by Marsha Freeman
Numerous countries in the developing world are poised to finally begin the nuclear-energy-based transformation of their economies that has been on the planning books since the 1950s. Indonesia, Turkey, Venezuela, Vietnam, and many others are carrying out feasibility studies, and contacting international suppliers, to plan their first nuclear-power reactors.
More than 50 years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower boldly announced that the United States would embark on a program of sharing civilian nuclear-power technology with the rest of the world, which he described as “Atoms for Peace.” At the first international conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, in 1955, dozens of nations presented their optimistic plans for introducing this revolutionary technology.
From the beginning of the atomic age, President Eisenhower, and like-minded thinkers in the emerging nuclear scientific and technical communities in the United States, saw nuclear power not only as a source of inexpensive and virtually unlimited supply of electricity, which could be available to all nations regardless of their endowment of natural carbon-based resources, but also as the organizing principle for new cities, new industries, improved agriculture, and the road to peace.
Just as Lyndon LaRouche is stressing today, the nuclear pioneers recognized that as the world depletes its supplies of both fossil fuels and fossil water, technologies must be deployed to create a new base of resources. Since the 1950s, it has been clear that nuclear fission would provide the foundation for such a transformation of the world economy. President Eisenhower wisely stressed that such a long-range, multi-generational program for nuclear-power development would be the most effective policy to avoid war.
With an international nuclear renaissance now under way, it is time to bring to fruition the concepts and possibilities for nuclear-centered, agro-industrial complexes, or nuplexes, to start rebuilding the world economy on the basis of the most advanced technologies.
Middle East: Water or War?
In the mid-1950s, it was clear to President Eisenhower that the continuing political volatility in the Middle East could again erupt into war. Recognizing the critical nature of the limited water resources of the region, he dispatched diplomat Eric Johnson as his personal representative to attempt to persuade the Arabs and Israelis to work on an agreement to share the water of the Jordan River. The 1956 war temporarily dashed hopes for such an economic reshaping of the Middle East.
Water development was also the basis for the studies carried out by the Roosevelt-era Tennessee Valley Authority in the post-war period, fora“TVA on the Jordan,”based on the experience of the miraculous transformation in the 1930s of the southeastern United States, through the building of two dozen dams.
But, by the early 1960s, the accumulated experience with operating power-producing nuclear plants convinced scientists at the TVA-region’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, former President Eisenhower, President Lyndon Johnson, and other political leaders in Washington, that the solution to the crisis in the Middle East was to use this new resource of nuclear power, not only for energy—since much of the region is rich in petroleum—but to create more of a resource that is scarcer there than energy: water.
In 1963, Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientist Philip Hammond suggested that fresh water could be produced economically by desalting seawater, using the excess heat from large nuclear-power plants. Alvin Weinberg, the director of the Laboratory, and a member of President Kennedy’s Science Advisory Committee, promoted the idea that this application of nuclear energy could make the “deserts bloom.” In fact, understanding the critical nature of freshwater shortages worldwide, President Kennedy had considered desalination as the major research and development project for international outreach for his Administration. Fast-paced advances in the Soviet space program led the President to focus more intensely on his Apollo program to land a man on the Moon.
Dr. Glen Seaborg, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, is credited with coining the term “nuplex” in 1964, to describe the unique multi-purpose potential of nuclear power. Philip Hammond’ s desalination-nuplex concept was featured at the 1964 United Nations conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy in Geneva, and adopted in President Johnson’s Middle East “Water for Peace” proposal.
In 1964, Oak Ridge Laboratory staff traveled to Israel, India, Puerto Rico, Pakistan, Mexico, and the Soviet Union, to help develop plans for desalination plants. When President Johnson adopted his plan in 1965, 100 researchers at Oak Ridge, including chemists, were studying how to apply new techniques to nuclear desalination.
Taking Eisenhower’s lead, Johnson had established a bilateral commission with Israel to study nuclear desalination, while Oak Ridge was tasked to develop a detailed feasibility study of how nuclear-power plants could become the center of complexes to power cities, produce potable water, provide process heat for home heating and industry, and revolutionize agriculture. Just days before the June 1967 Six-Day Middle East War, an international conference in Washington, organized around Johnson’s “Water for Peace” program, drew thousands of participants.
The 1967 Middle East War did not end the organizing initiative for the nuclear-desalination proposal. The details of the program were spelled out by Rear Adm. Lewis L. Strauss (ret.), who had been AEC Chairman under President Eisenhower, in an Aug. 7, 1967 article in U.S. News & World Report.
Admiral Strauss proposed the construction of three nuclear plants to desalt water and provide cheap electrical energy. One plant might be built on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, he proposed, from which the desalted water would flow to Israel, Jordan, and Syria. Another plant, on the Gaza Strip, could pipe water under the Suez Canal to eastern Egypt, to be used for irrigation. And a third, on Jordanian territory at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba, could transform what is otherwise a wasteland.
Under Strauss’s proposal, the first plant “would be designed to produce daily the equivalent of some 450 million gallons of fresh water—incidentally, more than the combined flow of the three main tributaries which make up the Jordan River.” The power from the plant would provide the electricity to pump fresh water to water-starved areas. The three plants together will “have the effect of opening to settlement many hundred square miles which heretofore have never supported human life . . . and the controversy over the division of the Jordan River would be minimized,” he wrote. This opening of new lands would provide a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, with formerly barren land now open for settlement for perhaps 1 million refugees.
Strauss concluded that while “some observers” doubt that the Arabs and Israelis could agree on such a program, their choice is between “devastating war, and an atomic-age pathway to peace.”
Other farsighted and experienced political forces joined the fight for nuclear-powered Middle East development. On Aug. 14, just two months after the June 1967 War, Sen. Howard Baker(R),from the TVA state of Tennessee, introduced Senate Resolution 155. Among the motivating clauses, the resolution stated: “Whereas the greatest bar to a long term settlement of the differences between the Arab and Israeli people is the adequate food supply;
and Whereas the United States now has available the technology and the resources to alleviate these shortages and to provide a base for the peaceful cooperation between the countries involved:
“Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that the prompt design, construction, and operation of nuclear desalting plants will provide large quantities of fresh water to both Arab and Israeli territories.” Such a program would also increase agricultural productivity, the Resolution stated, and create new jobs for refugees. The Resolution was adopted unanimously by the Senate in December.
Feasibility studies for nuclear-powered desalination began under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, in cooperation with governments in the region.
Meanwhile, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the first major detailed report, begun in 1966, on how to design multipurpose nuclear plants to power nuplexes, was being prepared.
Nuclear-powered agro-industrial complexes were developed to answer the question posed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Dr. Alvin Weinberg: “How can we most quickly bring the developing countries up to the standard of living of the advanced sector?” Nuplexes, he proposed, would solve the immediate problems of shortage of food and water, but, most importantly, they would allow nations to “leapfrog” to new technologies, in the course of their development.
As an example of the potential of nuplexes, a 1968 Oak Ridge report stated that “the time has come when the energy derived from nuclear energy can be looked upon very seriously as a key for releasing indigenous agriculture from the bondage imposed by the necessity of securing fuel, fertilizer, and power for tillage all directly from the land without energy resources from outside. . . . Such [nuclear energy] inputs could free these people from Malthusian limitations hitherto imposed upon their indigenous food supply. . . .”
A team of 16 scientists, engineers, economists, and agricultural experts worked on the series of Oak Ridge nuplex studies, in close collaboration with the IAEA, the governments of Mexico and other nations.
The heart of the nuplex is the nuclear-power plant. The concept is to use an array of nuclear technologies, each optimized for a particular function—such as the production of electricity, process heat, or nuclear fuel—and to tailor the design of each nuplex with regard to the natural resources and specific needs of each geographic location. Modular production of nuclear plants was envisioned, with clusters of reactors in each nuplex. For example, ten reactors, of different types, could produce up to 15 gigawatts (GW) of electricity. This energy could power an industrial base and support a new city of at least 5 million people.
The general idea is to have pairs of nuclear-power plants to produce electricity and process heat. Surrounding the plants would be the industrial facilities they would energize. Where appropriate, these could include minerals and raw materials processing, equipment and machinery manufacture, and chemical industries. Where needed, the nuplex would be sited where desalination of seawater would make deserts bloom, and open new lands for cultivation. A new, modern city, complete with all required transportation, communications, educational, cultural, medical, and other infrastructure, would be built from the underground up.
In a policy statement released on June 26, 1978, and published in the August issue of Fusion magazine, Lyndon LaRouche explained the relationship of nuclear technology to city building. The nuplex will require a “four-to-six-year construction period, during which period many engineering and other skills are employed on the site. In a developing nation (especially) . . . the construction period is a period of education and other training. . . . On-the-site training, including schools for technicians, workers and their families, cultural programs, and so forth, is indispensable.
“So, to build an agro-industrial nuplex means to build an entire new city, to build structures and facilities to last as quality structures for a coming period of 50 to 100 years. . . . These nuplexes serve not only as self-contained concentrations of high technology, but as the hub of radiation of high technology services to agriculture and other developments over areas of wide radius surrounding. “A network of such nuplexes throughout continents such as Africa transforms the Sahara and Sahel into a vast new habitable and fruitful region, and establishes a continental grid-system of centers of high technology through which to transform the entire continent.”
The nuplex designers began with the nuclear technology most readily available in the 1960s, the light-water reactor. Coupled with industrial facilities, even the 220-280°F waste heat from such power plants, available after the steam-turbine production of electricity, could be used to provide process steam for the paper, chemical, rubber, and agricultural industries. District heating of homes and aquaculture facilities to raise the intake of protein for the population, also can benefit from this temperature range.
Breeder reactors, which can ensure the ready supply of nuclear fuel for a growing world nuclear industry by creating fuel, were also envisioned by the Oak Ridge designers. They could deliver process heat between 900-1,100°F, extending the range of industrial applications. These higher-temperature nuclear reactors can be applied to the direct reduction of ores, the processing of raw materials, and thermally enhanced electrolytic production of hydrogen from water, creating new resources.
Nuclear-powered desalination can not only create fresh water from brackish or salt water, they proposed, but also minerals and metals that are largely unused by-products of the desalination process can be the raw-material feedstock for a variety of chemical industries, as in the extraction of potassium and chlorine.
The gas-cooled high-temperature reactors can boost process heat quality to the 1,700-2,000°F range, approaching the possibility to thermally crack water to more cheaply produce hydrogen. It was estimated by the Oak Ridge team that one 1,000 megawatt (MW) high-temperature reactor could supply the electrical and process heat requirements of the largest existing chemical plants, including factories that produce ammonia for fertilizers, or a petroleum refinery with a 500,000barrel-per-day capacity.
As nuclear technology advanced, existing plants would be replaced with the latest, most efficient reactors, possibly every 15 years, they projected. This rapid turnover of technology would continuously extend the range of applications for nuclear power.
Later, thermonuclear-fusion energy would become available, where making use of not only heat, but high-temperature plasmas and a variety of radiation outputs would redefine the base of raw materials, and even open up the rest of the Solar System to the exploitation of new resources.
Global Nuplex Plans
As the potential for nuplex development became known, it did not take long for numbers of developing nations to begin their own studies of how to use nuclear energy in city-building nuplexes. In 1968, the Government of India Atomic Energy Commission released its Preliminary Report on the Nuclear Powered Agro-Industrial Complex, drafted by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Bombay.
In 1965, the governments of Mexico and the United States, and the IAEA agreed to carry out a preliminary assessment of the applicability of dual-purpose nuclear plants to produce fresh water and electricity in the region bordering the southern portion of the Colorado River. Their report, “Nuclear Power and Water Desalting Plants for Southwest United States and Northwest Mexico,” was completed in September 1968.
In the United States, the Oak Ridge team developed detailed economic nuplex blueprints for 26 sites around the world. Central to many was the application of nuclear energy to agriculture.
The Strauss-Eisenhower proposal for the Sinai-Negev desert site, for example, included a “food factory,” which depended upon a mixture of crops, and could support up to 6 million people. Water usage was estimated to be equivalent to that per person in New York City. An extremely detailed study completed by the Oak Ridge group in 1970 described the feasibility of using nuclear-power waste heat for aquaculture, or fish farming.
Not satisfied with just paper studies, Oak Ridge National Lab embarked upon a joint program with the Agriculture Department of the Tennessee Valley Authority to test the feasibility of using nuclear-reactor waste heat in enclosed structures devoted to agriculture and aquaculture. A small pilot greenhouse began construction in 1971, and was run successfully for one year by the Lab. It was then decided to develop a demonstration greenhouse to use the heat from TVA’s Brown’s Ferry Nuclear Power Plant, then under construction. Similar demonstrations of the use of rejected nuclear-power-plant heat were carried out by Oak Ridge and the TVA.
The nuplex idea gained widespread support. Graduate student John M. Holmes submitted to the University of Tennessee a doctoral dissertation titled, “The Impact of Nuclear Energy Centers on the Economy of Puerto Rico” in August 1970.
The following year, Oak Ridge completed its study on several possible locales for nuplexes. These in-depth studies included sites in Western Australia, India, Northwest Mexico (Baja California), Peru, and the Sinai-Negev in the Southeastern Mediterranean, encompassing the United Arab Emirates, Israel, and Egypt. The areas studied were limited to those where land was not then under active intensive cultivation, due to desert and semi-desert conditions, or received less than 15 inches of rain per year. They were considered typical arid coastal regions, close enough to the sea to provide cooling water for the nuclear reactors, and feedstock for desalination plants. All were seen as potential nuplex sites.
Through the early 1970s, nuplex studies continued, as nuclear-power-plant construction in the United States accelerated. Various U.S. sites were under study for nuplexes. The Industrial Economics Research Division of Texas A&M University produced a report in May 1973 titled, “Nuplex Siting on the Texas Coast.” The preface states that although the study is “based largely on present reactor capabilities, the realization of the full potential advantages of a nuplex will be enhanced by the utilization of commercial breeder reactors scheduled to become operative about 1985.”
But the Henry Kissinger-organized 1973 war in the Middle East quadrupled energy prices. Billions of dollars were stolen from industrial and developing nations that were dependent upon imported energy. Visionary economic investment plans were shelved.
Two years earlier, President Nixon’s destruction of Franklin Roosevelt’s Bretton Woods system had wrecked any hope of nuclear or any high-technology transfer to developing nations. The increasingly anti-nuclear “West” by and large abandoned its own nuclear construction programs.
But by the late-1970s, LaRouche and the Fusion Energy Foundation were on the scene, working with many of those scientists and engineers who had developed the nuplex plans, with an organizing perspective to put them back on the agenda.
The Middle East continued to be a necessary focus of attention. In October 1981, following the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, LaRouche commissioned a study to develop an economic-development program based on U.S. cooperation with Egypt, in order to counter the potential for political chaos in the region.
The plan proposed the creation of four new agricultural and industrial nuplex cities, with the goal of increasing the per-capita consumption of electricity in Egypt 20-fold, over a two-decade period.
LaRouche in Mexico
In the early 1980s, Mexican President Jose ́ Lopez Portillo was developing a strategy to free his nation from the colonial grip of the International Monetary Fund, and place it firmly on the path of economic development.
In February 1981, the Fusion Energy Foundation and its affiliated Mexican Association for Fusion Energy presented a 20-year program for Mexican development, at a conference in Mexico City, which was attended by representatives of eight Mexican government ministries and other national institutions.
The following month, LaRouche made a ten-day visit to Mexico to present the framework for his “oil-for-technology” development program. The results of that trip were discussed in Washington, D.C. at a conference sponsored by EIR on March 26-27, and were summarized in the July 1981 issue of Fusion magazine.
The program to transform Mexico was centered around the use of a portion of the revenues from the sale of that nation’s petroleum production to finance $100 billion of capital-goods imports, over 20 years. These imports would include not only nuclear plants, but also farm tractors and equipment, transportation equipment, port construction machinery, steel-making capacity, and other capital goods. By 1995, Mexico was projected to be producing more than half of its own capital-goods requirements.
The plan proposed that by the year 2000, more than 60 GW of nuclear power (equivalent to sixty 1,000 MW nuclear reactors) should be in operation in Mexico. This would signify more than simply a transition to a new source of energy, but the transition to a modern economy, including the transformation of education, infrastructure, and overall standard of living and culture, through agro-industrial city-building.
Lack of support among Mexico’s neighbors for Lopez Portillo’s bold move to take back sovereign control of his nation’s economy, and a frontal assault from the international financial oligarchy, delayed, but has not doomed, his efforts.
Today’s growing, continent-wide movement for an economic revolution south of the U.S. border, exemplified by the actions of Argentine President Ne ́stor Kirchner, has placed nuclear power and new cities back on the agenda.
In March of this year, Lyndon LaRouche returned to Mexico, to restate the American System economic approach that that nation, in concert with its neighbors, must take at this time of a collapsing world financial system, to fulfill Lopez Portillo’s promise of economic development. The LaRouche Youth Movement in Mexico will be holding a seminar on June 7, on “Oil for Nuclear Technology,” in Mexico City, to organize the support needed to finally bring this program into being.
Nuplexes for Tomorrow
Beginning in the late 1970s, LaRouche and his affiliated organizations intervened to place the nuplex pathway to economic development before many nations. By that time, it was clear that the continent of Africa was dying. The suffering caused by a century of direct colonial bondage, and decades of International Monetary Fund financial strangulation, had led to the emergence of new diseases, and the devastating lack of medical, nutritional, or any other infrastructure to save Africa was dooming the continent. In June 1979, the Fusion Energy Foundation held a conference in Paris, titled “The Industrialization of Africa,” and the following year, a book of the proceedings was published. The chapter titled, “The Role of Agro-nuplexes in African Development,” described why only the introduction of the most advanced technologies, to supersede subsistence agriculture in Africa, can create the required accelerated rates of growth. Such an approach, based on the upgraded educational and skill level of the population, must replace the IMF dictated labor-intensive farming then prevalent on the “dark continent,” the report stated. The upgrading of nutrition and health care are primary, in order to rescue a population so economically depressed, that it has become the breeding ground for new, emerging diseases. The goal was to use nuclear power to create a modern standard of living for every African by the turn of the 21st Century.
The Middle East has continued to be a theater of war, thanks to the continued intervention by the old British colonial masterminds, and two generations of Bush Administration collaborators,
In 1990, as President George H.W. Bush was amassing, in the Middle East, the largest military force outside the United States since the Vietnam War, LaRouche reissued the Middle East water development “Oasis Plan” he had first introduced in 1975. On July 12, 1990, LaRouche stated: “To avoid a conflict which would be ruinous for all people and nations of the Middle East, an effective series of common interest proposals must be made in accord with the rights of all parties. . . . Although to some, an Oasis Plan seems an unlikely proposition under the present circumstances, the price of failing to implement such a program will be staggering. Therefore, there is no obstacle so great, nor so difficult, that we should not seek to overcome it in order to further economic cooperation.” Unfortunately, for failing to heed LaRouche’s warning, we have witnessed since then the consequences of not one, but two, Iraq wars.
Today, we have progressed no further toward peace than when Lewis Strauss and President Eisenhower proposed their nuclear-desalination plan as a war-avoidance policy in the 1950s. Rather, the region is embroiled in what could easily become endless wars.
The solution today is the same as it was a half century ago: Deploy the most advanced technologies, clustered around the placement of a succession of advancing nuclear capabilities at the center of new cities and agricultural and industrial complexes. Make educational, medical, cultural, modern transport and communications, housing, and other infrastructure available to each citizen.
Prepare the nations of Asia, Africa, and Ibero-America to participate in a 21st Century that sees the fulfillment of the potential of each individual. And rebuild the decrepit industrial and capital-goods-producing sectors of what have historically been the industrialized nations, to make that a reality.