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Ferdinand E. Banks

Ferdinand E. Banks

Ferdinand E. Banks, Uppsala University (Sweden), performed his undergraduate studies at Illinois Institute of Technology (electrical engineering) and Roosevelt University (Chicago), graduating with honors in…

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Nuclear Energy and a Main Battle Tank

Miracles take place in every war. The United States accounted for some of these during the Second World War, of which two were decisive.

These were the construction of the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy, and just as important the training of the personnel to exploit these miracles. Before I transferred to the infantry, I worked with a Japanese engineer who told me about how he and his colleagues had examined an American bomber that had been brought down over his country, and was still intact. According to him, when their examination was completed, they concluded that Japan could not win the war. Whether they made this judgement known to their superiors is quite another matter, and I did not request a clarification.

The situation in Germany was less complicated. When Reichmarschall Herman Goering saw American fighter planes in the sky over Berlin, he said that he knew the war was lost. This might also be the place to mention that on the day the war ended, the United States Navy was as large as all the other navies in the world combined, and totally dominated the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as a few seas, lakes and rivers.

Of course, the simple truth is that it didn’t make any difference what my Japanese engineer colleague and his collaborators and superiors believed about the outcome of the war in the Pacific, nor for that matter should we be concerned with  the thoughts  of Herr Goering when he saw ‘Mustang’ fighters escorting a thousand American bombers over the ‘Kurdamm’. As Prime Minister Churchill said when Adolf Hitler declared war on the U.S. on December 11, 1941: “So we won after all.” There might have been champagne on Churchill’s breath when he made that prediction, but his belief about what the industrial strength of the U.S. could achieve  was totally correct.

The main battle tank of the U.S. during the war was the Sherman. The Sherman was chosen over e.g. an upgraded reproduction of the German ‘Panther’ tank. This selection was largely due to the preference of the best American general, George Patton, who apparently wanted a vehicle that could function in a manner similar to horse cavalry in a John Wayne western.  The cost of that mistake in human lives was enormous, perhaps in the millions, because it is possible (though not certain) that if American manufacturing facilities had concentrated on the production of a superior tank, which was easily done, the war in Europe would have been over by the end of 1944, or very early 1945!

Where nuclear energy is concerned, readers can peruse some words of wisdom by the energy celebrity Amery Lovins and his colleague Joseph Romm in the prestigious organ of the United States Council on Foreign Affairs, Foreign Affairs (1992-93).

“For example, the Swedish State Power Board found that doubling electric efficiency, switching generators to natural gas and biomass fuels and relying upon the cleanest power plants would support a 54 percent increase in real GNP from 1987 to 2010 – while phasing out all nuclear power. Additionally, the heat and power sector’s carbon dioxide output would fall by one-third, and the costs of electrical services by nearly $1 billion per year.
Sweden is already among the world’s most energy-efficient countries, even though it is cold, cloudy, and heavily industrialized. Other countries should be able to do better.”

Most of that statement is without any scientific, engineering, economic or historical truth. It is bunkum, as were ex-ante and ex-post claims about the merits of the Sherman tank. The sector producing electricity in Sweden was and is dominated by hydro and nuclear. 12 nuclear reactors were constructed in Sweden in about 13+ years, and eventually they provided almost half of the electric capacity (in megawatts), and more than half of Swedish electric energy (in megawatt-hours).  Swedish electricity became among the least costly in the world, and this country is and always has been among the environmental leaders.

As for wind-power, which has become a favourite of Swedish myth-makers and propagandists, Denmark is the best know proponent, and in that country (and in Germany) wind retains its status and appeal because of formal and informal subsidies, and also because of substantial imports of nuclear based electricity from Sweden for Denmark and Germany, and imports from France for Germany. Here it needs to be appreciated that if the German nuclear retreat were a reality instead of a politically motivated and bizarre fantasy, the French nuclear sector might have already started to expand in order to receive the hundreds of billions in export income that would become available when German nuclear facilities begin to close their doors. Naturally, if this German retreat took place, electricity prices in countries like Sweden and France might go into orbit, but I think that I will leave a discussion of  that issue for the brilliant discussion of nuclear or oil  that I hope to give at the Stockholm School of Economics some fine day.

On reading the above, and taking note of the incredible blunder associated with choosing the main battle tank for the U.S. Army, in addition to the proposed German nuclear retreat, I am tempted to add a section to the long chapter on nuclear energy in my forthcoming energy economics textbook (2011). If I did, that section would be titled ‘Lies and/or Misunderstandings’ and it would be devoted to the ladies and gentlemen who, on the crucial subject of energy, and contrary to what I call the ‘iron law of economics’, seem to prefer LESS to MORE for their friends and neighbours, parents and descendents, employers, collaborators and maybe themselves, although to be truthful, it appears to this humble teacher of economics that the last named candidature for a lower standard of living is very uncertain.

I would also consider looking at this business of nuclear safety, or better, suggest that researchers with a physics background carry out this project. As a starter, in an important article, Micah J. Loudermilk points out that the U.S. Navy has “successfully managed, without accident, 500 small reactors on board its ships throughout 50 years of nuclear operations (2011).” By way of contrast, in a country where tsunamis and earthquakes are not unknown, a Japanese firm puts several nuclear reactors in the wrong place, and the day after the disaster at Fukushima, in a country where tsunamis and earthquakes are completely unknown, perhaps the most intelligent politician in the Swedish environmental party calls for the immediate closure of two reactors.

Why two? Why not three or four or all ten of the existing reactors, or for that matter why not construct another ten and put paid to the entire twenty at the same time, because no matter how many are closed in Sweden or Germany or Japan or Monoco or Shangri La, in the long run they will be reconstructed. 

By. Professor Ferdinand E. Banks


Banks, Ferdinand E. (2011). Energy and Economic Theory: An Introductory Textbook.
        Singapore, London and New York: World Scientific.
Loudermilk, Micah J. ((2011). ‘Small nuclear reactors and US Energy Security:
        Concepts, capabilities and costs’.  Journal of Energy Security (May).

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