The unquestionable answer for sustainable development:
The use of nuclear energy
Professeur André Maïsseu
World Council of Nuclear Workers
49, rue Lauriston, 75116 Paris, France
Ensuring the energy supply of the world and its growing population to make sufficient light, heat and power available to everyone, ensuring production of fresh water, ensuring the production of hydrogen without causing irreversible damage to nature and the climate, that are probably the most important technical challenges of our time.
It is possible to face these challenges without jeopardizing economic growth, without destroying jobs, without asking for a U-turn in economy. To answer the challenge of a growing world population demanding a higher standard of living, to meet the energy requirements of our planet in order to avoid adding more pollution to the pollution, there is one answer: nuclear energy.
By exploiting a stock of resources ever more intensively over the period, the western economies have succeeded, so far as they are concerned, in banishing the spectre of shortages - food shortage, energy shortage - which have bedevilled human societies from time immemorial. Both of these shortages have been overcome by the combined exploitation of suitable resources and ever more efficient technologies. The era of mass consumption became possible, and with it, very logically and naturally, the era of mass production. But they were also accompanied by the over-exploitation of natural resources, heedless of future generations, the accelerated degradation of the environment, and the deterioration of the ecosystems.
Two opposite economic logics are proposed to solve the challenges faced by the Earth.
The first logic, the "ecologically correct" corresponds to Malthusian ecologists. For them only Nature is capable of creating wealth. Man is a predator who can only develop at the cost of Nature. In the Malthusian ecologist way of economic growth, wealth is produced by the consumption and destruction of natural resources - for example, by burning oil, gas or coal.
As the world's material resources are limited, it is said, with increasing frequency, that it is impossible for everyone on earth to be able to have the same standard of living as that enjoyed by the people of America. One use to say that « the future on earth would be jeopardized if 8 billions of human beings were to have the same life style as the billion of human beings living in developed countries". It is rapidly acquiring the status of « revealed truth" and very soon no one will dare dispute it. Conveniently forgetting the lessons of J.B.Say, B.Sauvy or W.Leontieff, this often repeated statement, these principles of the "sustainable development" are gradually taking over the collective subconscious. How cynical it would be to prevent the 9/10 of the planet from reaching one day this standard or even to let the world believe that wealth is forbidden for the impoverished countries!
In this view, of a sustainable development « ecologically correct », the one of the Malthusian ecologists, the richest of the rich countries will always be richer, and the poor of all countries will be more numerous and ever poorer.
The second logic rejects this approach and finds that wealth is accumulated by human labor, ingenuity and the use of nuclear energy.
2. Ecologist Utopia: a closed world with limited resources
The Malthusian Ecologist analyses but conventional economic analyses, whether integrationist or reductionist, whether inspired by Keynesian, neo-classic or Marxist theory, are based on postulates which were transformed into dogmas. While they may exhibit divergences, these neomalthusian-ecologist concepts which found the standard model of economic growth and many conventional economic theories are based on postulates transformed into dogmas, most of which cannot withstand scrutiny. Among these dogmas are the reversibility of economic processes, labour as a production factor, the use of time as a measure of technical progress, the additively of the production function, the mythical existence of a general equilibrium, and, particularly, the existence of a conservative, closed economic system, whose limited resources are regulated by deterministic processes, dogmas whereof the absurdity impels conventional economic analysis to confirm de facto the neomalthusian-ecologist impasse.
The implementation of these dogmas is frequently out of phase with reality. It is thus very difficult to introduce correctly technology, technological innovation and technical progress into all the theoretical constructions derived from the application of these principles. The same applies to the consideration of pollution and the depletion of natural resources. These difficult problems, which bedevil the definition of a sustainable development, find no satisfactory answer in these theoretical considerations.
All the ambiguity of inserting a real sustainable development leanings in the Economics is coming from these false evaluations. If our economic systems were perfectly conservative, if the economic processes were reversible, every action damaging our environment would therefore naturally be corrected with the help of very opposite actions. In so far as Economics fits into the framework of a closed system, its total balance is entropic. This means the inevitable regressive evolution to the final collapse.
By incorporating in the production and consumption process an ever increasing quantity of elements whose added value displays an entropic balance, the societal systems that have followed each other through history have succeeded in offering the economic agents merchant goods and services enabling them to improve their standards of living. Yet this growing incorporation of an entropic added value has only occurred by compromising our future living conditions, by exploiting for immediate profit the resources that harbor the wellbeing of future generations, by jeopardizing a real sustainable development. The reckless exploitation of natural resources lead to their depletion in a process - the law of diminishing returns - described by Ricardo more than a century ago. "The return is not the withdrawal." (E. Morin).
The neomalthusian-ecologists rightly criticize this functioning mode. But by limiting their view of the world to that of a closed system with limited resources, by refusing to question the underlying dogmas of Economics, the alternatives they propose necessarily form part of this fatalistic approach. Hence their solutions can at best put off the inevitable finality.
The solutions they propose are based on a false interpretation of the second principle of thermodynamics, which assimilates the concept of waste with entropy. To reduce entropy to waste would be to assume that an 'economic' management of natural resources could cancel the overall entropic balance of the system. In so far as this can be treated as an isolated, indeed closed, system, its total entropic balance will be positive, regardless of the 'economies' which can be realized, and its regression inevitable. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of entropy and of its related mechanisms.
Entry into the new socio-technico-economic system of the IIIrd millennium implies to challenge Keynesian, ultra-liberal or philomarxist perceptions. It calls for the emergence of new behaviours associated with the new perceptions and new values, making possible not only the reconciliation of economics and ecology, but the tapping of the undeniable synergies which insure a real sustainable development.
3. The thermodynamic approach
The productive process as any human activity is submitted like any transformation to laws which are universal. Among those laws and principles, one is inevitable for humanity: the second principle of thermodynamics. Applied to economics, this second principle says that besides goods and marketable products, the firm products waste, consequence of the energy and matter degradations it exploits. Waste stands for all residues, scraps, pollution, all the "externalities" of the enterprise. The entropic nature of human activities implies that the yield of any industrial transformation had to be lower than the unity. Any productive process implies its symmetry. It generates pollution and waste.
Amoung the attempts made to take into account the entropic dimension of the production and consumption act, the approach of N.Georgescu Roegen is interesting. N.Georgescu Roegen distinguishes clearly the production, output and waste flows. He also differentiates at the input level stock elements and flow elements. The first category, stock elements, contains all agents of the process (labour, soil, capital). The second input category, flow elements, is made up of natural resources instituted by economic agents ( solar energy, rain, etc.) as well as by go between, maintenance material, etc. But this approach faces conceptual difficulties that system approach and calling into question of the conventional production factors solve.
3. 1. The new production function and its factors of production
Which are the production factors?
Taking into account the capital as a state variable of the function of production, i.e. production factor, usually called K, is not questionable. This way, taking into account soil and natural resources as production factors shall not be questionable.
It is not the same for Labour.
Labour is really a factor of production, but that is questioning is the way it is introduced in production functions or in any economic reasoning, generally speaking in most of the economical theories.
The Ancient, Greeks and Latins used two words to name work: "ergos" and "ponens", "opus" and "labor". "Labor" for the Latins meant the hard work, expression of physical power, for slaves; on the contrary, "opus" meant the creative work, demanding intellectual skills, cleverness, erudition and knowledge: the "Opus Dei". If we consider these antic definitions, work is to be divided in two parts, one corresponding to the energy and the other one requiring knowledge. Work as a social act is a combination of energy and knowledge carried out along time. Work is divided in two terms: energy and knowledge as two different production factors of opposite entropic nature. Labour is a resultant of energy and knowledge.
The status equation of any economic system is described when combining four production factors: K for capital, M (matter) for ground, soil and natural resources, U for energy and E (from Erkenntnis) for knowledge. The status function of the system, its function of production is written:
Y = f(K, M, U, E,)
K capital; M, matter (natural resources); U, energy; E, knowledge.
3.2. Cybernetic formalization and Prigogine theory
According to O.Lange, the general solution of the equation of state of the system is:
Y (t) = v (t) + y (t) = S j qj (t) el jt + ( S r=0 to n ( S s=0 to m ars Dr Eq s ) )-1 X(t)
where the first term v (t) is the general solution of the homogeneous equation obtained by assuming the second term to be zero, and the second term y (t) is a particular solution of the non-homogeneous equation, with x(t) ≠ 0.
The first, homogeneous term:
v(t) = S j qj (t) el jt
where l is the root of the characteristic equation, the initial conditions setting the coefficients qj(t). It is independent of the inputs of the system. It is called the internal structural component, is homogeneous. It is independent of the inputs of the system, since x(t) = 0 and depends only on the composition and the internal make-up of the system, on its internal structure. It may be observed that its form is identical to the characteristic equation of entropy (Clausius definition). This term is a function of the internal resources of the system, that is to say its material and energy resources, which are known to be rare, limited, apt for alternative uses, and subject to the law of diminishing returned. It describes the operation and hence the evolution of the system, when it functions as a closed system, as a system functioning in autarky; whether this autarky is local, regional or planetary.
The second term, the particular solution to the inhomogeneous equation, is obtained for x(t) ¹ 0:
y (t) = ( Sr=0 to n ( S s=0 to m ars Dr Eq s ) )-1 X(t)
The second term, the input component, depends on the external inputs to the system since x(t) does not equal zero. This second term is coherent with the mathematical formulation of knowledge and with the Shannon definition of (negu)Entropy. This second term describes the functioning and evolution of the system as an open system.
Running and evolution of Economics depends on the conjunction and composition of these two components.
A parallel can immediately be drawn with the formalism describing the macro-economic production functions of the Cobb Douglas type, which have been developed to describe the operation and the evolution of economic systems:
Y = f(K,L) + residue
These production functions traditionally comprise two terms. The first is usually the production function proper. Its formalism is more or less sophisticated, but it is always homogeneous between its variables, in order to satisfy the requirement of replaceability traditionally assumed by conventional economic analyses. Time, an additional variable, which is presumed to represent technical progress, is sometimes incorporated in this first term.
The second term, sometimes called "residue", helps to make the economic reality "coincide" with the figures obtained by breaking down the first term of the production function. This second term is simply a grab bag of everything that cannot be explained, resuming everything that cannot be represented by the harmonious mathematical combination of capital and labour. But most of the experts agree that it is the second term that is representative of the growth and development of economic systems.
The analogy with the two terms of the O. Lange solution defined above is clear.
The first term, which must be homogeneous in its variables of state, the production factors, representative of the conventional production function, and descriptive of an operation in a closed system, corresponds to the internal structural component; This internal structural component, just as it is supposed to do, describes the first term of the macro-economic production functions, the processes taking place in the system and exploiting the production factors corresponding to rare, limited, alternative-use resources, which represent the technical and natural capital (natural resources) and labour. While this structural component, like the first part of the production function, can shed some light on the operation of the system, it is powerless to explain the growth processes:
Yi (t) = v (t) = S j qj (t) el jt
This term conceptually describes the functioning of a closed system.
The second term, the residue, corresponds to the input component, responsible for the dynamics of the system and for its ability to develop.
Ye(t) = y (t) = ( Sr=0 à n ( S s=0 à m ars Dr Eq s ))-1
This input component measures the external input of entropy, resulting from the opening of the system by the exploitation of knowledge. This second term is responsible for the dynamics of the system and for its capacity to develop.
So far the production function developed from the model of O. Lange leads to the definition of a production function composed of two terms, the first corresponding to functioning in a closed system, and the second corresponding to the opening of the system:
Y(t) = w (t) + y (t) = Yi + Ye
where the formalism is found to agree with the equation of the total entropic balance of the system, as defined by Prigogine:
- Y(t) ® dS
- Yi ® diS the flow of inputs is zero
- x(t) = 0 the system is closed
- Ye ® deS the system is open, the flow of inputs is not zero (x(t) ¹ 0).
3.3. Entropy, neguentropy and growth
Since all activity within the system generates entropy, by prolonging the analyses of N. Georgescu Roegen and by resuming the notations of Prigogine, we can describe the variation in entropy of socio-technico-economic systems with the help of two terms, in order to identify the evolutionary direction of the system towards growth or towards regression
dS = diS + deS
Prigogine explained the first term diS corresponds to the entropy produced by the internal variations, modifications, processes and actions of the system, reversible or irreversible. This internal structural component measures the production of entropy generated by the system using only its internal resources. For reversible processes, diS = 0; for irreversible processes, diS > 0.
The second term, deS, describes the variations in entropy associated with the opening of the system. This term may be positive or negative. If positive, it is said to be neguentropic and can therefore oppose the regression of the system: deS > 0 or < 0. For isolated systems, deS is zero. In this case
dS = diS > 0.
The sign of dS, the total entropic balance, conditions the evolution of the system.
The functioning and growth mechanisms of economic systems can be understood by considering the developments of these two components:
- An internal structural component, a function of entropic production factors, matter M, energy U, and part of capital, tangible capital, Km, descriptive of functioning in a closed system: the production of entropy is positive, and sometimes locally nil:
w (t) = f(Km,M,U) = Yi ® diS > 0
dSinternal or dSi ³ 0
which corresponds to the internal functioning of the system, consuming and degrading limited, rare, alternative-use resources. This production of entropy corresponds to the operation of a closed and dissipative system animated by irreversible processes. The production of entropy is given by the first term of the production function, corresponding to the internal structural component:
- An input component, a function of the knowledge production factor, E, and probably of the intangible part of capital, Ki. This component measures the negative external input of entropy resulting from the use of knowledge. Capital, depending on its form, intangible or tangible, is incorporated in each of the two components, the structural component and the input component:
y (t) = f(Ki,E) = Ye ® deS > or < 0
dSexternal or dSe £ 0
measuring the variation in entropy associated with the opening of the system. Only this second term can be negative, i.e. neguentropic, and accordingly oppose the regression of the system, indeed even enable it to develop by increasing its degree of complexity. This neguentropic production is given by the second term of the production function, corresponding to the input component.
While the flow of information and knowledge lies at the opposite end of the spectrum from the flow of matter and the flow of energy, all three are nevertheless jointly needed for the achievement of any economic project. Every flow of matter aggregates with a flow of energy and simultaneously with a flow of knowledge. This share of incorporated knowledge is part of the added value, an added value thus composed of parts whose entropic characteristics are opposed. The flow of matter is progressively transformed under the cumulative effect of the complementary flows of energy and knowledge, and a flow consisting of consumer goods or productive equipment - capital - of a higher technological level. The aggregation of knowledge with the elements of the system can be interpreted as an increase in their topological complexity, enabling them to optimize the use of the flows of matter and energy. The complexity of the system, a factor in development, is increased by adding new knowledge to the flow of information which is ever denser and richer. The productive act thus corresponds to a process of enrichment of the flow of matter by the simultaneous incorporation of energy and knowledge.
Wealth is produced. This wealth created by human activity is then consumed. Every consumption activity destroys wealth, whether the wealth has been created by man or has been conferred by Nature. It is then abruptly relegated to the state of scrap or waste. The neguentropic process of enrichment by the incorporation of knowledge is interrupted. Entropy is produced. Each consumption activity generates entropy. This wealth is created by the consumption and destruction of material resources - natural resources - leading to the production of entropy. But this wealth is jointly created by the incorporation of non-material, tangible resources - knowledge - and hence the production of neguentropy. An increased incorporation of knowledge into the productive act could possibly change the sign of the entropic balance of the production/consumption cycle
The intrinsic characteristics also roughly describe the operation of the socio-technico-economic system. The extrinsic characteristics, which correspond to the influence of the inputs of knowledge on the system, describe its evolution and its mutations from one state to another state
By using the notations of Prigogine, the variation in entropy of the system can be described with the help of two terms:
- dSI > 0 corresponding to activities in the consumption of wealth,
- dSII < 0 corresponding to the exploitation of the stock of knowledge and to its integration into the productive act.
The sign of the final entropic balance determines the evolution of the system:
- if negative, towards growth and development qualified as durable, this is the real sustainable development
- if positive, towards regression and decline. Any system that is incapable of neguentropic production irresistibly evolves towards a state of uniformity in which its entropy reaches a maximum, and which corresponds to its collapse.
4. A sustainable development which make the poor rich and the rich to stay rich.
4.1. Lavoisier's Law : « Noting is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed »
The entropic or negentropic nature of the added value incorporated by human activity in the general production and consumption cycle determines the direction in which societal systems evolve. By privileging the exploitation of intangible resources, the overall entropic balance can be reversed, and the conditions for resumed growth are satisfied. Wealth can be accumulated without any detriment to the environment.
By applying Lavoisier's law:
"Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed".
The application of this law means that the cycle of production and consumption is no longer completed by consumption, but perpetrated by the permanent recycling of all the products, by-products, scrap and waste generated by the economic processes which animate the societal system and make it live. These outputs of the productive act, these products, by-products, scrap and waste must be considered as raw materials in the same way as conventional raw materials, and be taken into account as inputs of the productive act. Increased consumption corresponds to the increased production of by-products, scrap and waste, in other words always more reprocessing and recycling, always more jobs and, simultaneously, always less pollution and always less exploitation of 'virgin' raw materials.
The definition of a macro-economic production function respectful of the constraints arising from the application of the second principle of thermodynamics must be included in the outputs, the deleterious externalities, among the inputs of the productive act. In the same way as merchant goods and services, pollution and waste will be an integral part of the general cycle of production and consumption.
Figure 4 : The Cycle of Production and Consumption (Gestalteconomy)
Yet every product is the compromise of an energy/matter resolution. The re-introduction of 'spent' material into the production and consumption cycle can only be achieved at the cost of an increased use of energy. One cannot hope to win on both counts, preserve matter and economize energy at the same time. Carnot and thermodynamics would be completely lost in the shuffle. One cannot act on one of the terms of the equation, matter, without the other term, energy, being altered. One cannot attenuate environmental damage, treat the waste and scrap, recycle it, reprocess it or regenerate it, decrease the sources of pollution, without consuming more energy, knowledge and capital. To go ahead with environmental preservation programs and energy conservation programs is pure thermodynamic nonsense, since human activity cannot violate the laws of thermodynamics with impunity.
And we need more and more energy; and we need more and more knowledge!
4.2. From the exploitation of natural resources to the use of human skills
The return to economic growth, the elimination of poverty and want, the protection of the environment, the real sustainable development demand :
- the intensified use of the only resource that is unlimited by Nature, and which is available to human activity: knowledge, whether found in the expertise of the economic agents or whether interiorized in the productive capabilities
- and the new forms of energy.
The exploitation of knowledge "is vitally important for the long-term conservation of resources and the improvement of the environment. The prevention of most forms of pollution and the economic recycling of waste also depend on technical progress".
The key of sustainable development which will reconcile ecology and economics, the answer to the ecological challenge, cannot be found in the Ecolo-Malthusian Utopia which is embedded in an entropic logic. We must go on as speedily as possible to a logic based on the use of knowledge. We have to change from a logic that favors the accumulation of short-term profits to a policy concerned with the preservation of our long-term interests. We have to restrict the application of the 'sacrosanct laws of the market' to the outputs of the productive act, and stop trying to apply them to its inputs. We have to go on from an economic logic that privileges the financial balance to an economic logic that privileges the negentropic balance of the cycle of production and consumption, a cycle which recycles the outputs as inputs by reprocessing. We have to use more and more energy.
Knowledge, understood in its broadest form, that is to say "savoir", "savoir-faire" and "savoir-être", and their availability represent the keystone of the functioning and the evolution of a socio-technico-economic system which is concerned with economic peaceful growth that creates increased wealth and respects the quality of the environment.
4.3. The positive impact of electronuclear energy
Environmental conservation demands the application of a policy which reverses the entropic nature of the processes of production. The reconciliation of economics, ecology, social requirements and sustainable development, ensuring vigorous growth which creates jobs and income and insure peace all around the world demands an increasing use of energy. This energy must not add pollution to pollution. This energy must have lost cost. This energy have to be available all around the world for any country. With the present technologies, nuclear energy is the only answer.
The problem of energy has found itself totally modified by the complete mastering of the nuclear energy, including besides conventional thermonuclear plants, the recycling of spent nuclear fuel, the use of fast breeder reactor able to burn highly radioactive waste and producing meanwhile more combustibles then they consume.
Meeting the challenge of sustainable development means a large development of electronuclear energy like in France, i.e. relying on the entire electronuclear cycle.
This is the pet hate of ecologist movements which pretend to protect the environment, the nuclear energy which is the answer to the challenge pose by a real sustainable development, combining Economy, Social and Ecology, conciliating economic growth, job creation, protection of environment and peaceful development.
Either we will follow the absurd and dark path marked out by ignorance, and decide to discard nuclear energy : pollution will continue to spread its black wings over the entire planet. The wealth of Nature will diminish and be increasingly expensive. And the world's poor will be even poorer and ever more numerous which will create all conditions for wars.
Or we can choose to resume economic growth, creating wealth, jobs, preserving our environment, based on the increased use of nuclear energy, which all the workers of the nuclear industry are proud to offer for a peaceful world.
For nuclear energy, a body of international regulations has been developed that makes nuclear energy very safe. Nuclear regulations have been established as a systematic tool for applying physics to reactors, radioactive repositories, transportation casks, etc. The impacts of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl on the regulation process are good examples of the high sensitivity of the technical professionals involved in the nuclear power industry to continuously improve the safety of the nuclear power plants.
What about nuclear waste? The answer is already there. We only have to listen to Nature, and learn the lessons Nature gave us two billion years ago, in Gabon. At Oklou, for some thousands of years a nuclear reactor has run naturally, and it has produced waste. Nature stored these radioactive wastes safely for billions of years, without troubling the environment. We know it will be safe for thousands of thousands of years. We know the way to copy Nature. This means reprocessing nd vitrification.
What about nuclear proliferation? The best way to avoid the use of nuclear weapons is to avoid the creation of war set of circumstances, to create wealth for every one on Earth . and not only for some part of the world.
The Earth is in danger. One solution is already there: the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Why to stop using it?
Nuclear energy is a solution, not a problem.
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