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The Pre-Chernobyl History of the Soviet Nuclear Industry

The Chernobyl disaster has been variously ascribed to human error, reactor design flaws, and industry mismanagement. Six former Chernobyl employees were convicted of criminal negligence; they defended themselves by pointing to reactor design issues. Other observers blamed the Soviet style of ideologically driven economic and industrial management. In Producing Power, Sonja Schmid draws on interviews with veterans of the Soviet nuclear industry and extensive research in Russian archives as she examines these alternate accounts. Rather than pursue one “definitive” explanation, she investigates how each of these narratives makes sense in its own way and demonstrates that each implies adherence to a particular set of ideas—about high-risk technologies, human-machine interactions, organizational methods for ensuring safety and productivity, and even about the legitimacy of the Soviet state. She also shows how these attitudes shaped, and were shaped by, the Soviet nuclear industry from its very beginnings.

Schmid explains that Soviet experts established nuclear power as a driving force of social, not just technical, progress. She examines the Soviet nuclear industry’s dual origins in weapons and electrification programs, and she traces the emergence of nuclear power experts as a professional community. Schmid also fundamentally reassesses the design choices for nuclear power reactors in the shadow of the Cold War’s arms race.

Schmid’s account helps us understand how and why a complex sociotechnical system broke down. Chernobyl, while unique and specific to the Soviet experience, can also provide valuable lessons for contemporary nuclear projects.

A Fissile Material Approach to Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation

Achieving nuclear disarmament, stopping nuclear proliferation, and preventing nuclear terrorism are among the most critical challenges facing the world today. Unmaking the Bomb proposes a new approach to reaching these long-held goals. Rather than considering them as separate issues, the authors—physicists and experts on nuclear security—argue that all three of these goals can be understood and realized together if we focus on the production, stockpiling, and disposal of plutonium and highly enriched uranium—the fissile materials that are the key ingredients used to make nuclear weapons.

The authors describe the history, production, national stockpiles, and current military and civilian uses of plutonium and highly enriched uranium, and propose policies aimed at reducing and eventually eliminating these fissile materials worldwide. These include an end to the production of highly enriched uranium and plutonium for weapons, an end to their use as reactor fuels, and the verified elimination of all national stockpiles.

How Americans Think about Energy in the Age of Global Warming

How do Americans think about energy? Is the debate over fossil fuels highly partisan and ideological? Does public opinion about fossil fuels and alternative energies divide along the fault between red states and blue states? And how much do concerns about climate change weigh on their opinions? In Cheap and Clean, Stephen Ansolabehere and David Konisky show that Americans are more pragmatic than ideological in their opinions about energy alternatives, more unified than divided about their main concerns, and more local than global in their approach to energy.

Drawing on extensive surveys they designed and conducted over the course of a decade (in conjunction with MIT’s Energy Initiative), Ansolabehere and Konisky report that beliefs about the costs and environmental harms associated with particular fuels drive public opinions about energy. People approach energy choices as consumers, and what is most important to them is simply that energy be cheap and clean. Most of us want energy at low economic cost and with little social cost (that is, minimal health risk from pollution). The authors also find that although environmental concerns weigh heavily in people’s energy preferences, these concerns are local and not global. Worries about global warming are less pressing to most than worries about their own city’s smog and toxic waste. With this in mind, Ansolabehere and Konisky argue for policies that target both local pollutants and carbon emissions (the main source of global warming). The local and immediate nature of people’s energy concerns can be the starting point for a new approach to energy and climate change policy.

The Green Paradox and Beyond

Recent developments suggest that well-intended climate policies--including carbon taxes and subsidies for renewable energy—might not accomplish what policy makers intend. Hans-Werner Sinn has described a “green paradox,” arguing that these policies could hasten global warming by encouraging owners of fossil fuel reserves to increase their extraction rates for fear that their reserves will become worthless. In this volume, economists investigate the empirical and theoretical support for the green paradox.

Offering detailed and rigorous analyses of the forces and assumptions driving Sinn’s argument, the contributors consider whether rising carbon tax rates inevitably speed up climate change; the effects of the design of resource markets, the availability of clean substitutes, and the development of new technologies; and the empirical evidence (or lack thereof) for the green paradox result. They consider extraction costs; sustainability and innovation; timing, announcement effects, and time consistency in relation to policy measures; and empirical results for the green paradox phenomena under several alternative policy measures.

Julien Daubanes, Corrado Di Maria, Carolyn Fischer, Florian Habermacher, Michael Hoel, Darko Jus, Gebhard Kirchgassner, Ian Lange, Pierre Lasserre, Volker Meier, Karen Pittel, Stephen Salant, Frank Stähler, Gerard van der Meijden, Frederick van der Ploeg, Edwin van der Werf, Ngo Van Long, Ralph A. Winter, Cees Withagen

Public Knowledge about Radiation Health Effects after Chernobyl

Before Fukushima, the most notorious large-scale nuclear accident the world had seen was Chernobyl in 1986. The fallout from Chernobyl covered vast areas in the Northern Hemisphere, especially in Europe. Belarus, at the time a Soviet republic, suffered heavily: nearly a quarter of its territory was covered with long-lasting radionuclides. Yet the damage from the massive fallout was largely imperceptible; contaminated communities looked exactly like noncontaminated ones. It could be known only through constructed representations of it. In The Politics of Invisibility, Olga Kuchinskaya explores how we know what we know about Chernobyl, describing how the consequences of a nuclear accident were made invisible. Her analysis sheds valuable light on how we deal with other modern hazards—toxins or global warming—that are largely imperceptible to the human senses.

Kuchinskaya describes the production of invisibility of Chernobyl’s consequences in Belarus—practices that limit public attention to radiation and make its health effects impossible to observe. Just as mitigating radiological contamination requires infrastructural solutions, she argues, the production and propagation of invisibility also involves infrastructural efforts, from redefining the scope and nature of the accident’s consequences to reshaping research and protection practices.

Kuchinskaya finds vast fluctuations in recognition, tracing varyingly successful efforts to conceal or reveal Chernobyl’s consequences at different levels—among affected populations, scientists, government, media, and international organizations. The production of invisibility, she argues, is a function of power relations.

Is Sustainable Growth Possible?

The global economy has become increasingly, perhaps chronically, unstable. Since 2008, we have heard about the housing bubble, subprime mortgages, banks “too big to fail,” financial regulation (or the lack of it), and the European debt crisis. Wall Street has discovered that it is more profitable to make money from other people’s money than by investing in the real economy, which has limited access to capital--resulting in slow growth and rising inequality. What we haven’t heard much about is the role of natural resources--energy in particular--as drivers of economic growth, or the connection of “global warming” to the economic crisis. In The Bubble Economy, Robert Ayres--an economist and physicist--connects economic instability to the economics of energy.

Ayres describes, among other things, the roots of our bubble economy (including the divergent influences of Senator Carter Glass--of the Glass-Steagall Law--and Ayn Rand); the role of energy in the economy, from the “oil shocks” of 1971 and 1981 through the Iraq wars; the early history of bubbles and busts; the end of Glass-Steagall; climate change; and the failures of austerity.

Finally, Ayres offers a new approach to trigger economic growth. The rising price of fossil fuels (notwithstanding “fracking”) suggests that renewable energy will become increasingly profitable. Ayres argues that government should redirect private savings and global finance away from home ownership and toward “de-carbonization”--investment in renewables and efficiency. Large-scale investment in sustainability will achieve a trifecta: lowering greenhouse gas emissions, stimulating innovation-based economic growth and employment, and offering long-term investment opportunities that do not depend on risky gambling strategies with derivatives.

Lessons from China

The development and deployment of cleaner energy technologies have become globalized phenomena. Yet despite the fact that energy-related goods account for more than ten percent of international trade, policy makers, academics, and the business community perceive barriers to the global diffusion of these emerging technologies. Experts point to problems including intellectual property concerns, trade barriers, and developing countries’ limited access to technology and funding. In this book, Kelly Gallagher uses analysis and case studies from China’s solar photovoltaic, gas turbine, advanced battery, and coal gasification industries to examine both barriers and incentives in clean energy technology transfer.

Gallagher finds that the barriers are not as daunting as many assume; these technologies already cross borders through foreign direct investment, licensing, joint R&D, and other channels. She shows that intellectual property infringement is not as widespread as business leaders fear and can be managed, and that firms in developing countries show considerable resourcefulness in acquiring technology legally. She finds that financing does present an obstacle, especially when new cleaner technologies compete with entrenched, polluting, and often government-subsidized traditional technologies. But the biggest single barrier, she finds, is the failure of government to provide sensible policy incentives. The case studies show how government, through market-formation policy, can unleash global market forces. Gallagher’s findings have theoretical significance as well; she proposes a new model of global technology diffusion that casts doubt on aspects of technology transfer theory.

Coal and the Hidden Threat to Health

We will not find “exposure to burning coal” listed as the cause of death on a single death certificate, but tens of thousands of deaths from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and other illnesses are clearly linked to coal-derived pollution. As politicians and advertising campaigns extol the virtues of “clean coal,” the dirty secret is that coal kills. In The Silent Epidemic, Alan Lockwood, a physician, describes and documents the adverse health effects of burning coal. Lockwood’s comprehensive treatment examines every aspect of coal, from its complex chemical makeup to details of mining, transporting, burning, and disposal--each of which generates significant health concerns. He describes coal pollution’s effects on the respiratory, cardiovascular, and nervous systems, and how these problems will only get worse; explains the impact of global warming on coal-related health problems; and discusses possible policy approaches to combat coal pollution.

Coal fueled the industrial revolution and has become a major source of energy in virtually every country. In the United States, almost half of the energy used to generate electricity comes from burning coal. Relatively few people are aware of the health threats posed by coal-derived pollutants, and those who are aware lack the political clout of the coal industry. Lockwood’s straightforward description of coal as a health hazard is especially timely, given the barrage of marketing efforts to promote coal as part of “energy independence.” His message is clear and urgent: “Coal-fired plants make people sick and die, particularly children and those with chronic illnesses, and they cost society huge amounts of money desperately needed for other purposes.”

Environmental Taxes and Fiscal Reform in the United States

Energy utilization, especially from fossil fuels, creates hidden costs in the form of pollution and environmental damages. The costs are well documented but are hidden in the sense that they occur outside the market, are not reflected in market prices, and are not taken into account by energy users. Double Dividend presents a novel method for designing environmental taxes that correct market prices so that they reflect the true cost of energy. The resulting revenue can be used in reducing the burden of the overall tax system and improving the performance of the economy, creating the double dividend of the title.

The authors simulate the impact of environmental taxes on the U.S. economy using their Intertemporal General Equilibrium Model (IGEM). This highly innovative model incorporates expectations about future prices and policies. The model is estimated econometrically from an extensive 50-year dataset to incorporate the heterogeneity of producers and consumers. This approach generates confidence intervals for the outcomes of changes in economic policies, a new feature for models used in analyzing energy and environmental policies. These outcomes include the welfare impacts on individual households, distinguished by demographic characteristics, and for society as a whole, decomposed between efficiency and equity.

How America Can Build a Low-Cost, Low-Carbon Energy System

Energy innovation offers us our best chance to solve the three urgent and interrelated problems of climate change, worldwide insecurity over energy supplies, and rapidly growing energy demand. But if we are to achieve a timely transition to reliable, low-cost, low-carbon energy, the U.S. energy innovation system must be radically overhauled.
Unlocking Energy Innovation outlines an up-to-the-minute plan for remaking America’s energy innovation system by tapping the country’s entrepreneurial strengths and regional diversity in both the public and private spheres. “Business as usual” will not fill the energy innovation gap. Only the kind of systemic, transformative changes to our energy innovation system described in this provocative book will help us avert the most dire scenarios and achieve a sustainable and secure energy future.

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