Third World Poverty

The relationship between Yucca Mountain and Third World Poverty is more direct than most realize. As the Amazon is torched and places like Madagascar are denuded of wood to fuel cooking fires, it is clear that the Third World cannot overcome its crushing poverty based on a wood energy supply or with primitive slash-and-burn industries. Since the developed nations already consume the majority of petroleum reserves, the Third World will not advance to First World status based on fossil fuels.

In a world of limited energy resources, either energy hogs like America must lower their standards of living (perhaps to subsistence levels) to allow the Third World to pull itself up by its bootstraps, or the Third World must become resigned to its backward status. Those are the optimistic alternatives; pessimistically we may face increasing levels of terrorism and infectious global mini-wars over energy resources. Fortunately, a world of limited energy and material resources is avoidable given a suitable alternative energy reserve, a role for which nuclear energy is particulary suited.

Environmental activists concerned with risks at Yucca Mountain have failed to address the question of what damages their protests might cause outside the North American continent. Without nuclear energy as part of America's energy mix, demand would likely transfer to hydrocarbon fuels, directly competing with the Third World. Many environmentalists believe energy competition is unavoidable and the Third World is doomed to poverty. According to influential environmentalist and ally to the Safe Energy Communication Council Jeremy Rifkin:

"However, this too must be said: no Third World nation should harbor hopes that it can ever reach the material abundance that has existed in America over the past few decades. To put its faith in Western-style development is a cruel hoax, simply because it is a physical impossibility even if there were a complete redistribution of the world's resources. According to economist Herman Daly:

"If it require roughly one-third of the world's annual production of mineral resources to support that 6% of the world's population residing in the U.S. at the standard of consumption to which it is thought that the rest of the world aspires, then it follows that present resource flows would allow the extension of the U.S. standard to at most 18% of the world's population, with nothing left over for the other 82%. Without the services of the poor 82%, the "rich" 18% could not possibly maintain their wealth. A considerable share of world resources must be devoted to maintaining the poor 82% at at least subsistence. Consequently, even the 18% figure is an overestimate.

It is thus impossible for the rest of the world to develop as the United States has. In fact, as we have already seen, absolute resource scarcity makes it impossible that even the United States can continue at anything near its present level of energy flow. This is not, however, to dismiss the absolute necessity of fostering economic development in the Third World. The question is: What kind of development is appropriate to poor nations? [Rifkin, Jeremy; Entropy, Plenum, 1984 p193]

This apocalyptic view of energy resources and the potential of the Third World to improve its condition is typical of the environmental movement. But the notion of impending collapse of our resource base due to "absolute resource scarcity", or that we cannot sustain or improve our "present level of energy flow" is not supported by engineering analysis, unless one neglects the nuclear energy option. Extremists trying to nullify the nuclear energy option by choking waste storage at Yucca Mountain may therefore become the prime catalysts of resource collapse and environmental destruction. Forcing the Third World to artificially compete for non-nuclear energy sources, may ironically create a self-fulfilling prophecy of environmental doom, war and economic collapse. Since the Green movement variously opposes strip mining for coal, oil exploration at sea, nuclear reactors and nearly every energy option, this leaves little room to improve the economic status of the Third World. Again according to Jeremy Rifkin:

Several appropriate models for Third World development already exist. Before Mao's death, the People's Republic of China organized itself in a way that maintained the rural base of the society and favored labor-intensive production. China is not a rich society, but very few people are jobless or homeless. More attention should also be turned to the Gandhian economic model. During the anti-colonial movement led by Gandhi, the symbol of the struggle became the hand operated spinning wheel, a simple piece of appropriate technology that allowed each Indian to have some control over his or her own economic livelihood even in the poorest or most remote village. Gandhian economics favors the country over the city, agriculture over industry, small scale techniques over high-technology. Only this general set of economic priorities can lead to successful Third World development. But once again, it must be said that high-energy-flow nations like the United States must be willing to undertake sacrifices. [Entropy, p192]

Apparently, extremists within the environmental movement like Rifkin believe energy depletion is inevitable and spinning wheels are preferable to Yucca Mountain. Maoist China and Gandhian India are strange economic purgatories to be wished on the Third World and one wonders what kind of utopia environmentalists envision for America. It is interesting to note the evolution of SECC ally, former senator Tim Wirth, and now undersecretary of State for global affairs. Slated to become Secretary of Energy under the Clinton administration, but replaced by Hazel O'Leary, Wirth was given the role of population control negotiator at the 1994 International Conference on Population Control in Cairo. The belief that the carrying capacity of Mother Earth has been reached (perhaps true without nuclear energy), made coercive population control an undercurrent at the Cairo conference. While Wirth is not so radical, he still applies the limited resources model even to the U.S.:

Q: How well is the United States doing in stabilizing its population?

A: Not as well as we ought to. We have a rapidly growing population in the U.S., the most rapidly growing population of any major industrial country. . . . . One of the questions we have to ask ourselves is, do we want 500 million people in the U.S.? [USA Today, Sept. 6, 1994, p11A]

The energy bounty nuclear technology delivers threatens to rearrange the energy equation towards worldwide abundance. Americans are thus being asked to give up their cars, stereos, consumer goods and even progeny as part of the price of defeating Yucca Mountain and the nuclear industry. The Green's resource scarcity is an artifact of their self imposed nuclear energy scarcity, for thermodynamics tells us resource limitations become moot. with sufficient energy supplies.

Only an energy crisis artificially created through the elimination of nuclear energy (thereby choking fossil fuel supplies) could cause the Third World to look to the spinning wheel as its salvation. America's energy policy, now decided by lawyers, sociologists, political geographers and the environmental elite instead of by scientists and engineers versed, thus becomes a matter of life and death. Indeed, anti-nuclear hysteria may condemn much of the world's population to groveling poverty and starvation.

The University of Nevada Las Vegas Department of Engineering has a large contingent of East Indian graduate students. Their view of the possibility of turning India into a solar nation is pessimistic. The alternative, not only for India but the entire Third World, is to actively promote nuclear power for humanitarian, security and economic reasons.

While the Third World cannot join the First World on the back of fossil fuels, nuclear energy would bridge this energy resource gap. Lessened pressures on fossil fuels would in turn relieve destructive forces in the Middle East and global oil markets, making nuclear energy a vital component to worldwide security. Third World use of nuclear power would also reduce pollution, eliminating hydrocarbon emissions through a modernized infrastructure. Finally, a strong Third World offers new markets for our goods, and relieves immigration pressures.

The catch in using nuclear energy in the Third World the disposal problem. Ironically, opposing the construction of Yucca Mountain may in effect cut off research and development in the only country with the scientific and financial resources to properly design and build a geologic repository. Whatever solution the U.S. implements, dry cask storage or geologic repository, will no doubt be safe due to strict environmental laws in this country. It is not clear that on-site, above-ground storage in a hundred Third World countries whose research and development programs are nill, will be so adequate.

Thus stopping Yucca Mountain may have the glorifying effect of increasing America's dependence on oil, slowing Third World development, and being the catalyst for numerous wars, but also causing nuclear pollution on a global level from unregulated and poorly engineered repositories world wide.