Emissions Future GR Nuclear Policy

What price of Indian independence? Greenpeace under the spotlight

Two PWRs under construction in Kudamkulam, India

Guest Post by Geoff RussellGeoff is a mathematician and computer programmer and is a member of Animal Liberation SA. His recently published book is CSIRO Perfidy. To see a list of other BNC posts by Geoff, click here.


India declared itself a republic in 1950 after more than a century of struggle against British Imperialism. Greenpeace India however, is still locked firmly under the yoke of its parent. Let me explain.

Like many Australians, I only caught up with Bombay’s 1995 change of name to Mumbai some time after it happened. Mumbai is India’s city of finance and film, of banks and Bollywood. A huge seething coastal metropolis on the north western side of India. It’s also the capital of the state of Maharashtra which is about 20 percent bigger than the Australian state of Victoria, but has 112 million people compared to Victoria’s 5.5 million. Mumbai alone has over double Victoria’s entire population. Despite its population, the electricity served up by Maharashtra’s fossil fuel power stations plus one big hydro scheme is just 11.3 GW (giga watts, see Note 3), not much more than the 8 or so GW of Victoria’s coal and gas fumers. So despite Mumbai’s dazzling glass and concrete skyline, many Indians in both rural and urban areas of the state still cook with biomass … things like wood, charcoal and cattle dung.

The modern Mumbai skyline at night

Mumbai’s wealth is a magnet for terrorism. The recent attacks in 2008 which killed 173 follow bombings in 2003 and 1993 which took 209 and 257 lives respectively. Such events are International news, unlike the daily death and illness, particularly to children, from cooking with biomass. Each year, cooking smoke kills about 256,000 Indian children between 1 and 5 years of age with acute lower respiratory infections (ALRI). Those who don’t die can suffer long term consequences to their physical and mental health. A rough pro-rata estimate would see about 23,000 children under 5 die in Maharashtra every year from cooking smoke.

The image is from a presentation by medical Professor Kirk Smith, who has been studying cooking smoke and its implications for 30 years.

Medical Prof. Kirk Smith's summary of health impacts from cooking fires

The gizmo under the women’s right arm measures the noxious fumes she is exposed to while cooking. Kirk doesn’t just study these illnesses but has been spinning off development projects which develope and distribute cleaner cooking stoves to serve as an interim measure until electricity arrives.

The disconnect between what matters about Mumbai and India generally to an Australian or European audience and what matters locally is extreme. But a visit to the Greenpeace India website shows it is simply a western clone. In a country where real matters of life and death are ubiquitous, the mock panic infecting the front page of the Greenpeace India website at the death-less problems of the Fukushima nuclear plant seem weird at best, and obscene at worst.“Two months since Fukushima, the Jaitapur project has not been stopped“, shouts the text over one front page graphic in reference to the nuclear plant proposed for construction at Jaitapur. In those two months, nobody has died of radiation at Fukushima, but 58,000 Indian children have died from cooking smoke. They have died because of a lack of electricity. Some thousands in Maharashtra alone.

Greenpeace, now an obstructive dinosaur

The whole world loved Greenpeace back in its halcyon days protesting whaling and the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. Taking on whalers and the French Navy in the open sea in little rubber boats was indeed worthy of Mahatma Gandhi. But the legacy of those days is now an obstacle to Greenpeace helping to fight the much bigger environmental battles that are being fought. As Greenpeace campaigns to throw out the nuclear powered baby with the weapons testing bathwater, it seems to have forgotten the 2010 floods which displaced 20 million in the sub-continent. The Australian Council for International Development reports in May 2011 that millions are still displaced with 913,000 homes completely destroyed. Millions also have ongoing health issues with rising levels of tuberculosis, dengue fever and the impacts of extended periods of malnutrition. The economic structure of large areas has been devastated along with food and seed stocks. Areas in southern Pakistan are still under water.

This foreshadows the scale of devastation which will be delivered more frequently as global warming bites.

Brown clouds, cooking and climate change

Regardless of what you think about nuclear power, you’d think breathable air would be an environmental issue worthy of Greenpeace’s attention, but biomass cooking is missing from Greenpeace India’s campaign headings.

Biomass cooking isn’t just a consequence of poverty, it feeds into a vicious feedback loop. People, usually women and children, spend long periods collecting wood or cattle dung (see image or full study). This reduces educational opportunities, while pressure on forests for wood and charcoal degrades biodiversity. Infections from smoke, even if not fatal, combine with the marginal nutrition produced by intermittent grain shortages to yield short and sickly lifespans, while burning cattle dung wastes a resource far more valuable as fertiliser.

In 2004, a World Health Organisation Report estimated that, globally, 50 percent of all households and 90 percent of rural households cook with biomass. In India, they estimated that 81 percent of Indian households cook with biomass. That figure will have dropped somewhat with significant growth in Indian power generation over the past decade but will still be high.

Biomass cooking isn’t only a health issue, but a significant player in climate change. Globally, the black carbon in the smoke from over 3 billion people cooking and boiling water daily with wood, charcoal or cattle dung forms large brown clouds with regional and global impacts.

Maharashtra’s nuclear plans

Apart from a reliable food supply, the innovation that most easily distinguishes the developed and developing world is electricity. It’s the shortage of this basic commodity that kills those 256,000 Indian children annually. Electric cooking is clean and slices through the poverty inducing feedback loop outlined above. Refrigeration reduces not just food wastage but also food poisoning.

If you want to protect forests and biodiversity as well as children in India (and the rest of the developing world), then electricity is fundamental. Higher childhood survival is not only a worthy goal in itself, but it is also critical in reducing birthrates.

Apart from a Victorian sized coal fired power supply the 112 million people of Maharashtra also have the biggest nuclear power station in India. This is a cluster of two older reactors and two newer ones opened in 2005 and 2006. The newer reactors were constructed by Indian companies and were completed inside time and below budget. The two old reactors are relatively small, but the combined power of the two newer reactors is nearly a giga watt. India’s has a rich mathematical heritage going back a thousand years which underpins a sophisticated nuclear program. Some high-level analytic techniques were known in India hundreds of years before being discovered in Europe.

India has another nuclear power station planned for Maharashtra. And much bigger. This will be a half a dozen huge 1.7 GW French EPR reactors at Jaitapur, south of Mumbai. On its own, this cluster will surpass the entire current output of the state’s coal fired power stations. The project will occupy 968 hectares and displace 2,335 villagers (Wikipedia). How much land would solar collectors occupy for an Andasol like concentrating solar thermal system? About 40 times more land and either displace something like 80,000 people or eat into India’s few wildlife habitats.

If Greenpeace succeeds in delaying the Jaitapur nuclear plant, biomass cooking in the area it would have serviced will continue together with the associated suffering and death of children. It’s that simple. Greenpeace will have direct responsibility no less than if it had bombed a shipment of medical supplies or prevented the decontamination of a polluted drinking well.

Jaitapur and earthquakes

In the wake of the reactor failures at Fukushima which killed nobody, Greenpeace globally and Greenpeace India are redoubling their efforts to derail the new Jaitapur nuclear plant. The Greenpeace India website (Accessed 9th May) carries a graphic of the Fukushima station with covering text:

The Jaitapur nuclear plant in India is also in an earthquake prone zone. Do we want to take the risk? The people of Jaitapur don’t.

The Greenpeace site claims that the chosen location for the Jaitapur power plant is in a Seismic Zone 4 with a maximum recorded quake of 6.3 on the Richter scale. Accepting this as true (Wikipedia says its Zone 3), should anybody be afraid?

“Confident” and “relaxed” are far more appropriate responses for anybody who understands the Richter scale. It’s logarithmic. Base 10.

Still confused? A quake of Richter scale size 7 is 10 times more powerful than one of size 6. A quake of size 8 is 100 times more powerful than one a size 6. And a scale 9 quake, like Japan’s monster on March the 11th, is a thousand times more powerful than a quake of size 6. The 40 year old Fukushima reactors came through this massive quake with damage but no deaths. The reactors shutdown as they were designed to and subsequent problems, still fatality free and caused primarily by the tsunami, would not have occurred with a more modern reactor. We haven’t stopped building large buildings in earthquake zones because older designs failed.

Steep cliffs and modern reactor designs at Jaitapur will mean that tsunamis won’t be a problem. All over the world people build skyscrapers in major earthquake zones. The success of the elderly Fukushima reactors in the face of a monster quake is cause for relief and confidence, not blind panic. After all, compared to a skyscraper like Taipei 101, designing a low profile building like a nuclear reactor which can handle earthquakes is a relative doddle.

Despite being a 10 on the media’s self-proclaimed Richter scale, subsequent radiation leaks and releases at Fukushima will cause few if any cancers. It’s unlikely that a single worker will get cancer, let alone any of the surrounding population. This is not even a molehill next to the mountain of cancers caused by cigarettes, alcohol and red meat. The Fukushima evacuations are terrible for the individuals involved but even 170,000 evacuees pales beside the millions of evacuations caused by increasing climate based cataclysms.

Greenpeace India haunted by a pallid European ghost

Each year that the electricity supply in Maharashtra is inadequate, some 23,000 children under the age of 5 will die. They will die this year. They will die next year. They will keep dying while the electricity supply in Maharashtra is inadequate. While the children die, their parents will mourn and continue to deplete forests for wood and charcoal. They will continue to burn cattle dung and they will have more children.

A search of the Greenpeace India web pages finds no mention of biomass cooking. No mention of its general, environmental, climate or health impacts. But there are 118 pages referencing Chernobyl.

At Chernobyl, 237 people suffered acute radiation sickness with 28 dying within 4 months and another 19 dying between 1987 and 2006. As a result of the radiation plume and people who were children at the time drinking contaminated milk, there were 6,848 cases of thyroid cancer between 1991 and 2005. These were treated with a success rate of about 98% (implying about 140 deaths). Over the past 25 years there have also been some thousands of other cancers that might, or might not, have been caused by Chernobyl amongst the millions of cancers caused by factors that Greenpeace doesn’t seem the least worried by, things like cigarettes, alcohol and red meat.

On the other hand, each year that India’s electricity supply is inadequate will see about 256,000 childhood deaths. As an exercise, readers may wish to calculate the number of Indian children who have died due to inadequate cooking fuels over the past 25 years and compare it with the 140 children who died due to the Chernobyl accident. Every one of those Indian deaths was every bit as tragic as every one of those Chernobyl deaths.

Greenpeace India is dominated by the nuclear obsession of its parent organisation. On the day when the Greenpeace India blog ran a piece about 3 Japanese workers with burned feet, nearly a thousand Indian children under 5 will have died from cooking stove smoke. They didn’t get a mention on that day, or any other.

Why is Greenpeace India haunted by this pallid European ghost of an explosion 25 years ago in an obsolete model of reactor in Ukraine? Why is Greenpeace India haunted by the failure of a 40 year old Fukushima reactor without a single fatality? This is a tail wagging not just a dog, but the entire sled team.

Extreme scenarios

It’s time Greenpeace India looked rationally at Indian choices.

Should they perhaps copy the Germans whose 15 year flirtation with solar power hasn’t made the slightest dent in their fossil fuel use? (Note 2) It may simply be that the Germans are technologically incompetent and that things will go better in India. Perhaps the heirs of Ramanujan will succeed where the heirs of Gauss have failed. Alternatively, should India copy the Danes whose wind farms can’t even half power a tiny country of 5.4 million?

India's current electricity sources. Cooking stoves not included! 'Renewables' are predominantly biomass thermal power plants and wind energy, with some solar PV.

India is well aware that she only has a four or five decades of coal left, but seems less aware, like other Governments, that atmospheric CO2 stabilisation must be at 350 ppm together with strict reductions in short lived forcings like black carbon and methane and that these constraints require her, like Australia and everybody else, to leave most of that coal in the ground. But regardless of motivation, India needs both a rebuild and expansion of her energy infrastructure over the next 50 years.

Let’s consider a couple of thumbnail sketches of two very different extreme scenarios that India may consider.

The first scenario is to phase out all India’s coal, oil and gas electricity generation facilities and replace them with nuclear. Currently these fossil fuel facilities generate about 900,000 GWh (giga watt hours) of electricity. Replacing them with 1,000 nuclear reactors at 1.7 GW each will generate about 14 million GWh annually. This is about 15 times the current electricity supply and roughly similar to Victoria’s per capita electricity supply. It’s a fairly modest target because electricity will be required to replace oil and gas in the future. I also haven’t factored in population growth in the hope that energy efficiency gains will compensate for population growth and also with confidence that electrification will reduce population growth. Nevertheless, this amount of electricity should be enough to catapult India into the realms of the developed world.

These reactors should last at least 60 years and the electricity they produce will prevent 256,000 children under 5 dying every year. Over the lifetime of the reactors this is about 15.4 million childhood deaths. But this isn’t so much about specific savings as a total transformation of India which will see life expectancy rise to developed world levels if dangerous climate change impacts can be averted and a stable global food supply is attained.

Build the reactors in groups of 6, as is proposed at Jaitapur, and you will need to find 166 sites of about 1000 hectares. The average density of people in India is about 3 per hectare, so you may need to relocate half a million people (3000 per site). This per-site figure is close to the actual figure for Jaitapur.

There are currently over 400 nuclear reactors operating world wide and there has been one Chernobyl and one Fukushima in 25 years. Nobody would build a Chernobyl style reactor again, but let’s be really silly and presume that over 60 years we had 2 Chernobyls and 2 Fukushimas in India. Over a 60 year period this might cost 20,000 childhood cancers with a 98% successful treatment rate … so about 400 children might die. There may also be a few thousand adult leukemias easily counterbalanced by a vast amount of adult health savings I haven’t considered.

The accidents would also result in 2 exclusion zones of about 30 kilometers in radius. Effectively this is 2 new modestly sized wildlife parks. We know from Chernobyl that wildlife will thrive in the absence of humans. With a 30km radius, the two exclusion zone wildlife parks would occupy 282,743 hectares.

If you are anti-nuclear, this is a worst case scenario. The total transformation of India into a country where children don’t die before their time in vast numbers.

This is a vision for India that Greenpeace India is fighting tooth and nail to avoid.

As our alternative extreme scenario, suppose India opted for concentrating solar thermal power stations similar to the Spanish Andasol system to supply 14 million GWh annually. Each such unit supplies about 180 GWh per year, so you would need at least 78,000 units with a solar collector area of 3.9 million hectares, equivalent to 13 of our hypothesized exclusion zone wildlife parks from the accidents. But, of course, these 3.9 million hectares are not wildlife parks. I say “at least 78,000” units because the precise amount will depend on matching the demand for power with the availability of sunshine. Renewable sources of energy like wind and solar need overbuilding to make up for variability and unpredictability of wind and cloud cover. The 78,000 Andasol plants each come with 28,000 tonnes of molten salt (a mix of sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate) at 400 degrees centigrade which acts as a huge battery storing energy when the sun is shining for use when it isn’t. Local conditions will determine how much storage is required. The current global production of ordinary sodium chloride is about 210 million tonnes annually. Producing the 2.1 billion tonnes of special salt required for 78,000 Andasols will be difficult, as will the production of steel and concrete. Compared to the nuclear reactors, you will need about 15 times more concrete and 75 times more steel.

Build the 78,000 Andasols in groups of 78 and you have to find 1000 sites of about 4,000 hectares. Alternatively you could use 200 sites of 20,000 hectares. The average density of people in India is over 3 per hectare, so you may need to relocate perhaps 12 million people. If you were to use Solar photovoltaic in power stations (as opposed to rooftops), then you would need more than double the land (Note 4) and have to relocate even more people.


In a previous post, I cited an estimate of 1 tonne of CO2 per person per year as a sustainable greenhouse gas emissions limit for a global population of 8.9 billion. How do our two scenarios measure up?

A current estimate of full life cycle emissions from nuclear power is 65g/kWh (grams per kilo-watt-hour) of CO2, so 14 million GWh of electricity shared between 1.4 billion Indians is about 0.65 tonnes per person annum, which allows 0.35 tonnes for food and other non-energy greenhouse gas emissions. So not only is it sustainable, it’s in the ball park as a figure we will all have to live within.

The calculations required to check if this amount of electricity is sustainable from either solar thermal or solar PV are too complex to run through here, but neither will be within budget if any additional fossil fuel backup is required. Solar PV currently generates about 100 g/kWh (p.102) under Australian conditions, so barring technical breakthroughs, is unsustainable, unless you are happy not to eat at all. Solar thermal is similar to nuclear in g-CO2/kWh, except that the required overbuilding will probably blow the one tonne budget.

The human cost of construction time

The relative financial costs of the two scenarios could well have a human cost. For example, more money on energy usually means less on ensuring clean water. But this post is already too long. However, one last point needs to be made about construction time. I strongly suspect that while building 1000 nuclear reactors will be a vast undertaking, it is small compared to 78,000 Andasols. Compare the German and French experiences of solar PV and nuclear, or simply think about the sheer number and size of the sites required. The logistics and organisational time could end up dominating the engineering build time. We know from various experiences, including those of France and Germany, that rapid nuclear builds are physically plausible and India has demonstrated this with its own reactor program.

If I’m right and a solar (or other renewable) build is slower than a nuclear build, then the cost in human suffering will easily dwarf anything from any reasonable hypotheses on the number of accidents. Can we put a number on this? If we arbitrarily assume a pro-rata reduction in childhood deaths in proportion to the displacement of biomass cooking with electricity, then we can compare a phase-out over 10 five-year plans with one taking say 11. So at the end of each 5 year plan a chunk of electricity comes on line and the number of cooking smoke deaths drops. At the end of the process the number of deaths from cooking smoke is 0. It’s a decline in a series of 10 large or 11 slightly smaller steps. Plug in the numbers and add up the total over the two time periods and the difference is … 640,000 deaths in children under 5. Construction speed matters.

In conclusion

How do my back-of-an-envelope scenarios compare with India’s stated electricity development goals? According to India’s French partner in the Jaitapur project, Areva, India envisages about half my hypothesized electrical capacity being available by 2030, so a 50 year nuclear build plan isn’t ridiculous provided floods or failed monsoons don’t interfere unduly.

As for the safety issues and my hypothesised accidents, it doesn’t matter much what kind of numbers you plug in as a consequence of the silly assumption of a couple of Chernobyls. They are all well and truly trumped: firstly, by the increase in health for Indian children, secondly by the reforestation and biodiversity gains as biomass cooking declines, thirdly by the reduction in birth rates as people get used to not having their children die, and lastly, by helping us all have a fighting chance of avoiding the worst that climate change might deliver.

It’s time Greenpeace India told its parent organisation to shove off. It’s time Greenpeace India set its own agenda and put the fate of Indian children, the Indian environment and the planet ahead of the ideological prejudices of a parent organisation which has quite simply lost the plot.

Note 1: Nuclear Waste: What about the nuclear waste from a thousand reactors? This is far less dangerous than current levels of biomass cooking smoke and is much more easily managed. India has some of the best nuclear engineers in the business. They are planning thorium breeder reactors which will result in quite small amounts of waste, far smaller and more manageable than the waste from present reactors. Many newer reactor designs can run on waste from the present generation of reactors. These newer reactors are called IFR (Integral Fast Reactor) and details can be found on

Note 2: German Solar PV: Germany installed 17 GW of Solar photo voltaic (PV) power cells between 2000 and 2010 and in 2010 those 17 GW worth of cells delivered 12,000 GWh of energy. If those cells were running in 24×7 sunshine, they would have delivered 17x24x365 = 149 GWh of energy. So their efficiency is about 8 percent (this is usually called their capacity factor. A single 1.7GW nuclear reactor can produce about 1.7x24x365x0.9=13,402 GWh in a year (the 0.9 is a reasonable capacity factor for nuclear … 90 percent). Fossil fuel use for electricity production in Germany hasn’t changed much in the past 30 years with most of the growth in the energy supply being due to the development of nuclear power in Germany during the late 70s and 80s.

Note 3: Giga watts, for non technical readers.: The word billion means different things in different countries, but “giga” always means a thousand million, so a giga watt (GW for short) is a useful unit for large amounts of power. A 100-watt globe takes 100 watts of power to run. Run it for an hour and you have used 100 watt-hours of energy. Similarly, a GWh, is a giga watt of power used for an hour, and this is a useful unit for large amounts of energy. If you want to know all about energy units for a better understanding of BNC discussions, here’s Barry’s primer

Note 4: Area for Solar PV. German company JUWI provides large scale PV systems. Their 2 MW (mega watt system) can supply about 3.1 GWh per year and occupies 2 hectares. To supply a similar amount of energy to Andasol would need 180/3.1=58 units occupying some 116 hectares.

By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

170 replies on “What price of Indian independence? Greenpeace under the spotlight”

“If Greenpeace succeeds in delaying the Jaitapur nuclear plant, biomass cooking in the area it would have serviced will continue together with the associated suffering and death of children. It’s that simple. Greenpeace will have direct responsibility no less than if it had bombed a shipment of medical supplies or prevented the decontamination of a polluted drinking well.”

I agree with the rest, but it seems a bit of a long bow to draw to say Greenpeace will have “direct” responsibility for killing mothers and babies.


Having spent a great deal of time in Mumbai (while it was still Bombay) and having traveled in the sub-continent’s country side on several occasions, I can confirm that the need for clean electric power is great.

However India shot itself in the foot by becoming a nuclear weapons state and forfeited the ability to import uranium, and technology at a critical time. This has delayed plans for decades, and in my opinion was unnecessary. It was also ineffective, as India will still maintain its nuclear weapon arsenal, regardless.

Its recent welcome back in from the cold will mean that there will be new builds Greenpeace or not. The need is simply too great, and the alternatives non-existent.


Another great post, and thanks for raising it. I mentioned this issue briefly in a recent Decarbonise SA post, and will add a link to this. It’s just galling.


My hat off to you, Geoff Russell, you certainly do your research.

It’s reading an article like this that really rams home just how western-centric diatribes against nuclear energy are. No doubt we’ll read some utter rubbish in comments to come – “we just need to learn to live with less“, “Germany… solar…” this, “Denmark… wind…” that – all of it flying in the face of what’s occurring in the real world.

Greenpeace India should really be made to respond to this – in my opinion their position on this borders on a crime against humanity, no matter how well intentioned.


Wow! Thanks for a wonderful insight into India. I have always had a soft spot for this area since living there in the 1950s while my father was working to complete the transfer of administrative power from the British Raj.

We Brits thought we were doing India a favour by giving them our laws, language and administrative system. Once they developed their own administrative system they were ready to create an amazing industrial dynamism.

India’s Tata company now exports steel to the UK and owns the once mighty British Steel with its famous divisions such as Dorman Long. Just one example of how India has rapidly industrialised while Britain has “Post-industrialised”.

The down side of rapid industrialisation is that many people get left behind as Charles Dickens chronicled long ago. Pollution increases and sadly it will get much worse in India before it gets better.

But it will get better because industrial success provides the power to fix problems. How do I know this? After leaving India I moved to London at the time of the “Killer Smogs” that killed thousands of old and young people every year. The prosperity that Britain enjoyed at that time enabled us to fix that problem and cleanse the river Thames as well.

Geoff Russell’s piece already hints at how India will address their challenges:
1. Cheap electricity based on nuclear power.
2. Rejection of things that don’t make economic sense. (e.g. centralised solar power plants).

At the risk of upsetting DV82XL, India (ably abetted by the Czech Republic) will lead the world in implementing Thorium cycle power. Germany uses coal because they have it. France uses nuclear because they don’t.

India will use Thorium because they have it. Quite likely India will end up selling their solution to the Brits twenty five years from now when Huhne’s renewables are lying in ruins.


@gallopingcamel, India will go thorium it’s true, as will most everyone else without exploitable uranium deposits, but not in the short term.

This tech is not as well developed as many hope, and India is a good illustration of just that: if it was that easy they would have done it by now. They even use heavy water reactors which can burn/breed thorium with ease because of its intrinsic neutron conserving characteristics. This was looked at, and experimental fuel bundles burnt, by several CANDU operators as far back as the 80’s. The problem is not the reactor, it is the rest of the fuel-cycle, which is the fly in the ointment.

Thus in India, as elsewhere, I believe they are going to build more uranium fueled reactors long before there are thorium fueled reactors on the market.

(As an aside: I have nothing against thorium, but the supporters of this fuel have been writing too many checks with their mouths that they won’t be able to cash over the waste and proliferation issues. The problem with holding out promises like this is that it gives those sitting on the fence a reason to stay there and not support new builds because something better is coming down the pipe.

However the fact is that the thorium cycle still produces high-level waste that needs to be dealt with, and can also be perverted to make fuel for nuclear weapons. There is nothing intrinsic about thorium or its fuel cycle that makes it immune to these issues, as many supporters imply. You can also be sure that the hard-core antinuclear forces will know this too, with predictable consequences.

These are the issues I have with the belief that thorium will have a place in the short term. End aside)


Great article. Also to state the obvious Australia’s should reverse its ban on exporting Uranium to India.

One small point for the sake of accuracy. India has a lot more sunshine than Germany so solar thermal will be more efficient there. Also there are thousands of square miles of mostly uninhabited desert, so given electricity is transportable, 78 thousand Adasols could go in the desert along the border with Pakistan and have the secondary benefit of dazzling the enemy. Of course this does not solve the problem of the monsoon when you get two – three months of cloud and rain – it is impossible to store 2 months of power.


DV82XL: Thanks for the info on thorium. It’s clear what India’s long term nuclear goals are, but they are clearly and sensibly hedging their bets. I’d be interested in your views on EPR.


I can think of some things we shouldn’t get into discussing this blog:
a. Red Meat (or any other color). I saw it too an smiled.
b. Property rights.

Neither are particularly a focus on this brilliant blog entry.
OTcomments have been deleted.


And Thorium too. It’s all good for *another* entry and maybe Barry can invite Ken Sorenson or Charles Barton to write a guess column and we can discuss that. But I doubt we want a distraction on this now.


Geoff, a GREAT essay. We should use this term ‘essay’ more than ‘blog entry’ don’t ya’ll think? Anyway…

A few things. India is planning/talking about more hydro construction, some very large ones. Greenpeace is often opposed to hydro. Do you know if this is true for India as well?

Right now there is a huge battle going on between the government and villagers at Jaitapur who are going to be displaced OR have been displaced AND who don’t want the plant there.

Indian planning is notoriously bureaucratic and “public input” is about as serious as it is in China, with the notable exception being that people have more rights to demonstrate, protest and petition.

I don’t know if the villagers are self-organized around this issue or they were ‘organized’ by NGOs like Greenpeace. The result is one dead when the cops shot a demonstrator. I think there is an important democratic issue here with regards to siting where tension between the national will/interests of the Indian nation on the one had bump up against the democratic rights of the masses not to be relocated by bureaucratic whim.

Can you address this?



@David Walters – It is going to be hard to avoid discussing thorium in the context of this article or India’s nuclear energy plans, as they are the only nation that has categorically stated that they are developing the Th cycle and intend to use it to gain energy independence. Much of their short and long-term planning is centered on this, and cannot be ignored.


@DV82XL — yes I know but India’s energy plan really wasn’t the focus here even though it’s mentioned. We can have a rip roaring discussion on this but the focus is on *GREEN PEACE* and their wretched Luddism and ITS consequences. That’s what we should be debating, not India’s use of thorium down as part of their 3 Phase Nuclear plans (of which thorium is *part* of one phase of a larger Phase that has *plutonium breeders*, which puts thorium, or U233 to shame, as a proliferation risk).



@David Walters, Well I’m sure that both the author, (who thanked me) and the moderator will be grateful that you extended your opinion in this matter and to arbitrate what potions of the lead article should be debated, and which should not.


Alright. So, India’s 3 Phase Nuclear Program.

They are using *solid fuel* thorium blankets which are notorious for *mixing* U233 and other U23x isotopes which ruin the U233 for proliferation. One can reprocess out the U233 at extremely great expense.

As part of this program, generally, pure Pu is created for fuel as part of this 2nd Phase of the program. Why in the world would they want U233 when they can have proven Pu? It’s just ridiculous they would even want to try, especially as the US gave up doing it for obvious reasons.

Lastly, Inida is already a nuclear power and whether they include element 90 or not in their program, something that they are choosing to do as is their right, doesn’t add one iota the “proliferation”.

Proliferation is a function of *politics*, that is policy derivived from a *decision* to build WMD. It is not technology driven. If you argue, as you do, that “thorium is a problem”, exactly how is it a problem vs that of India’s general ‘program’ of a massive nuclear build out (where they already have WMD plants dedicated to making bomb-material?). It’s a total red-herring.


As you are well aware the firing of Alvin Weinberg killed the US (ORNL) research into Thorium cycle reactors and one can’t turn the clock back. No other nation picked up the torch until recently, so you are right to say that Thorium reactors need some work.

The research needed to create modern Thorium reactor designs will not be done in the USA or Canada where the nuclear establishment is blind to anything but Uranium.

While I am not a nuclear physicist, my work with people who design nuclear reactors convinces me that the effort to develop practical Thorium NPPs is orders of magnitude less than what is needed to develop fusion power. Thorium presents real opportunities for nations that have not painted themselves into a corner.

Right now, India seems to have the greatest motivation to use Thorium but there may be a dark horses such as China or Russia.

When it comes to high level waste, I completely disagree with your comments. Uranium reactors produce tiny quantities of higher Actinides but Thorium reactors produce orders of magnitude less!

Thorium reactors produce insignificant amounts of Plutonium which was a major reason for Rickover’s triumph over Weinberg.

Note that the giants in nuclear power have names like Weinberg, Rickover, Einstein, Fermi, Teller, Carter and Oppenheimer.

Fifty years from now they may be talking about Patel, Gupta, Wu and Li. Maybe even LeBlanc.


@David Walters – Read it again. India wants a Th cycle, and has announced that they intend to use one, as they have this element in surplus (as gallopingcamel pointed out) My argument is that it cannot be all that easy, as given the fact that they could not buy uranium due to the embargo, they had both the time and the impetus to do so.

Clearly, since fabricating fuel and burning it a PHWR (of which they have several) has been done successfully elsewhere, I draw the conclusion that the reprocessing must be the weak link.

I then wrote an aside, because I have a reputation of criticizing thorium, to put my words in context. The issue isn’t thorium per se, but the unwise claims of its supporters that I think is counterproductive.


@gallopingcamel, I mostly agree. I don’t have an issue with the waste stream from uranium, much less thorium, but that is not the issue – as always it is how it is perceived and how it is spun by the opposition. Ant Th cycle will produce more of a waste stream from the reprocessing stage (with standard processes) than once-through U, and that isn’t what everyone is being told.

Its a PR thing.

Nevertheless the fact that India hasn’t launched a commercial Th cycle given the circumstances is telling.


(deleted off topic. Please re-post and continue this philosophical discussion on the Open Thread)


Geoff: The allocation of responsibility is tricky, but to equate the political lobbying of an organisation like Greenpeace to the positive act of ‘bombing a ship of medical supplies’ seems a little strange.

Adopting Greenpeace-esque hyperbole would seem to be counterproductive in trying to convince others of the misdirection of Greenpeace, I think.


Some commenters are wandering off topic on this thread into the animal liberation and property rights etc. Please keep the thread tight by sticking to the main topic. Others are complaining about this detour. Off topic comments may be deleted and you will be asked to re-post in the OT or other relevant thread.


Which bits of the article are on topic because it seems Greenpeace is off topic?
Discussions on Greenpeace in general and abstract forms, not related to this article, and being a personal opinion of the organisation, should properly be discussed on an Open Thread. Comments on Greenpeace’s stance against nuclear power, to the detriment of India’s population, are pertinent.


To be frank I’m not keen on this argument. It is one of those false dichotomy situations (like encoutered at Jo Nova recently with her “spending money on climate kills babies” article).

Or more famously “Let them eat cake”

Put simply, the poor in India do not lack health because they lack nuclear power. They lack health because they are impoverished. When nuclear power is built India’s poor will still die from indoor pollution. If Greenpeace supported nuclear power India’s poor would still die from indoor pollution.


Chuck: If I were a fish I’d be dead … can’t resist a bait. But let’s all save the moderator from extra work.
[remainder of comment about red meat-brain size pseudo science pre-emptively slashed].

What I’d like the thread to discuss is: a) the essay (Thanks David) b) Thorium … this is India’s long term goal and I certainly don’t know enough to judge the wisdom of this c) The EPR choice … doesn’t look like the best choice to me but again,
I don’t claim enough expertise to judge.

David: I know nothing apart from occasional media reports about what’s happening on the ground at Jaitapur. I hope Indian media pick up on the essay and have some back door channels that may help in this regard.

Stephen: I don’t think the accusation is hyperbole, I think its accurate but understand that some people have a different notion of responsibility than me.


P.S. d) Happy to consider alternative renewable mixes. It just needs to supply close to 14 million GWh at under 1 tonne per capita per year of CO2.

Hydro: Currently methane emissions from hydro aren’t included in national inventories. If they were, then hydro wouldn’t look so green but the emissions are highly variable so generalisations are tough to make.


(part deleted as off-topic and snide remark)
I think Greenpeace has lost the plot and I have no idea why.Maybe it is a symptom of the paranoid anti-nuclear mindset.

MattB, now just why would India’s poor be suffering from indoor pollution once they got rid of wood and dung fires? Maybe it would be the curry flavoured flatulence.Please explain Matt.


Geoff: I am in the same boat when it comes to baits, I am afraid. On the pseudo-science issue, can you pl point me to a peer reviewed article or two in an ERA “A” ranked journal where the issue of red proteins (Hope this will avoid the moderator’s cane) and brains is discussed? A review would be nice.
As this is a specific question for Geoff I will let it go. It would be better if you communicated with Geoff directly by email (if he will allow this,) or both of you should continue the discussion on the OT or another of Geoff’s threads which are more relevant such as “Would Sir like Caesium with his salad?”


Podgarus… India’s poor will still be suffering because they are poor. The demand for electricity is the growing middle classes (and I’m making an educated guess here I’ll admit).

How about you go stand at the palace balcony and ask the impoverished Indian masses “why are you still using dung and wood, I have built you a nuclear power plant! Why do you not plug in your george forman grill and your electric kettle!”


MattB: Electricity is necessary for poverty reduction, but no it isn’t sufficient. The poor don’t lack health because they are impoverished, you
don’t need money to be healthy. You need clean water, enough food, exercise and clean air. Cubans are still pretty impoverished but their life expectancy now exceeds that of the US.

At the end of the piece I hypothesised about the rate of decline of cooking smoke deaths as power came on-line. I may have been overly optimistic. But if so,
will a more pessimistic reduction curve yield more
or less than the 640,000 deaths?


“you don’t need money to be healthy”… (snide remark deleted) But you are right – unfortunately these people or the government need money to provide clean water, enough food, and clean air. It is lack of money that means there is no clean water, food and clean air.

Arguably India could build fossil fuel plants for even less than the nuclear plants you propose. If I were a climate change skeptic would you appreciate me telling you that your pursuit of nuclear power was going to kill hundreds of thousands of people?

I’m not an opponent of nuclear btw, I just don’t see value in the argument.

(snide, personal attack deleted)
Attacking Greenpeace about nuclear power is as relevent for a Mumbai slum dweller as is Greenpeace’s complaints about nuclear power in the first place.

Incidentally why’ve they not changed it to Mollywood?


Geoff Russell
India’s current electricity sources. Cooking stoves not included! ‘Renewables’ are predominantly biomass thermal power plants and wind energy, with some solar PV
In addition to the very large “renewable hydro” capacity(38,000MW), India now has 13,000MW of wind power more than the 12,000MW of “other renewables” in this out of date pie graph.
Strange that wind didnt seem to get a mention although wind would be producing more power than nuclear.
As our alternative extreme scenario, suppose India opted for concentrating solar thermal power stations similar to the Spanish Andasol system to supply 14 million GWh annually.
Surely an alternative to nuclear would be wind power, its contributing more power and growing faster


Chris D: Thanks for the link. Thorium might be just a few breakthroughs away from becoming simple. Or not.


Neil Howes, you need to take into account the CF, capacity factor:

“Wind power accounts for 6% of India’s total installed power capacity, and it generates 1.6% of the country’s power.” (from your Wiki link)

Which is the problem with wind ie it is not constant. Nuclear runs at much higher CF and is scalable more easily in as much as it takes less land, can be sited in many more locations, and actually costs less per megawatt to build (it tends to be bigger and gets economies of scale).


Neil: Can you tell me how to power India with wind but without gas or coal backup and stay within the 1 tonne CO2 per person per annum for 1.4 billion people? … obviously you can use a little gas backup, but not much, 1 tonne isn’t much.

I’m trying to first think about a feasible solution to the problem and then work out an optimal path to get there. Rather than just do what seems quick and easy in the short term and hope it will end up somewhere useful.


Under the subheading “Barriers”, the following appears:
Initial cost for wind turbines is greater than that of conventional fossil fuel generators per MW installed.

This comes from your chosen citation. Now, please, tell us why India would choose to spend 4 times as much money on one form of energy, when others are available? For an additional point, please include in your response an indication of the projected cost of nuclear fission, relative to wind. HINT: The number is somewhere in the range 0 to 1.

For a gold card award, explain why wind, with a CF of one third of either of the above two alternatives, and at 2 to 4 times the cost is even a starter in this discussion.

From my reading of wiki, the authors have not recognised the capacity factor issue. The relative disparity in costs in India may be the multiple of the two factors – ie 8 to 16 against wind. Even I do not really believe that this is the case, but it demonstrates that nobody should believe everything he reads – especially on Wikipedia.


DV8: The argument that since India has not developed a thorium cycle it therefore must be very difficult doesn’t seem strong to me. India’s plans for a thorium cycle (3 different types of reactors, solid fuel) seem complicated. This plan was devised in the 50’s I believe. Human beings get locked into narrow thinking. Molten salt reactors seem more promising. Have you ever read any articles by your fellow Canadian, David LeBlanc? This one examines a wide range of possibilities for MSR’s from ‘traditional’ thorium breeding to once-through uranium cycles. I think this is a terrific paper and includes LeBlanc’s ideas for a core geometry, and other thoughts. ‘Molten salt reactors: A new beginning for an old idea’, David LeBlanc, Physics Department, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, Canada.


One other comment on thorium. Kirk Sorenson has left his position at Teledyne Brown to start up a company ‘Flibe Energy’ (not sure this is the greatest name) to develop a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor. He at least is putting more than his ‘mouth’ on the line. If these efforts (or China’s) on molten salt thorium reactors see promise I wonder if India will make a change in course — they have a lot invested in their current plans though.

By the way, I don’t think there should be any delay in implementing plans like Jaitapur. Those reactors will have plenty of fuel, will do the job of continuing to lift the Indians out of poverty, and will be productive for at least 60 years.


@SteveK9 – I know much about molten salt reactors, and have discussed the matter at length on Kirk’s blog and forum in the past, and wish Kirk the best of luck in his new endeavor. I have also had many exchanges with David as well on this subject.

LIFTR and other liquid fuel designs are the reactors of the future, but it is important to realize that they are not a fully developed, ready to launch product and there are years of work ahead before they are.

There are engineering questions about MTBF of components, secondary systems, and scaling that have yet to be answered. As well the back-end of the fuel cycle has not been fully developed, and of course the whole regulatory song and dance must be done before commercial launch.

Now none of this is impossible, and indeed these issues can (and will) be overcome — in time. Time, however is in short supply if nuclear energy is to have a major role in reducing GHG, and liquid fuel nuclear reactors are not ready to step up to the plate as yet.

The fact is we cannot afford to wait on MSRs, (or any other GenIV ideas for that matter) while there are good, proven LWR and HWR. designs available. These are going to have to continue to be the designs of choice for the near future.


Thanks for a couple of great comments. It is wonderful to find people like Kirk Sorenson trying to bring real innovations to NPP design.

We seem to think along similar lines. I wonder if Sorensen can get enough financial backing and not get crushed by the nuclear establishment:

Maybe Sorenson and LeBlanc should re-locate to a more friendly jurisdiction.


I feel compelled to assert that I made no snide personal remarks.
It is my view that you did. Uncalled for sarcasm towards another commenter is not allowed on BNC. Attack the argument not the man.


Let’s take a look at India’s nuclear program. From:

“India has a flourishing and largely indigenous nuclear power program and expects to have 20,000 MWe nuclear capacity on line by 2020 and 63,000 MWe by 2032.”

This is what their aim is. I think this is a good thing and probably doable, maybe, given funding priorities and trade surpluses India enjoys right now.

“Electricity demand in India is increasing rapidly, and the 830 billion kilowatt hours produced in 2008 was triple the 1990 output, though still represented only some 700 kWh per capita for the year. With huge transmission losses, this resulted in only 591 billion kWh consumption. Coal provides 68% of the electricity at present, but reserves are limited. Gas provides 8%, hydro 14%. The per capita electricity consumption figure is expected to double by 2020, with 6.3% annual growth, and reach 5000-6000 kWh by 2050”

So this is where Green Peace is situating itself…opposed to lowering that 68% coal, *in effect* by opposing this ambitious program.

In terms of the details of their program, I would refer BNCers to Charle’s Barton descriptions of the 3 Phase Program here:


Proliferation. Any nuclear reactor can produce, if re-configured, with the right reprocessing equipment, the basic material for WMD. It is also irrelevant to the discussion vis-a-vis India. Here are my thoughts on this…

Like many on this list, I believe the thorium version of the MSR, the “LFTR” is going to transform the planet’s energy regiime. India will play a vital role here but they reject, for now it’s usage. The fissioning in any thorium reactor is based on the transmutation of thorium into U233.

U233 in it’s *pure* state, not mixed with any isotopes, can be made into a bomb. Because there other isotopes, like U232 mixed in with any production of U233, it’s makes it very unlikely that it can, or ‘should’ be used for WMD. The separation of U232 from U233 is very, very difficult. Not impossible, but difficult. Even with a LFTR that has chemical separation of fission products inline and online, reconfiguring the plumbing and chemical distillation for U233 and U232 among other elements, is very difficult.

So why do it? There are *easier* ways to get WMD from the Indian 3 Phase program as described by Charles in his posts on this subject. Large parts of the Indian program will directly produce various isotopes of plutonium. And more of it, at least initially for the first 30 years or so.

Again, I would say “so what?”. India HAS a WMD program. They have nuclear energy. They have R&D plutonium reactors for their military program. How does exploiting their massive thorium reserves in Kerala, become a “proliferation concern”?


As you say, the short term belongs to Uranium but you can’t blame optimists like SteveK9 and this camel for wanting something that can be mass produced, cheaply and in great numbers.


@David Walters, – Proliferation has never been a concern of mine, and frankly if I were a Nonaligned nation with China as a neighborer back in the day, I want to be armed to the teeth as well.

My issue, to repeat myself, is that many that are pushing thorium are suggesting that it would lower the chances of proliferation, and this is a crock. As you have pointed out the issue is political, and ether way power reactors make poor breeders, which is why everyone build special purpose reactors, or HEU for weapons.

Again, the problem with thorium supporters is that they are trying to oversell, and this is not good for thorium development, or for nuclear energy as a whole. We are walking in a minefield, and making hollow promises is a sure fire way to loose a leg.


@gallopingcamel – I want to see this happen too, but I have spent a long time working in the zone between the breathless press release, and a sellable product. Pitfalls are everywhere, and nothing is easy. This is not to say it shouldn’t be done, its just that one has to be prepared for a long march, and not get impatient.

Too many good ideas have seen the money dry up as a result of supporters making overly optimistic predictions, and not producing. Less hype, and steady results will keep the funds coming, and that is what is needed for the next stage in nuclear designs.


Geoff – thank you for this post. It brings into sharp and specific focus the question of moral implications of people’s actions, and people’s responsibility for their actions. I got involved in an aphorism exchange at Depleted Cranium on the post May 21 Apocalypse Idiocy: It’s not all funny.

soylent said “Sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice” which I took to be a riff on Clarke’s Third Law (“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”) but Anon thought came via Hanlon’s Razor, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”.

The problem is that my stupidity has a moral dimension when its consequences affect more than me. What is to be done when Greenpeace’s exceptionalism and narrow, doctrinaire focus harms millions of people around the world and arguably harms the broader web of life as well? That’s the question before the group today.

I briefly mulled a class action suit. I have only pop culture knowledge of the law and no knowledge of international law, but I could see there are problems of jurisdiction, evidence that would be admissible in court, and finding evidence that would unambiguously link specific actions with specific results. My suspicion is that statistical arguments don’t often fulfill the burden of proof in a court of law.

Discussions like these make me appreciate people who can publicly acknowledge that they were wrong, like George Monbiot and the others identified in the Anti- to Pro-Nuclear, Pro- to Anti-, who’s changed their mind? post here. Greenpeace needs to spend time thinking about what the results of their actions are.

Rod Adams of Atomic Insights cross posted his comment on the CO2 avoidance cost with wind energy in Australia and carbon price implications thread on Atomic Insights as If wind energy does not reduce CO2 emissions, why bother?. Rod makes a very strong case IMO that Greenpeace has the agenda they do by “following the money”. A moral exercise for each of us to decide – does this transfer the burden of Greenpeace’s results to the funders? He concludes with:

As part of my personal action plan to begin chipping away at the establishment’s marketing plan of continued dependence on fossil fuels while being distracted by the mirage of a renewable energy future, I hosted a discussion with some nuclear energy communicators on the topic of advertising the benefits of our favorite power source. You can eavesdrop on that brainstorming session by visiting Atomic Show #166 – Nuclear Energy Advertising.

I’ve just begun listening but I think he’s identified a way I can contribute to making change happen, since my life experience runs to moviemaking and media.

Thank you to all those who post comments here. And thanks to BNC for letting me mull some things over publicly on Brave New Climate!


I think I’ve asked here before, but has anyone seen newer white papers on the “coastal nuclear hub” proposal? It’s a little fuzzy but the rough outline included:

1) Generation of electricity
2) Desalination and pumping
3) Breeding more fuel from Thorium
4) Manufacturing and fitting ship’s power units
5) Recycling waste from smaller reactors

I am especially interested in whether a calculation has been done on possible gaseous hydrogen distribution via pipelines from such a facility. The projected power range from older papers was in a 50-100GW range, comprised of more than a dozen reactors using two or three different configurations.

Any of this ringing a bell?


If lives are at stake then clearly the solution is NOT nuclear nor solar (which is much better than Germany sheesh) but NG cylinders.

These rural areas are disconnected from the electrical grid, meaning that not only will you need powerplants but the billions of dollars in grid investment, using NG not only is infinitely cheaper, but as mentioned saves lives.

Lets be real, those powerplants are built to power industry and cities, not for the rural poor. Lives are more important than a few CO2 ppm that the west can compensate for.


@Charles Barton – I will not argue this topic in this thread outside of the Indian context.

But you, we both know, have seen my arguments on this matter before elsewhere in answer to those that have made these claims. At any rate, this factor only came up parenthetically as a personal opinion. The broader issue of the steep hill the thorium fuel cycle and MSR reactors have to clime remains as fact, as does India’s lack of progress in this matter. These are the relevant points of my argument.


@Charles Barton – No Charles, you have never gone there, a fact that I can attest to without pause. Most of this hyperbole is in news-type sources, but it is rooted in the statements made by some other public thorium supporters


Environmentalist: My goal is was to look at possible scenarios that both prevent large climate related problems while also dealing with short term goals. India is indeed committed to grid expansion according to its latest 5 year plan … linked in the article.


@Environmentalist – India hasn’t a domestic supply of NG which means your idea would have to depend on imports. This would have grave geopolitical implications for that country.


“Environmentalist: My goal is was to look at possible scenarios that both prevent large climate related problems while also dealing with short term goals. India is indeed committed to grid expansion according to its latest 5 year plan … linked in the article.”

The goal is saving lives, I assume there are grid expansions but like always it will benefit cities first. In order to give power to the last km it would require significant long term investments. And by then how many millions would have needlessly died? Global warming is a problem because millions would die, but if they are already dying under unsafe practices then what is the point? that was my only real critique of the IPCC report, its best that they burn FF that are ~100% efficient and require little in infrastructure.

Once they are developed their grid is when alternatives to FF can be sought. But their grid is secondary to their cooking needs.

That is why it is important for the OECD to go green so they can offset CO2 release from the very poor.

“@Environmentalist – India hasn’t a domestic supply of NG which means your idea would have to depend on imports. This would have grave geopolitical implications for that country.”

How is that different from most countries today?


Relgoshan: Sorry, don’t know. Will add it to my todo list.
Jarmenko: Yes, I want greenpeace to rethink and change sides, they have many useful attributes. Monbiot thinks that would tear them apart. Perhaps, but as long as the splinter is small, the remainder could still be valuable. I’ve sent Greenpeace India a
link … can anybody who is interested please send their local Greenpeace group a link. Of course, I’m an incurable optimist when it comes to thinking people will think clearly and change their ways :)
Environmentalist: Are NG cylinders cheap? If they were cheaper than grids, then I’m guessing we wouldn’t have grids.


“Environmentalist: Are NG cylinders cheap? If they were cheaper than grids, then I’m guessing we wouldn’t have grids.”

Grids provide electricity, meaning work.

NG cylinders are only for cooking, and they are actually very cheap in doing so, remember that the best CC can do is around 40% then you have transmission losses etc. With this you are directly heating meaning almost 100% efficiency. So basically cooking with NG is the cheapest use of energy yet, well aside from wood burning.


Just because the antinuclear forces in Europe think that it is better to depend on Russia for NG, doesn’t mean that everyone else is that stupid. At any rate the cost and size of the distribution infrastructure to provide tanks to India’s rural poor would outstrip the cost of an electric distribution network in very short order.

As well there would be a very significant amount of methane released to the atmosphere with this scheme, along with the carbon dioxide from combustion. It’s a very bad idea from whatever angle you look.


Dear Environmentalist…

Here we go again. Full of opinion, unsupported by fact.

“NG cylinders are only for cooking…” Are you sure about that? Have you never contemplated gas lights off grid? Yes, I know that there are alternatives such as PV, so don’t bother reminding us of this. The fact remains… NG is not ONLY for cooking.

“…the best CC can do is around 40%.” WRONG. 60% is more like it, but why bother about an error of that magnitude, when there is a discussion going on?

“Grids provide electricity, meaning work.” As if making the gas cylinders, carting them around the countryside, decanting large into small cylinders, marketing, delivery and maintenance are not work. Not only that, but there are dangers involved, as anybody who has worked in the LPG industry can attest – serious dangers, especially wher regulatory compliance is lax and old cylinders and hoses are used without competent safety checks.

“…directly heating meaning almost 100% efficiency.” Got a citation for that opinion? I suspect that raw energy input to boil water on an open gas flame is greater than, for example, the same task using a microwave, and certainly nowhere near 100% thermally efficient. Anyway, you made this claim, so it is up to you to justify it or abandon it.

Remember also, Natural gas comes in various forms: Refined as butane; Piped as a mix of hydrogen and methane and other stuff; Bottled as CNG – compressed natural gas, eg as used on buses in Delhi. What, precisely, did you have in mind?

The Indians already use quite a lot of subsidised, expensive and politically sensitive imported bottled gas in middle-class homes. Politically, it has become a financial burden but nothing can be done about it, except to try to develop an indigenous energy supply and thus to wean their voters off the (gas) bottle. The drain on the national budget is significant. See this quotation from Wikipedia:

“According to the 2001 Census of India, 17.5% of Indian households or 33.6 million Indian households used LPG as cooking fuel in 2001. 76.64% of such households were from urban India making up 48% of urban Indian households as compared to a usage of 5.7% only in rural Indian households. LPG is subsidised by the government. Increase in LPG prices has been a politically sensitive matter in India as it potentially affects the urban middle class voting pattern.

It is so easy to sit in a distant place and try to solve the problems of the world without understanding the situation. It’s variously called colonialism, paternalism or racism. Indians have examined their options and have decided to implement the proposal which Geoff Russell has described. This article is, at its root, about colonialism of attitudes and actions within Greenpeace’s Indian branch, to the detriment of the outcomes.

With respect, sir, I believe that, similar to Greenpeace, you have blundered down the same good natured, well-intentioned but sterile pathway and have prescribed a non-solution (LNG) to the wrong problem.

If the roles were reversed, how much would you appreciate it if somebody from 10,000km away and with no understanding of your circumstances and history, prescribed in the same manner as you have done here a solution to your region’s imagined energy problems?

This isn’t all about cooking. It’s about developing and maintaining an affordable low carbon solution to their very dense population’s energy problems – and that means much more than just the “rural areas”, which you called them in an up-thread post. We are discussing power supplies for huge cities and a population several times that of Victoria. Cooking fires are a primary consideration, but are by no means the only motivator. Geoff Russell made that clear at the outset.

This is science blog. Thus, we have all come together on a journey to gather the pertinent facts, to check these facts, and to consider what they mean. Facts carry weight. Hypotheses which bring order and understanding and solutions to the world’s needs are the pillars of real knowledge, which can be tested, verified and debated. These are the stuff of scientific discourse, the strings which tie our conversations on BNC together.

Opinions, on the other hand, are cheap. They carry no persuasive power in such a place as BNC.


On gas cylinders… here in boom state Western Australia many many country towns rely on gas cylinders so it must be cheaper than extending the reticulated gas network that is relatively close. You need a truck, and a shop to exchange used for full cylinders. They do have electricity I should add.

There is still that problem of India’s poor probably not having access to a gas oven.

Just having a look at life expectancy I note that India’s is 64.7 years, and Russia’s is 65.5 years – the latter with 16ish% nuclear power and probably not too much concern with ignorant greenies waving placards.

If it wasn’t for ignorant greenies climate change wouldn’t even be on the agenda in this and many countries.

At risk of repitition I think that ultimately the nuclear solution as championed on this excellent blog is the only viable option. I just am uncertain that articles like this will change the minds that need to be changed. I guess hopefully I’m wrong.


@MattB – India, like China will build nuclear power stations as fast as they can because those in authority know there is no other option. Nor, given that some 40% of India’s domestic energy usage comes from non-commercial sources, will there be much resistance from suppliers of other fuels.

As well both countries will push development without too much concern for local feelings. This might seem high-handed to those in the West but a certain amount of authoritarianism is necessary if the poor are to eventually see a better life.

The greater damage that Greenpeace can do, is to turn idiots in the West against India’s nuclear program, by for example, preventing the export of uranium, or technology to places like India in a misguided belief that they are fighting for the poor’s ‘rights’ there. Internally I doubt that Greenpeace India comes up at all as a policy factor in that country’s deliberations on the topic.


Geoff Russell, on 25 May 2011 at 5:17 PM said:

“The poor don’t lack health because they are impoverished, you don’t need money to be healthy.”

(personal attack deleted) It is an undeniable fact if you don’t have money you are most likely to suffer greater health problems … and if you are energy impoverished the problems are well documented.

The 300 million or so households that are off-grid (some 1.8 billion people) rely on dung or wood or kerosene. Households that climb the energy pyramid to kerosene are very likely to find themselves caught in a poverty trap, with a significant proportion of their $2-3 per day income going on kero for lighting, cooking and heating.

Burns injuries & deaths are commonplace. Respiratory disease from indoor air pollution is a major cause of death – particularly amongst children. The WHO report that 1.6 million deaths per year in developing countries are caused by the indoor air pollution attributed to traditional fuels.

Just for starters, check out Mills E. “The Specter of Fuel-Based Lighting”. Science 27 May 2005: vol. 308 no. 5726 pp. 1263-1264 at

And some WHO info …

Click to access hgebrief_henergy.pdf


There are two proposals to bring gas in via pipeline to India.

The eastern route comes from international parriah Burma, and where they, the Burmase, are starting pipelines both to India (via Bangladesh) and China.

The western route is the “Peace Pipeline” proposed by India, Pakistan and Iran to bring Iranian gas to India and Pakistan. The U.S. has been actively sabotaging these efforts for the last 5 years.

So now India uses LNG and LPP (Liquid Petrolum Products: butanes, napgas, etc). It’s a HUGE business, all of which of course leaks into the air, explosions are ripe: look for trucks full of these containers overturning and causing fires.

And…as pointed out by John, cooking gas is primarily a *middle class* privilege, which is WHY Geoff wrote this story: If the poor could *afford* the gas, of course they’d buy it! So this is out of the question, they have to use renewables: charcoal, wood and cow dung.

Not all the deaths are even IN rural areas…they are right in urban centers where people lite up fires of charcoal right in their hovels and slums.

Electrification is *not* a regional issue…it’s an urban one because there is a low double-digit % of urban poor without power.

Secondly, you cure rural poverty exactly the way the US did in the 1930s: a *program* of rural electrification…in fact, if you examine Indian statements on this they want to totally expand their electrical grid exactly for reasons stated in Geoff’s essay here.

And it’s not just for cooking and the problems of respitory ailments brought on by cooking with renewables, but for ubiquitous concepts as a “light switch”, a refrigerator and maybe a small TV set. All things that should come as human rights and not the privilege of the middle and upper classes (we can argue about ‘socialism’ another time, I merely point out that electricity should be *cheap* by any definition, capitalist or collectivist).

Greenpeace has no answer, at all, to the problems Geoff addresses.


If it wasn’t for ignorant greenies climate change wouldn’t even be on the agenda in this and many countries.


Hmmm, a highly debatable proposition, with much hinging on the definition of ‘greenie’, a description I would not apply to myself, for instance, in a fit, yet here I am.

I’d like to think the position of climate change on the global agenda, such as it is, has more to do with the intrinsic strength of the scientific case, and the authoritative voices of those who made it, than any amount of shouting from the likes of Greenpeace.


Indeed Mark – but there are plenty of skeptics out there who think James Hansen is a radical greenie, in fact any scientist who has not realised it is all just a UN brokered scam is a ‘redical greenie’ to some poor fools.

I note today that the QLD premier is attacking The Green’s suggestion that the coal industry effectively needs to be shut down to tackle climate change. No other political party thinks this, yet my understanding is it is a position in common with this blog and most participants.

Is their opposition to nuclear any greater threat than the other parties addiction to coal? At least abandoning coal would soon reveal that the renewables don’t really cut the mustard…

DV8 btw I agree with you comprehensively. Other than opposition to Indian exports of uranium will always be open to attack while they are not signatory to certain treaties.


““…directly heating meaning almost 100% efficiency.” Got a citation for that opinion? I suspect that raw energy input to boil water on an open gas flame is greater than, for example, the same task using a microwave, and certainly nowhere near 100% thermally efficient. Anyway, you made this claim, so it is up to you to justify it or abandon it. ‘

Law of conservation of energy, 100% of the energy produced by combustion is light and heat, both can be harnessed to heat an object with near 100% efficiency.

As for the 40% I stand corrected, but the point remains near 100% efficiency from direct heating.

As for colonialism… we are offering solutions to save lives, waiting for multi billions of dollars in grid investments would cost millions of lives. Its about dropping ideology in the face of human suffering.


Most of you folks make sense, even the ones I disagree with.

Why are you letting Environmentalist control the agenda on this thread?
GC and DV8 – I have passed this on to Barry for consideration.


Why are you letting Environmentalist control the agenda on this thread?”

Because it makes sense? you are offering poor people expensive solutions (electricity) to their problems, I admit that NG cylinders would be more expensive than biomass, but it is much safer.

So does that means that I opposse electrification? hardly it just means that it has to be baby steps instead of ideological, as the OP states more less time devoted to harvesting biomass means more time for farming, or services if they are urban poor. Then they can afford electricity and then devote power to industry.

Does that mean more money spent on fuel subsidies? yes, the cycle of poverty has to be broken, but subsidizing nuclear power for cooking needs is an order of magnitude more expensive.


MattB, on 26 May 2011 at 12:37 PM said:

“…opposition to Indian exports of uranium will always be open to attack while they are not signatory to certain treaties.”

It’s not that simple. India (and most of the Third World) has legitimate issues with the presumption by the treaty-legal nuclear weapon states that they, and they alone can dictate terms on all nuclear related matters to everyone else. Demands that India stop their nuclear weapons program, and disarm and dismantle their stockpile are simply unreasonable to them as it looks like an attempt to make them dependent on others for nuclear defense. Treaties that would grant others control over the fuel-cycle, and dictate with technology can and cannot be used is also unpalatable.

Nor have the Americans shown any willingness to negotiate, in fact quite the opposite. The demands that are coming out of Washington call for even more restrictions in nuclear trade, in the name of controlling proliferation, but to others it looks like a naked attempt to control nuclear energy for the leverage that this will provide in the future. Shades of the old salt monopoly in India during the British Raj.


@ DV82XL, on 26 May 2011 at 2:37 PM:


I’ve done my best, quite likely stretching a few e-friendships along the way through my own loquacity.


(Deleted comment. Moderator decision on violation of BNC Comments Policy stands.Feel free to post elsewhere on an un-moderated blog)


@ Jaremco : Great contriburion. @ DV thanks for the no nonsense reality check you usually provide. The German Greens flirtation with solar and wind is purely an indulgence of a spoilt baby boomer generation , and can only be afforded by an incredibly rich society. India on the other hand has only the one choice.


Alan: I’m not sure you read the article, you seem to just focus on my one sentence without context. Cuba provides a good example of health without wealth, but sure, WITHIN any society, the wealthy tend to be the healthiest. As David and others have pointed out, electrification is a great equaliser.

DV82XL: Interesting views about NNP. I’m a long way from understanding all the politics on this and don’t have fixed views. They need electricity and we all benefit from them getting it at <1t/yr/cap.


@Geoff Russell, on 25 May 2011 at 9:02 PM
(in 2010) Wind power accounts for 6% of India’s total installed power capacity, and it generates 1.6% of the country’s power. Thats a capacity factor of 26%, not allowing for 25% growth per year. Forecast capacity for 2012 is 18GW(4.7GW av at CF 26%)
What about nuclear?
Nuclear power supplied 15.8 billion kWh (2.5%) of India’s electricity in 2007 from 3.7 GWe (of 110 GWe total) capacity and after a dip in 2008-09 this will increase steadily as imported uranium becomes available and new plants come on line. In the year to March 2010, 22 billion kWh was forecast, and for the 2010-11 year 24 billion kWh is expected. For 2011-12, 32 billion kWh is now forecast.
So for 2007, nuclear’s capacity factor was 1.9GW av/3.7GW capacity=51%, while expect CF for 2010 would be 2.5GWav/4.5GW=55% and 2012 forecast of 32billion kWh is av 3.7GWav.( about 1GW av less than forecast wind output.
Just as in China it looks like wind power is rapidly overtaking nuclear to become the second most significant low CO2 source of electricity, but both still a distant second and third behind renewable hydro.
Since 1GW hydro capacity can back up 1-2GW of wind capacity, so 40-80GW of wind capacity would seem feasible well before 2020( 10-20GWav ie x2 -4 expected 2012) along with 15GWav hydro and 20GWe nuclear(hopefully higher than 55% CF) by 2020.
India’s realistic scenarios are not nuclear or renewables they are nuclear plus renewables(hydro) plus renewables (wind) and perhaps plus renewables(solar).


@ Neil Howes:

Before you get too excited with all those numbers, consider again what was written in the article which you quoted. The low capacity factor for India’s NPP in 2007 may or may not be due to something unusual.

Consider that phrase as imported uranium becomes available. It is entirely possible that the low capacity factor was brought about by lack of fuel due to trade embargos. That’s what it says to me.

I fail to see your point in quoting this passage. If you are trying to say that the NPP’s are unreliable, then your quoted piece does not say so. No link has been demonstrated between the performances of the NPP’s and of wind. You have made no point.

I look forward to even the older NPP’s, refuelled and happy again, achieving customary CF’s of 90% or so. None of this is relevant to the cost, availability or value of the wind powered generation.

So, Neil, what are you trying to say? If you are saying that NPP plus renewable wind, plus renewable solar is the way of the future, then so be it, but at what price for the renewables?

Geoff has eloquently demonstrated that the resources needed for large scale wind and solar are unachievable, while those for NPP’s are much less and that the NPP’s are essential in order to cut the high death toll due to unavailability of electricity.

If additional power is available from other sources, so much the better. Geoff’s article does not explore system response to mixes of wind and nuclear, etc at high wind penetrations. That is discussed on other BNC threads, in a different context.

What you have not addressed is Geoff’s eloquent demonstration that large scale solar and wind require staggering land areas, concrete and steel resources and undreamt of tonnages of exotic salts… as well as many times more social disruption and that consequently large scale wind and solar are out of the question in Western India.

So, Neil, you have demonstrated that the odd 1% of wind and solar may help, but you have not started to say where the remaining 99% plus can come from.

For the future of India and its many millions, let’s all hope that the nuclear option lives up to its promise, because there is no realistic alternative in a world which has physical limits.


@ Neil:
“Then in 2008-10 the load factors dropped due to shortage of uranium fuel.”
From Neil’s cited page comes the answer. The NPPs’ low CFs are understandable and have nothing at all to do with plant problems.


Just curious,

Your argument seems to hinge on the poor being able to access both the new electricity and electric cookers. Have you any evidence that this would actually happen? Are the Govt there going to subsidise electric cookers for the slums?



You ask whether the Indian Government will subsidise electric cookers for the slums. Perhaps it will use some of the £300 million/annum aid it receives from the UK for this purpose while it simultaneously continues to offer concessionary credit lines of US$ 1.7billion/annum to African States. Funny old world.


@ Nathan,

A fair question. Obviously new electricity generation isn’t going to have an effect ton everyone over night, and it’ll likely take even longer for the most impoverished people. But if you look at these stats on Gapminder, plotting electricity vs HDI, it looks as though energy use approximates living standards fairly well (and I’d argue energy is a primary factor behind development). No doubt increased electricity will create new opportunities for those in the slums to pull themselves out of absolute poverty, and be able to afford these basic necessities.

Of course, there are always other factors – complex social, political, economic dimensions. It would be very nice if the Indian Government (or any other government/organisation for that matter) did subsidise electric cookers.


The NCRB in India reports 8170 electrocution deaths in India in 2009. So, encouraging nuclear power for everyone could be argued to increase these deaths, but I think it is a lousy argument.

The argument againts renewables seems to be based on the amount of land being necessary. This arguement does not take into account the local use of renewables, such as rooftops. I am not saying that all of the power can come from rooftops, but the arguments being used against renewables are selective and do not include a more diversified approach in deploying various types of systems.
One could also argue that the deployment of a grid to exisitng non-electrified rural villages capable of providing the power necessary for cooking is not a wise use of resources. Energy for lighting and water purification via UV would be a more efficient use of precious resources. Cooking by liquid or gaseous fuels can be a parallel goal.
I say this having been a project engineer on rural energy projects in India.


Nathan: The article postulated a sustainable scenario that could address both India’s needs and the planets … electricity for 1.4b people at less than 1 tonne per person per year. Does the political will exist to chart a path from the current point to that scenario? I don’t know. Does such a path exist within financial constraints? I’m fairly certain the answer is yes, and I’ll try and explain why tomorrow.

Neil: I’m out of time tonight, I’ll try to respond tomorrow.


India HAS an electrification plan. They are building out into rural areas. The *bigger* issue is urban poor without electricity. The hold up on all this is generation…there is not enough.

India IS building out nuclear. Does anyone who questions this *oppose* them doing this? They want to get to 50% of their generation coming from thorium, eventually. This is a *good thing*. Greenpeace India *opposes* this. Get it? Thus, practically speaking they are not for slowing down the conditions of death noted so passionately in Geoffs essay.


Rod Adams, agent provocateur, inflames and illuminates the question again with Are major “environmental” groups paid to help oil and gas interests make more money?

I deliberately chose a provocative title to discuss a theory that surprises nearly everyone. Though full of many sincere and hard working people who are trying to make the world a cleaner and more human friendly place, I believe that most of the really big and well-funded non-profit organizations that claim to be working for the environment are really cleverly conceived profit centers for the establishment.

There is a near unanimity of official positions among those groups – they are adamantly opposed to safe, emission-free nuclear energy and they vigorously advocate wind, solar and geothermal.

Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck… measure me by what I do. That’s actually a fundamental principle in creating characters in stories – a character is what he does.


> emission-free nuclear energy
Doesn’t exist. Bogus rhetoric. Setting nitwits up to argue bogus claims is a great way to prolong doing business as usual and ‘teach the controversy’ without actual facts.

Real, useful comparisons of the problems of the emissions from energy technologies are available.

Two examples, one from fission, one from coal:

Accumulation and transport behaviour of 241americium, 60cobalt and 134cesium by eggs of the spotted dogfish Scyliorhinus canicula
– Marine pollution bulletin, 2007

Accumulation and selective maternal transfer of contaminants in the turtle Trachemys scripta associated with coal ash deposition
– Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, DOI: 10.1007/s002440010206

Or look at the radioactive waste from oil and gas drilling. Has anyone done the numbers? I suspect nuclear plants have not leaked anywhere near the amount of radioactivity that drilling for oil, gas, or geothermal does (tho’ transuranics need to be acknowledged as uniquely anthropogenic).
“… more than 18 billion barrels of waste fluids from oil and gas production are generated annually in the United States.

Produced waters contain levels of radium and its decay products ….

… contamination in oil production waste came to the attention of industry and government in 1986 when, during routine well work in Mississippi, barium sulfate scale in tubing was found to contain elevated levels of levels of radium-226, and thorium-232….
… contaminated wastes in oil and gas production operations were not properly recognized in the past …. disposal of radioactive sludge/scale, and produced water (as practiced in the past) may lead to ground and surface water contamination….”

There is no “emission-free” energy technology.


Neil Howes, on 26 May 2011 at 8:08 PM said:

Since 1GW hydro capacity can back up 1-2GW of wind capacity

In the US Pacific Northwest we have 33 GW of hydro capacity and 4 GW of wind and ‘grid challenges’ as a result.

Wind + Rain go together. So we have occasional over generation and then occasional under generation with fossil as backup.

So the idea that one can take 2/3rds hydro capacity and add 1/3 wind capacity and get to 100% doesn’t work in real life.

What you get is closer to 130% of demand in the spring and fall and 70% of demand in the summer and winter.


@Geoff: Wind is not poised to pass nuclear. Even at 31 GWs of installed capacity (much of it stranded) and the 10GWs in nuclear *today* these figures are rapidly going to change by 2020. At that point China is planning for 100 GWs of nuclear and equal amount of *capacity* with wind. Nuclear is pretty straightforward in terms of finding data, wind…not so much. At any rate, in terms of GWhours I don’t see wind coming even close to nuclear.


Great post Geoff and good no nonsense comments from you DV8. I wish I was as articulate and knowledgable as you. One thing the pro wind,solar people seem to forget is the amount of space required for their solar arrays and wind farms. Neither of those types of generation is green. They might be renewable but they sure as hell are not green. A 1GWe nuclear power station requires about 1Km2 space while solar and wind require about 90 Km2 and 200 Km2 respectively. Call them green?? And with construction costs thrown in, the same 1GW wind power station would require 5 times as much steel and 14 times as much concrete for construction. Wind power is far more polluting during construction than nuclear.
in the case of india, obviously we should sell them our uranium signatory to Non Proliferation Treaty or not. As far as the undeveloped nations are concerned, much of the the 0.7% GDP of aid all nations are supposed to allocate to these countries would be best served by the rest of us providing them with appropriately sized nuclear reactors to help secure an energy supply for them. We should also insist that our government get to the 0.7% GDP for aid AND STAY THERE.


@ steve lapp, on 26 May 2011 at 10:24 PM:
It is certainly not only about land usage.

How many rooftops are you expecting to cover with SPV, Steve? If they number less than hundreds of thousands of individual roofs, you won’t be enough and, whatever you try to do with that power, it certainly will not be available for industry and for energy parks and for running public services such as street lights, trains and trams, water systems and sewer systems. It will not be available to generate hydrogen by electrolysis as a future replacement for hydrocarbons and it will not generate jobs for those who want to rise above the slums.

insolation 2400 watts per sq metre
efficiency 20 %
CF 20 %
Av out 96 watts per sq metre, say 100.
Req’d 10 GW Continuous
Area 10000000 sq.m actual panels
10 panels

So, 10 square kilometres of actual panels are needed to provide the energy equivalent of a single 10GW nuclear power station which is already under construction, ie 6 * 1700MW continuous, which will come with an energy park attached.

How much steel will 10 of panels need? How much aluminuim? How much silicon? How much glass? How much copper? How much theft of copper? How much to replace and repair busted and stolen stuff? How much rarer elements? How many mines and where? When will these mines run out of muck to dig up? Have you allowed for the training and logistics – tasks which will affect tens of thousands of people for years, as they come to grips with the new power system on their roof?

No, it is not all about land area or rooftop space as you state. It is about raising our heads above the fog of impossibility and looking at the mountaintops of possibility. This thread has tried to achieve that, but in your case, it has failed. Let’s hope that Greenpeace India get the message and start focussing on real priorities and the mountaintops of possibility.

If you have yet done so, I suggest that you read Heat, by George Monbiot, Penguin, 2006. It will be in your local library. Chapter 6 in this book, written by an anti-nuclear environmentalist, is very clear about the scale and limitations of energy options. Five years later, post-Fukishima, George is now pro-nuclear, but that is another story.


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