-term supply contracts and hence on stable expectations as to environmentally acceptable types of coal.
Other nations do not view the matter of the contribution of nuclear power to nuclear weapons proliferation and nuclear war as being as serious a problem as the United States does. Another aspect of this matter which is not mentioned is the contribution that nuclear power can make in decreasing the energy shortage and thus reducing international tension.
A number of comments in the introduction reflect more the discussion in the media than the results of an independent and objective study of nuclear power, particularly in the areas of safety and protection against diversion of nuclear materials.
That assumption carries the risk of future electricity shortages. There are experts who believe that the fraction of 30 percent in 1978 will grow to 50 percent by the year 2000.
5–5 EDWARD J.GORNOWSKI
The mill tailing problem is real and the past cannot be undone, but the new regulations will not permit a repeat of the past mishandling, and the report should recognize this intent.
The energy resource benefits of the nuclear option, including the plutonium breeder, appear to outweigh any plausible risks of proliferation and diversion and could justify significant investment in upgrading safeguards.
There is no mention in this paragraph or elsewhere in the summary recommendations of the Clinch River breeder reactor. Although it is briefly discussed further on in the chapter, and as stated the committee was divided on the subject, I believe it important enough to mention in the summary. A commercially available LMFBR may well be a necessity by the
year 2000. In order for the United States to proceed with the orderly and timely development of the LMFBR, the construction of the Clinch River breeder reactor is of vital importance as part of a prudent and responsible national energy policy. See my statement 5–18, Appendix A.
If there is no level of compensation and persuasion at which any state will host a repository voluntarily, then one is no longer speaking of a modest technical/economic burden to be tallied up on nuclear power’s ledger under “waste disposal,” but of a large political cost. I am wary of “solutions” that require the imposition of unwanted burdens, concrete or psychological, on large minorities in the name of the common good.
This section on isotope separation is out of date and could be considerably updated. For example, the date given for full-capacity operation of the new gas-centrifuge plant should be corrected to 1993 (from 1988).
No mention is made of the likelihood of developing a converter reactor economy. In my view, the nuclear industry (and very likely the federal government) will not undertake the development and commercialization of advanced converters because at best the converter is an interim solution (good for perhaps 20–30 years), and neither the suppliers nor the users will believe that there is sufficient incentive to bring it to commercial status. Without reprocessing, the growth of nuclear power will be slow at best. No manufacturer could afford the high development costs to bring an interim nuclear reactor system to licensable status. If reprocessing is permitted, any advanced converter would have to compete with the fast breeder reactor. In that event, the breeder is the obvious choice.
The Clinch River breeder reactor is not an inappropriate facility. Its design (now 75 percent complete) after 3 years of NRC licensing review, before that was stopped, has been continually updated. It has flexibility for accommodating a variety of nuclear fuel cycles and core designs that might come from the International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation (INFCE). The United States has operated successfully the 20-MWe EBR-II at Idaho Falls for more than 15 years. CRBR represents the next logical step (350–400 MWe) in scaling up plant size. It is essential to construct and operate a unit of this size prior to proceeding with commercial designs on the order of 1000 MWe. At the present stage of development, one learns little from more paper and analytical work, as proposed by some. The direct scale-up from 20 MWe to 1000 MWe is simply too large a step for prudent engineering and design.
Studies made by the Nuclear Safety Analysis Center using the Three Mile Island sequence of events indicate that even if the core had melted through the reactor vessel (which it did not), it could not have melted through the concrete below because of the water in the containment. Calculations show that quenching and cooling would be effective and the containment would not be breached.
I believe that this and the several preceding paragraphs, while giving a superficial impression of balance, in fact lean consistently toward greater optimism about the neutrality of WASH-1400 than is warranted. Unreviewed criticisms that purport to show excessive conservatism in WASH-1400 are described as “documented,” while errors in the opposite direction that have been confirmed by many independent analysts— notably the treatment of common-mode failures and the use of median values in place of means for the computation of actuarial risk—are couched in conditionals. In the case of common-mode failures, the reader might well suppose that the Risk and Impact Panel could not even decide on the direction of the effect, which I believe is incorrect. The fact is that the two clearest errors in WASH-1400—the treatment of common modes and the use of medians for means—both lead to underestimations of risk.
The Nuclear Energy Policy Study Group’s report (Nuclear Power: Issues and Choices (Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger Publishing Co., 1977), hereinafter NPIC) shows, moreover, that WASH-1400’s “central estimate” for
excess cancer deaths from a given number of person-rem delivered at low doses was about 3 times lower than the lower limit given in the 1972 report of the Committee on Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) of the National Academy of Sciences and 30 percent lower than the lower limit given in the 1976 report of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NPIC, p. 168). Had WASH-1400’s central estimate for this dose-response relation corresponded to the central estimates of the BEIR or National Council on Radiation Protection studies, the actuarial risk from reactor accidents would have been 3–5 times higher from this change alone.
Finally, NPIC’S statement that WASH-1400 could be as much as a factor of 500 low refers explicitly to probability only, not to actuarial risk (NPIC, p. 179). If the possibility that the consequence estimates are low is taken into account at the same time, the conclusion is that the actuarial risk is unlikely to be greater than about 3000 times the WASH-1400 “central estimate” of 0.024 latent cancer deaths per reactor year. This “upper limit” should be seen to be well above the “upper limits” for coal usually cited, if one took into account that coal’s excess deaths from aggravated respiratory illness deprive the victims of far less life expectancy than do nuclear power’s cancers.
But to clear up some of the misinformation, calculations show that the activity of the waste in curies compares to the curies in the total amount of original ore related to the fuel from which the waste came.
However, this liability limitation corresponds to a very small financial subsidy, because accidents for which liability would exceed the maximum that is insured are, at worst, extremely unlikely. At best, given normal industrial learning about safety practices, they will not occur at all.
It is worth emphasizing that the program required to reach the President’s goal is a drastic one, involving as it does federal mandating of the installation of many technologies that are far from being economical. I doubt whether this would be accepted politically without heavy subsidies,
and even then probably only in the wake of a very severe energy crisis brought on by another embargo or a complete nuclear moratorium.
Solar heating and cooling would be much more nearly competitive if fossil fuels and electricity were priced at their actual replacement costs rather than their average cost.
Crediting solar energy with savings obtained by combining energy-conserving building practices with passive solar building heating (or with active solar heating, for that matter) considerably overstates the contribution of solar energy per se. We have already, in chapter 2, indicated the degree to which conservation can contribute to alleviating energy requirements. The inclusion of conservation effects here counts this contribution a second time.
This statement seems unduly optimistic for fusion; with respect to solar energy probably only photochemical methods of solar fuel production and satellite solar power are less advanced than fusion.
It seems very unlikely to me that fusion reactors could be economically superior to solar photovoltaics as electricity generators by the date of 2020 at which fusion might first reach large-scale use. Only if there are unexpected positive breakthroughs for fusion and unexpected economic difficulties with photovoltaics does the fusion option look like a reasonable hedge. Thus I think this chapter, while realistic as to fusion prospects, is too optimistic in the context of the likely prospects for competing alternatives. The principal justification for fusion research may be the discovery of some entirely new application of the technologies that we do not now foresee. In this perspective the most attractive aspect of fusion research is that it stretches the state of the art in so many different areas of advanced technology, and thus has a high potential for generating important by-product technologies useful in other areas of application.
The preceding discussion seems to imply, but does not say explicitly, that the multiplicity of legislative mandates and regulatory agencies is unnecessary. I wish the committee had been willing to state this more forcefully. I believe that equal or greater safety and environmental quality could be achieved with better rationalized legislation and rule setting; yet most attempts in this direction have fallen down. Part of the problem seems to stem from a tacit assumption that all risks lie on the side of the introduction of technology, and that therefore we have to erect multiple barriers in the way of development so that through pluralistic regulation the assurance against unidentified risk is increased. I believe this confidence in multiple hurdles is misplaced.
Eventually the effort to reduce risks below a certain level is likely to introduce other risks, usually more subtle and unforeseeable than the original risk. See S.Black, F.Niehaus, and D.Simpson, How Safe Is Too Safe? (Salzburg, Austria: International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (WP-79–68), June 1979).
I cannot agree with this statement, at least not without qualifications. Worst-case calculations for large dams indicate that they can cause fatalities comparable to those resulting from “worst-case” nuclear accidents, and the number of immediate fatalities is probably greater in the case of dams. Furthermore, the possibility of learning from small accidents to increase safety is much less for dams than for nuclear reactors.
The harvesting of wood on a large scale would reduce the average amount of carbon stored as biomass in forests and would thus contribute some CO2 to the atmosphere. OTEC would also release CO2 to the atmosphere from the deep oceans. However, per unit of energy produced, these effects would probably be less than a third those from fossil fuels.
However, hydroelectricity may be attractive on other grounds. It generates no air pollution and has a low accident rate, although accidents in the construction of dams, as well as the threat of catastrophic dam failure, are significant risks.
Depending on the source of coal, if one includes the land area necessary for mining enough for the full lifetime of a plant, solar and coal-fired electricity are comparable.
BERNARD I.SPINRAD AND HARVEY BROOKS
Please refer to the discussion of this topic in chapter 5, where it is pointed out that the civil liberties argument is an unprovable allegation. We see no grounds for taking it as a basis for policy.
BERNARD I.SPINRAD AND HARVEY BROOKS
We would replace “if only” by “but only” in this sentence. This is because centralized energy systems serve population centers more efficiently than decentralized ones do, and serve interregional equity better.
Note the noncomparability of some of the risks in this comparison. For nonradiation systems, there are property losses and immediate injury. For radiation accidents, in addition and usually more importantly, there are cancer and genetic effects.
The situation is even more ambiguous than the text suggests because it is not actually possible to do what is implied by the words, “if one takes all health effects into account.” Specifically, the statement that coal’s health effects “appear to be a good deal greater” than nuclear’s requires either that one ignore the million-year accumulation of excess cancer deaths plausibly attributable to uranium-mill tailings if the linear hypothesis is accepted (an excess that could amount to 30–400 deaths per GWe-year of electricity, according to the Academy’s own recent report, Risks Associated with Nuclear Power: A Critical Review of the Literature, Committee on
Science and Public Policy, Committee on Literature Survey of Risks Associated with Nuclear Power (Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences, April 1979)), or that one assume without any quantitative support that the health effects of today’s coal use over the next million years will be as large or larger. Suppose this troublesome issue, which is completely unresolvable at present, is neglected. Suppose one also neglects genetic illness from nontailings routine emissions, for which there is an uncertainty range spanning at least a factor of 20 on the nuclear side (extending on the high end to consequences about equal to those of the excess cancers) and for which no quantitative estimates at all are available on the coal side. Suppose one neglects, further, the health effects of emissions of oxides of nitrogen, hydrocarbons, and trace metals from coal combustion, which are generally presumed (but not proved) to be smaller than those of the sulfur oxides and generalized particulates that existing dose-response relations include. In the restricted comparison that remains after all these troublesome factors are excluded, the widespread view that coal comes out “a good deal” worse than nuclear rests on various combinations of the following three errors: (1) attribution to coal of practices in mine health and safety, power plant siting, and pollution control that are illegal or inconceivable (and usually both) in the new, large facilities relevant to comparisons with nuclear power; (2) failure to note that the “excess deaths” attributed to air pollution from coal typically deprive the victims of far less life expectancy than the cancers attributed to nuclear power (the ratio is almost certainly more than 10:1); (3) refusal to take seriously the upper end of the range of responsible opinion on conceivable nuclear accident risk, while taking completely seriously the upper-limit estimates of excess deaths from air pollution. When these errors are avoided, the “best estimates” of the years of life lost per GWe-year of electricity from coal and nuclear differ by an amount small compared to the uncertainties associated with each.
HARVEY BROOKS, DAVID J.ROSE, AND BERNARD I.SPINRAD
Although we agree with the statement, we fear it might be interpreted as implying that government planning should accept the most irrational appraisals of risk put forward by politically active minorities.
Generally speaking, this chapter appears too optimistic on the future prospects for oil and gas discoveries, both in the United States and worldwide. The chapter holds out hope that oil production will be maintained approximately constant through 2010 in the United States and through 2050 worldwide. It relies primarily on USGS circular 725 for ultimate U.S. oil reserves. This circular was developed in 1975, is out of date, and is generally considered to be optimistic based on reappraisals now in progress.
ROBERT H.CANNON, JR.
Assumptions of 2 percent GNP growth (compared to everyone else’s 2.9– 3.7 percent) and of electricity prices rising as rapidly as fuel prices make all the projections of Table 11–12 very low.
ROBERT H.CANNON, JR.
Assuming 3.4 percent GNP growth would make the 2010 quad values in Figure 11–4 roughly as follows: scenario A, 125; scenario B, 160; scenario C, 230; scenario D, 270.
ROBERT H.CANNON, JR.
I believe it terribly dangerous to extend our experience with a very small range of economic quantities to predict what will happen far beyond that range.
ROBERT H.CANNON, JR.
Price elasticity is the local slope of a highly nonlinear cause-effect curve. To estimate that slope for a range far beyond experience is highly speculative.