To me, this graph is the Reason-For-It-All. My friend Bob Hargraves put it together, and you can find the graph on his website about the promise of thorium for the future (Aim High). To build this graph, Bob went to the CIA World Factbook, which lists countries and their statistical data: population, GDP, electricity use, life expectancy, etc. The factbook is the most convenient source of information for many countries and used in many academic and scholarly papers. (Note, double-clicking on these graphs will enlarge them.)
Bob constructed a spreadsheet of GDP per capita and birthrates per woman for 82 countries. He used the countries that have populations of over ten million people. The results are shown above. Simply put, women in poor countries have terrible lives. Many children, many children dying, little opportunity for education, grinding poverty. Prosperity (being above the "prosperity" line in the graph) improves women's lives immensely.
The next chart shows another of Bob's graphs. This one illustrates how electricity use and prosperity go hand in hand. Since it does not show that prosperity depends on electricity use or vice versa, no doubt, a few hundred people will now comment on this post that we can have plenty of prosperity with low electricity use. They may also ask: What is prosperity good for anyway? I have an answer for that. Prosperity is good for making people's lives longer and richer, and allowing women to participate in the greater business of the world.
The fact is: prosperity and electricity use go together. As you can see, prosperity and electricity increase together on average as a straight line, especially in the 0 to $15,000 per capita region. That region on the chart below is equivalent to the the Up From Poverty region of the chart above.
That's why China and India are moving so quickly on electrification.
A View from the Third World
Recently, I posted about Jaczko coming to Brattleboro, and Claire sent a long comment about all the ways we can conserve, and lead to a world which is carbon-free and nuclear free. Her aim was to have households using just a few kWh a month. Some ideas were rooftop solar collectors and organic gardens on the lawn. She received interesting replies.
Steve Aplin noted that:
Claire, I have no problem with your list of suggestions. Not everybody can follow them, however, and especially people who live in high rises. High rises are (1) absolutely the cleanest way for humans to live en masse, and (2) literally uninhabitable without electricity, which brings you to and from your floor, pumps your water, ventilates your unit, and lights it. We need lots of GHG-free electricity, and sorry but renewables are not capable of providing it.
Steve blogs at Canadian Energy Issues.
Dave then commented:
Is being low in energy use intrinsically good? If you think it is can you tell me if you also think that long life spans, education and generally health are good or evil?
I live in a second world country. I have great respect for how much energy it takes to supply a growing population. I know many people who live on less than a kwh a day. It is not pleasant and they struggle greatly. Some schools here only have light bulbs turned on if the parents in the community pay for the extra electricity. Then there is often a single light bulb in a classroom of 50 students.
This population that already uses less energy per capita than any of its still poor neighbors will not be helped by "green" energy. You cannot build an economy, (schools, jobs, roads, business, manufacturing) on sources of power that come and go randomly.
Most in this population cannot conserve more. They cannot "live with nature" more closely. Sure, pollution could be minimized, but not waste, there is NO waste, everything is used.
I include these quotes just in case you thought the Hargrave plots above were theoretical. They aren't. They are about real and suffering people
On the Other Hand
Some people don't care. Some people have furry mustaches and a down-home way of talking, and basically don't give a hang about people (probably people of color) living in other countries. Here are some quotes from people very opposed to nuclear energy.
If you ask me, it'd be a little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it. We ought to be looking for energy sources that are adequate for our needs, but that won't give us the excesses of concentrated energy with which we could do mischief to the earth or to each other."
—Amory Lovins, The Mother Earth - Plowboy Interview, Nov/Dec 1977, p. 22
Gosh, Mr. Lovins? Whose needs? Are you the one to decide on who-needs-what? Are we talking about your own needs (which include a certain amount of jetting around the world, giving highly-paid talks)? Or the needs of a third-world mother pregnant with her fourth child, who wishes she had clean water (water purification plants are energy hogs) and maybe even an electric stove (many many third world women die in accidents with small charcoal or wood-fired stoves, or from smoke inhalation. Full disclosure: as part of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, our son-in-law Vijay Modi does research in the cookstove area.)
By the way, I found the Lovins quote in the Wikipedia article Anti-Nuclear Movement. Just in case you thought Mr. Lovins was talking about coal.
Another quote, from a somewhat less engaging personality:
Giving society cheap, abundant energy ... would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun. - Paul Ehrlich, ``An Ecologist's Perspective on Nuclear Power'', May/June 1978 issue of Federation of American Scientists Public Issue Report
The condescension is so heavy you could cut it with a knife.
If you want to see some really vicious quotes, including banning DDT as a way to get rid of people by letting them die of malaria, I recommend this collection of quotes. The quotes were gathered by a retired professor at Stanford University, John McCarthy. Read it only if you have a strong stomach. (This website was recommended to me by a friend. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of all the quotes, but the author says he will take down any quotes that are challenged. I checked two of the quotes, and they were okay.)
The Bottom Line
Nuclear power truly has the ability to change the earth, and improve the lives of poor people and save the lives of women and children. There is really nothing else like it.
Let's ignore the Euro and America-specific rantings of certain condescending and overpaid people, and look at Bob Hargraves carefully drawn charts. If we look at those charts, we will see that answer for the world is MORE energy use, not less. And the answer for more energy use is nuclear.
That's what its about, for me. It isn't just about Vermont Yankee. I am committed to better lives for everyone, through nuclear power.