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Scrivener Publishing
100 Cummings Center, Suite 541J
Beverly, MA 01915-6106

Publishers at Scrivener
Martin Scrivener (
Phillip Carmical (

Nuclear Power

Policies, Practices, and the Future







Darryl Siemer







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Apparently because I am among a minority of scientists [13, 23, 24, 257, 281] willing to say that today’s politically correct (non-nuclear) renewable energy sources couldn’t support even the near future’s (2050 AD) human population without severe environmental consequences, I was asked to contribute a chapter to an upcoming soil science book describing how a “nuclear renaissance” could address Africa’s especially imposing future issues [280]. That morphed into one of QUORA’s longest-ever winded “answers” which, in turn, inspired this effort [274].

I’m a 74 year old, retired Idaho National Laboratory (INL) “Consulting Scientist” (first, analytical research chemist, then chemical engineer, and finally, radwaste materials scientist) who had spent much the last ten years of his career “whistleblowing” about how INL’s previous mission (serving as DOE’s “lead lab” in radwaste management) had been (and is still) being managed. This book will first explain why nuclear power should and could become the world’s primary energy/power source and then identify the reasons that it’s become so difficult to develop a “nuclear” technological fix for the future’s energy conundrums. It is neither another review of the history of nuclear power nor a summary of other peoples’ work and opinions. For the most part, others’ work/opinions will be summarized and “open access” references given so that readers can read them themselves (which I encourage). It is largely autobiographical and seeks to encourage its readers to do the same thing that’s guided me throughout my scientific career: “think for yourself and do it with numbers1. The biggest difference between this and the books written by others sharing my enthusiasm for nuclear power (e.g., [102, 163, 164, 199, 208, 249, 253, 258, 275, 276], is I am a technical nerd “ex insider” more aware of the nuclear industry’s foibles.

Anyway, after I’d retired, I decided to take advantage of the “openness” provided by the internet (not DOE) to determine for myself whether or not we actually needed a “nuclear renaissance”, the development/promotion of which had become INL’s “new mission”. After pondering the current suite of alternatives had convinced me that the world does indeed need such a renaissance, I then looked into why we didn’t just go ahead and implement one capable of addressing the Future’s energy-issues; i.e. one based upon breeder-type reactors2. The root cause of that failure turned out to be the same cultural “symptoms” responsible for turning the treatment of DOE Hanford’s/INL’s “high level wastes” (HLW), opening a HLW waste repository, & building a MOX-type3 reactor fuel factory, into multibillion dollar boondoggles. My own experiences within DOE’s laboratories along with what’s happened since I retired leads me to suspect that most of its nuclear engineers and scientists quite understandably are not “really serious” about much other than continuing to quietly study their little non-controversial piece of “all of the above”4 until they can retire too.

Today’s economic development models are largely based upon continued consumption of fossil fuels and therefore pose serious threats to the environment. Local side effects include pollution, land degradation, forest fires, and water scarcity. Globally, climate change creates increased risk of extreme weather events such as floods and drought, as well as changes to our ecosystem like sea level rise, forest loss and ocean acidification. Climate change is already impacting millions of people, particularly the world’s most vulnerable populations, which is why mankind really does need to embark upon an all-out effort – a “nuclear green new deal” - to combat climate change.

There is a tremendous need for more and better “energy services” to fuel economic development and provide energy security throughout the entire world, not just within its currently rich societies. By circa 2100 AD (and preferably sooner) we must build “clean” (GHG-free) energy systems capable of powering the homes, factories, transportation systems, and cities in a world that’s even more environmentally compromised with ~50% more people to support. The supply, speed, and scale of such change is unprecedented. Those needs cannot be satisfied for some people at the expense of others – the rich can’t just keep getting richer while everyone else’s lives become more precarious.

While this book will demonstrate why a properly implemented nuclear renaissance could address the future’s energy-related issues more effectively than could any combination of politically correct renewable energy sources, it won’t dwell exclusively upon such things – it’ll be pro nuke, not anti-anything except the cultural pathologies that have rendered significant progress in this arena almost impossible in my country (USA). My goals are to first, convince my ex colleagues that it is absolutely necessary to get serious about implementing a sustainable version of such a renaissance, and second, remind them that there’s a pretty good chance of succeeding if they ever become willing to pull their heads out of their leaderships’ drawers. A third is to explain why the US federal government’s nuclear engineering (NE) experts shouldn’t be entrusted to do “the right thing” with respect to developing a practical solution to the future’s energy problems. To support that contention, I will present examples based upon my own experiences with the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) approach to managing nuclear energy related projects.

Since the African continent’s people are apt to be the most severely impacted by the future’s demographic, environmental, resource limitation, and economic challenges, most of my specific examples will invoke its issues. Like those in David Mackay’s book “Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air” [266], my examples will be numeric (quantitative) and based upon reasonable assumptions and readily obtained (GOOGLEable) data, not sweeping generalizations, over simplifications, or the sorts of wishful thinking often reflected in disquisitions invoking nuclear powered utopias. This will undoubtedly offend some of my pro nuclear colleagues because some of the reactor concepts that they are championing are much less “equal” than others [272].

I’ll be putting the results of my numeric examples into proper perspective: “naked” numbers – especially, very large or small ones presented with “strange” units5 – often mislead even scientists and engineers. This book’s scenario is that by 2100 AD, a “sustainable nuclear renaissance” – not an “all of the above” mix of today’s politically correct renewable energy sources or more-of-the-same nuclear reactors– will be addressing the root causes of most of mankind’s misery throughout the ages. Among the things that such a renaissance would accomplish, food production would become genuinely sustainable because cheap/clean electrical power would simultaneously address the world’s water woes and enable the mining, grinding, shipping, and distribution of sufficient powdered basalt over farmland to affect Mother Nature’s too slow, notoriously unreliable and sometimes catastrophic (volcanic) approach to both soil-building and atmospheric CO2 removal. It would also enable the mining, grinding, shipping, and distribution of sufficient ultramafic rock-based sand to sea shores and reefs to protect them from rising sea levels and reverse oceanic acidification [78].

The world’s nuclear scientists, especially the USA’s, must screw up enough courage to discard their blinders and concentrate upon solving real problems. Addressing the future’s energy conundrums will require lots of big, “sustainable” reactors powering a world-wide industrial “new deal” like that envisioned by Alvin Weinberg almost a lifetime ago - if thinking that way makes me “unpatriotic”, I guess I am.

Chapter 1
Africa’s Especially Special Issues

Unlike most first world nations, the majority of Africa’s 54 countries continue to exhibit alarmingly high rates of both population growth and poverty [1]. Approximately 380 million of its ~1.2 billion people are extremely poor – often hungry – and ten of the world’s most underdeveloped [2] countries – Mozambique, Guinea, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Chad, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Niger – are located therein. Furthermore, although considered exceptionally underdeveloped, none of them are among the twenty countries recognized to possess the world’s lowest living costs (Cheap 2018) meaning that Africa’s poor people are considerably poorer in fact than are those in more technologically advanced but poor by OECD standards nations like Romania. Most of Africa’s people are plagued by a lack of basic infrastructure due to dysfunctional and, often, self-serving governance further complicated by long festering civil/tribal/religious conflicts and therefore face bleak futures6. Much of Africa is also apt to be particularly hard-hit by climate change - the Sahara desert is getting bigger7. The fact that most of its countries are ill equipped to deal with any sort of natural disaster, possess economies comprised primarily of subsistence farming on progressively poorer-quality land, and have grossly underfunded public health, physical infrastructure, and education services constitute only some of the factors considered in compiling quality-of-life rankings. Most of the United Nation’s measures of Human Development [3] also consider the fairness of income/wealth distribution for which Africa’s countries are also especially low-ranking [4]. Cambridge’s Sir Partha Dasgupta, recipient of almost every award that economists can bestow, has pointed out that most of the recent GNP increases of 2nd/3rd world countries have come at the expense of their average citizens’ personal assets [5].

Africa’s (and the World’s) still burgeoning population growth exacerbates all of its problems. As of 2015, the UN’s mid-range population growth projection is that Africa will have ~4.5 billion inhabitants by 2100 AD – about three times that similarly anticipated for the world’s currently most populous nation, China. The populations of 28 African countries are predicted to more than double between 2015 and 2050 and, by 2100, those of Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia are to increase at least five-fold.

Frankly, I consider such projections unrealistic for the following reasons. First, the world’s current political trends - increasing “populism” (extreme polarization often bordering upon fascism) driven primarily by rapidly increasing class, power, and wealth disparities. Second, the armed-to-the teeth “leader of the western world’s” nervousness about the fact that its dominance of the world’s economic system is rapidly diminishing. Third, additional population stressors driven by climate change and resource limitations. Fourth, and finally, most of human history (nature?) suggests that those factors could ignite another “world war” apt to kill far more people than did the 20th century’s and thereby curb (or reverse) population growth.

Unless a new, worldwide, “Fair Deal” somehow comes to pass8, the relative demographic weight of the world’s developed countries will drop shifting economic power to developing nations. The already-developed countries’ labor forces will age and decline constraining their economic growth and raise the demand for “cheap” non-documented immigrant workers which will likely further increase the frequency of killings, burnings, and bombings driven by jingoistic populism. Most of the world’s population growth will be concentrated in the poorest, youngest, and most heavily faith-based (mostly Muslim) countries many of which will continue to be unable to provide adequate education, capital, and employment opportunities for their young people.

Finally, most of the world’s population will live in cities, with the largest such heavily urbanized areas in the poorest countries, where adequate policing, sanitation, health care, and even clean water are likely to be available only to their richest inhabitants. Such urbanization is apt to be profoundly destabilizing. People moving to cities within developing countries during the rest of this century are apt to have far lower per capita incomes than did those of most of today’s industrial countries when they did so. The United States, did not reach 65 percent urbanization until 1950, when its per capita income was nearly $118,000 in 2019 dollars. By contrast, countries like Nigeria, Pakistan, and the Philippines now approaching similar levels of urbanization, have per capita incomes of $2,300–$5,200. Countries with younger populations are especially prone to civil unrest and less able to create or sustain democratic institutions. The more heavily urbanized they become, the more they are apt to experience grinding poverty and anarchic violence. In good times, a thriving economy might keep urban residents employed and governments flush with sufficient resources to meet their needs. More often however, people living in sprawling, impoverished cities are victimized by crime lords, gangs, and petty rebellions. Thus, the rapid urbanization of the developing world is apt to bring in more exaggerated form, the same problems that urbanization brought to nineteenth-century Europe: cyclical employment, inadequate policing, and limited sanitation and education which spawned wide-spread labor strife, periodic violence, and sometimes, even revolutions. International terrorism originates in fast-urbanizing developing countries. Within poor sprawling megacities like Mogadishu and Damascus, neighborhood gangs armed with Internet enabled social networking offer excellent opportunities for the recruitment, maintenance, and hiding of terrorist networks [6].

When life is cheap, worthwhile jobs unavailable, and the future looks even worse, young people often to go to war.

US Pentagon studies [7] concluded that the root cause of majority of such deaths will be disease and starvation engendered by the disintegration of technology-dependent societies dependent upon increasingly limited/degraded resources (land, food, fuel, high grade ores, etc). In his book, “Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered”, Ernst Schumacher [8] observed that today’s technological civilization is unsustainable because the finite resources enabling it are treated as inventory (income) rather than capital. The sustainability of today’s economic systems therefore requires continued growth of both population9 and total wealth (GDP), both of which are impossible in a finite world.

Second, if our world’s future leaders were to decide to implement the changes needed to address the technical issues otherwise likely to lead to war, doing so would result in much lessened fertility [9]. Figure 1 depicts the effect that increasing people’s prosperity10 has upon their reproductive choices (replacement fertility ~2.1) - if the future were to become both much richer and fairer than it is now, today’s unsustainable population growth would quickly end.

Figure shows quality of life versus human fertility depicting the effect of increasing people’s prosperity upon the reproductive choices in Africa, USA, Scandanavia, China and Germany. Inequality adjusted human development index represents the horizontal axis ranging from 0 to 1 in increments of 0.2 and fertility represents the vertical axis ranging from 0 to 6 in increments of 1. Africa is the highest ranging from (0.2, 4) to (0.4, 5) with USA, Scandanavia, China and Germany ranging from (0.4, 3) to (0.9, 3).

Figure 1 Prosperity vs human reproductive choices (WIKIPEDIA data).

Consequently our leadership’s objective should become encouraging the development of a genuinely sustainable and much more egalitarian world in which every individual regardless of where they live or who they are does indeed matter11. Until they acknowledge the above-related facts, embrace appropriate goals, and begin to act accordingly, we’ll just continue to spin our wheels while blaming “the other guys”.

What are those goals?

Since food represents any living creature’s most fundamental need and its source for humanity is farm land, I’ll begin by describing what’s been happening along those lines in the world’s currently most undeveloped continent, Africa. A recent Brookings Institute report [10], points out that, “no matter how effectively other conditions are remedied, per capita food production in Africa will continue to decrease unless soil fertility depletion is effectively addressed.” It goes on to say that a second major problem with the oft-assumed African “land abundance” hypothesis is its inconsistency with convincing evidence that its soils are being simultaneously depleted and eroded by current agricultural practices including a decline in fallowing. While some African leaders along with the management of “land grabbing” (?) international agribusiness concerns seem to feel that Africa still has plenty of yet-undeveloped arable land, many of Africa’s poorest people (mostly subsistence farmers) can’t afford to let any of theirs lie fallow and thereby recover: some families live on 0.36 ha (0.9 US acre) farms yielding under 1 t of grain/ha (t = tonne = 10+3 kg = 10+6 grams: ha = hectare = 10+4 m2 = 2.59 US acre) while the first-world’s farmers routinely produce 3 to 12 t/ha of whatever cash crop they chose to plant on several order of magnitude larger farms.

The key differences between the agricultural practices of developed nations and most of Africa’s include:

  1. Developed nations heavily fertilize their croplands – most of Africa’s farmers can’t afford artificial fertilizers and often have to burn any manures or crop residues they can gather to cook their food.
  2. Developed nations’ farmers can afford to irrigate their croplands – most of Africa’s can’t. That issue is compounded by the fact that much of Africa’s nominally arable land doesn’t get enough rain to reliably support anything other than skeletal cow or goat grazing.
  3. Most developed-nation farms are both large and productive enough to enable their owners to buy/utilize specialized machinery which renders their labor far less exhausting and much more rewarding12. The world’s poorest farmers still work themselves to death with primitive tools.