Memories of a Movement
by Mark Evanoff
SELLING THE PEACEFUL ATOM
Memories of a Movement - Table of Contents and Introduction
Mark Evanoff’s book is unpublished was written in 1985. This is the first online version of it. Thanks to Don Eichelberger for digitizing the original manuscript.
Chapter 1: Selling the Peaceful Atom – You are here
Chapter 2: PG&E Invests in a Dream
Chapter 3: Creating the Bodega Bay
Chapter 4: Humboldt Bay: “A Temple to the Advancement of Mankind”
Chapter 5: The Other Plants: Pointing Out the Faults
Chapter 6: Manipulating the System: Creating Laws to Stop Nuclear Power
Chapter 7: Diablo Canyon: Conservationists and Industrialists Cooperate
Chapter 8: Blockade at Diablo
Chapter 9: Building a Backward Reactor
Chapter 10: Paying for a $4.3 Billion Mistake
Not even PG&E recognized that a rebellion begun in the small fishing village of Bodega Bay could spark a movement with independent organizations around the world working to topple nuclear power. ln 1958, local residents simply didn’t want a nuclear power plant destroying their livelihood. During the ensuing confrontation, California became the testing ground for commercial atomic energy. Both the promoters and the opponents rallied the public to their position with creative arguments designed to grab people’s attention.
Until Bodega Bay, nuclear power received scant negative publicity. President Eisenhower offered an enticing vision of atomic energy creating a better world. According to Eisenhower, the technology would do more than generate electricity; the peaceful atom would bring unequalled economic growth and a means to a better life. Supporters heralded it-as a way to share the American standard of living with less fortunate nations. Conservationists believed nuclear power could stop coal burning, preserve wilderness, and conserve natural resources.
Policy makers never doubted that nuclear power could provide the world with what its promoters promised. Acting on faith alone, they invested billions of dollars developing an unproven technology. The public, convinced that nuclear power could solve the world’s problems, didn’t listen to scientists who said it would never work. When the electric utilities started building nuclear power plants, opponents used the construction projects to point out the technology’s problems. No one had experience stopping a nuclear power plant, and the leadership experimented with different tactics to rally the public. Enterprising newspaper reporters helped with the educational effort y and wrote stories about the dangers of radiation and the impending destruction of the dairy and fishing industry. Writers lamented the loss of scenic areas and described how utility companies like Pacific Gas and Electric abused eminent domain laws to ensure property acquisition for their new plants. Scientists reported that earthquakes could trigger nuclear power plant accidents which could threaten the general population.
PG&E wanted California to be a nuclear power showcase. However, the utility’s blunders disrupted atomic energy’s California debut. PG&E’s nuclear power history is actually the story of the uti1ity’s rehearsal for the technology. The “peaceful atom” A performance never had a successful run:
- PG&E began atomic energy research as a way to supply plutonium for the military rather than a means to supply electricity to the ratepayer.
- After geologists discovered a fault directly beneath the Bodega Bay Atomic Park, PG&E suggested floating the reactor on three feet of a compassable material to make it earthquake safe.
- PG&E’s only experience with nuclear power, Humboldt Bay, earned the reputation of the nation’s dirtiest reactor. Although the plant didn’t comply with seismic regulations, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allowed it to operate for thirteen years before ordering it closed.
- Two women in Santa Cruz stopped a nuclear power plant complex by notifying property owners that power lines would mar their view. The prospect of lowered property values motivated homeowners to stop the plant.
- In conservative Kern County, farmers, ranchers, businessmen, and a few anti-nuclear activists formed a coalition to fight what was to be the world’s largest nuclear power plant complex. The coalition never argued the nuclear power issue during the campaign, but nevertheless persuaded seventy percent of the electorate to vote against the project.
- One group staged an elaborate election campaign that threatened to close all nuclear power plants in the state. The move frightened the legislature into passing a less stringent law prohibiting utilities from building new nuclear power plants. The organizers never expected their own proposed law to win, but succeeded in forcing the utilities to endorse the compromise law that prevented nuclear power expansion.
The public began to question and fear nuclear power. As the questions and concerns mounted, and as people throughout the United States learned what happened at Bodega Bay, opposition to other nuclear power plants grew. Nuclear power became a political issue.
Gradually a larger national and international anti-nuclear movement emerged. This movement offered its own world vision of soft energy paths, environmental ethics, and commitment to new democratic methods of decision making. Not all alternatives espoused were practical, but the ideas motivated policy makers to change their approach to the energy issue.
Each side in the nuclear power debate needed a dedicated following to implement its vision. Both sides played upon people’s desire to make a better world. One side promoted economic growth and centralized power generation; the other side espoused decentralization, and resource—sharing. Nuclear engineers worked to perfect the technology without questioning its limitations. The anti-nuclear movement recruited thousands of volunteers who were dedicated both to increasing the use of renewable resources, democratic decision making, and decreasing the dangers their families were facing from radiation exposure.
Each philosophy offered a means for coping with a complex world. But each philosophy also prevented adherents from evaluating the efficacy of their work. People became committed to the means of achieving change, rather than actually achieving change. For the utilities, perfecting nuclear power became more important that supplying safe, cheap, and reliable electricity. For some organizations within the anti-nuclear movement, faith in a particular method to stop nuclear power frequently became more important than acknowledging the importance of diverse tactics. The regulatory agencies, charged with scrutinizing the utility’s plans, instead acted to promote and defend the nuclear dream.
PG&E’s efforts to get the Diablo Canyon power plant in to operation is its own comedy of errors:
- Before beginning construction, PG&E refused to look off—shore for earthquake faults.
- After construction began, a fault was discovered two-and-one-half miles off-shore, but PG&E didn’t tell the community.
- Recognizing the plant was not designed to survive an earthquake along the recently discovered fault, the NRC pressured geologists to reduce the fault’s magnitude.
- The geologists refused to abdicate and the NRC looked for a new theory to make Diablo safe. Nathan Newmark, the man who believed floating the Bodega reactor on three feet of a compressible material made it able to survive earthquakes, developed , a new theory to make Diablo earthquake safe.
- PG&E installed new seismic bracings to strengthen the plant. Five years later, after PG&E had been given permission to operate the plant, a junior pipe engineer discovered the bracings had been installed backward.
- PG&E hired Bechtel Corporation to repair Diablo Canyon. Years earlier, Bechtel installed the reactor at San Onofre 2 in backward.
- Congress, bothered by PG&E’s behavior, ordered the NRC to prepare a report on the utility. The NRC complied with the order, but submitted the first draft to PG&E, and the utility removed all the critical comments.
- Before resolving all safety questions, the NRC allowed PG&E to load fuel into the reactor. The experts still doubted Diablo’s ability to survive an earthquake. Only two commissioners were on record accepting the theory that made Diablo -“earthquake safe.” Two called the theory “unsound” and said the commission refused to review it because “it would be so unsettling.”
California isn’t the only state with a history of nuclear power battles, but the story began here. This is where nuclear power promoters and opponents first confronted one another. Several utilities and anti-nuclear groups throughout the country adopted the strategies first tried in California. Understanding what happened in California helps put the atomic energy story into perspective. Memoirs of a Movement describes how people espoused a philosophy and and enables us to observe the confrontation between the participants and laugh at the theatrics they employed. A few people participated because they enjoyed the spirit of debate and competition. Others deluded themselves with y their own self—importance and sought the limelight. And some actually thought they could change the world. All sides tended to loose sight of what they created.
“It is no wonder that some people wish we
never succeeded in splitting the atom. But
atomic power, like any force in nature, is
not evil in itself. Properly used it is
an instrument of human betterment.”
—President Harry S. Truman
At the close of World War II, the men who built the atomic bomb recognized the United States and the Soviet Union were on the brink of a nuclear arms race. Only the United States had the atomic bomb, and some scientists advocated turning the technology over to an international body to lesson world tensions and create a more I trusting atmosphere. Scientists recognized that the secret of the atom was only a set of engineering procedures that other countries could easily develop. 1
Congress opposed the international regulation of atomic energy and wanted to keep the technology under American control. Not even private industry had access to the atomic secret. The American military opposed turning the technology over to civilians. However Congress didn’t want the military controlling atomic energy research and created the five member Atomic Energy Commission. The 1946 Atomic Energy Act charged the Commission with conducting atomic energy research to “assure the common defense and security,” and “as far as practical,” to “improving the public welfare, increasing the standard of living, strengthening free competition in private enterprise, l and promoting world peace.”
For all practical purposes, the Atomic Energy Commission supervised research on atomic bomb development. Preliminary studies indicated utilizing atomic energy to generate electricity was not economical. The Crowles Commission, created by the Atomic Energy Commission to study the technology’s feasibility, predicted if nuclear
power was developed at all, it would be for political considerations rather than economic considerations.2 Atomic reactors cost more to build than the type of power plant that burned oil to generate electricity. Private interests could only afford to build and operate nuclear power plants if the federal government paid an additional premium for the plutonium created in the reactor. Plutonium was needed to build bombs. But this arrangement would make nuclear power development dependent on a military subsidy. So the Atomic Energy Commission elected to build atomic reactors only to fabricate plutonium for the weapons program. Building atomic reactors to also generate electricity didn’t seem practical.
The atomic scientists opposed nuclear power development for other reasons. Precautions to protect worker health, disposal of the radioactive waste generated in the reactor, and potential accidents all constituted costs unassociated with conventional R power plants.3 The scientists who enriched uranium for the weapons program feared that nuclear power development might intensify the arms race. “Control of the use of ‘ nuclear fuels to generate power is difficult,” the scientists said. “Their existence is attended by danger of illegal diversion of bomb materials to easily concealed bomb plants. Peacetime activities and wartime activities are eighty percent identical.”4 i “Are the benefits worth the risk? We believe they are not,” the scientists continued. “We believe the problems of international control of atomic energy can be reduced to manageable proportions only by a decision not to develop industrial atomic i power for a generation.”5
Nuclear power had its advocates. Alvin M. Weinberg, also an atomic scientist told the Congress, “If by not building power plants we can avoid war, I would agree with such proposals [not to develop nuclear power]. But atomic power can cure as well as kill. We cannot and must not keep atomic power in a Pandora’s box. Rather we must develop the power to control it.”6
While Congress and the scientific community debated nuclear power’s viability, Atomic Energy Commission Chairman, David Lilienthal, traveled throughout the country making speeches about the atomic energy issue, and urged the public to stay informed. “We must make sure that he American people will have a. . . decisive say-so, in the adjustments atomic energy discoveries bring in community life, in our agriculture, educational, and industrial and military institutions. You must make dead sure that your public servants in all branches of government, civil, military, legislative and executive, all understand clearly that atomic energy is your business, the people’s business. But you must not at your peril let those technical advantages get out of your power to control and direct.”7
However, because of the secrecy provisions inherent with atomic energy development, the public was not permitted to participate in the debate. People understood the world promised by nuclear power promoters, but few understood the technical issues or the political ramifications involved. The legal profession found this disturbing. Oscar M. Ruebhausen, chairman of the New York Bar Association Committee on Atomic Energy told the organization, “Never in the history of our democracy have we been compelled to rely on so few to debate problems so vast.”8
Although mathematician Norbert Wiener favored nuclear power development, he warned, “The new centralized atmosphere of the age to come is likely to lead in the direction of ‘big brotherism’. The tendency must be countered by continuous awareness of the dangerous possibilities.”9
Not only was society excluded from the nuclear debate, the scientists themselves didn’t like working under the highly regimented environment inherent with atomic energy research. The new AEC found itself lacking the personnel needed to implement its V own program. To interest the private sector in atomic energy research and boost its own manpower, the AEC created the Industrial Advisory Group. ln December 1948, the group issued its findings:
While the hope of profit may be the primary inducement to industry in entering new venture, much more than the prospect of immediate profit is involved here. The expectation of financial reward even in the distant future—the desire for prestige, and getting an early start in an important new field. . .these are often enough. A genuine concern for the Nation’s defense would be sufficient inducement for some, regardless of the financial return.
It has been stated that industrial opportunities in atomic energy are potentially unlimited. But they are at present so shadowy that businessmen neither know where to look or what to look for.10
After issuing the report, the AEC created the Division of Reactor Development to help industry understand the opportunities in atomic energy development. Lawrence R. Hafstad served as the first director and organized a joint AEC and industry study committee to find specific jobs for industry in atomic energy development. But because the law didn’t allow private ownership of atomic power plants, opportunities for the , electric utilities were limited.
The Soviet Union’s detonation of the atomic bomb in September 1949 provided a perfect opportunity for utility involvement in nuclear power plant development. U.S. nuclear bomb production intensified, but the AEC lacked the plutonium needed to build the desired bombs. Building reactors to make plutonium was expensive and had a long i lead time. Dr. Charles A. Thomas, executive vice-president of Monsanto Chemical i Company proposed an alternative idea in a June 20th, 1950 letter to the Atomic Energy i Commission. Thomas suggested the time was ripe for industry, with its own capital, to design, construct and operate reactors for the production of plutonium and power. Under his proposal, the government paid utilities for the plutonium produced in the ‘i reactor. The fee offset the high reactor construction cost and the government still obtained plutonium cheaper than by building its own reactors. Diversifying the plutonium production facilities enhanced national security.11
The AEC, intrigued by the idea, solicited feasibility studies on “dual purpose reactors” from the private utilities and general contractors. Pacific Gas and Electric Company and Bechtel Corporation, both based in San Francisco, submitted one of the first studies. Williard H. Nutting, a PG&E mechanical engineer who worked on the study remembered, “We came up with a report saying it was feasible, but the economics were questionable.”
After approving the feasibility studies the AEC commented, ”. . .these proposals appear to offer not only an opportunity for bringing new technological and management resources into the atomic energy program; they also have oriented toward important Atomic Energy Commission objective — the production of plutonium and other important materials, together with power.”12
Lawrence R. Hafstad told the American Petroleum Institute in 1951, it was the multi-purpose reactor “rather than the imminence of cheap civilian power which lies behind the increased interest on the part of industry in certain phases of the atomic energy business.”
No one told the public about the military applications of nuclear power, or its questionable economic value. Instead, President Harry Truman reiterated nuclear power’s promise to make a better world in his January 1953 farewell address to the nation:
I believe that men can harness the forces of the atom to work for the improvement for the lot of human beings’ everywhere. That is our goal. As a nation, as a people, we must understand this problem, we must handle the force wisely through he democratic process.
It is no wonder that some people wish we never succeeded in splitting the atom. But atomic power, like any force in nature, is not evil in itself. Properly used it is an instrument of human betterment.
Atomic power will be with us all the days of our lives. We cannot legislate it out of existence. We cannot ignore the dangers or benefits it offers.
U.S. world image looked bad when the Soviet Union developed atomic energy for
electricity — while the United States developed it only for war. Some saw the Soviet’s nuclear power program as a greater threat than the country’s detonation of the atomic bomb. Consequently the United States developed nuclear power as a propaganda tool before the technology proved economical or even technically feasible. President Dwight
D. Eisenhower viewed the peaceful atom as an important pawn in world politics that could build military alliances and build a sense of hope for a better world. Eisenhower outlined his vision in a December 8, 1953 speech to the United Nations, but he didn’t mention the peaceful atom’s political purpose.
Against the dark background of the atomic bomb, the United States does not wish merely to present strength, but also the desire and hope for peace…The United States would seek more than the mere reduction or elimination of atomic materials for military purposes. It is not enough to take this weapon out of the hands of soldiers. It must be put in the hands of those who know how to strip its military casing and adapt it to arts of peace.
The United States knows that the peaceful power of atomic energy is no dream of the future. That capability, already proved, is here now — today.
Under the Atoms for Peace program, the United States exported nuclear reactors to other countries, paid for by the U.S. tax payer. Countries agreed not to utilize the reactors for weapons production. The program created the appearance that the U.S. wanted to help underdeveloped countries.
Bertram Wolfe, vice-president of General Electric, in charge of the nuclear power division later explained, “Atoms for Peace was an attempt to prevent other nations from acquiring nuclear weapons. . .The government policy was to encourage nuclear power. We at General Electric couldn’t afford not to be part of the program. Despite the pessimism in the field, we were optimistic. People thought it was a new source of energy that would save the world. It would bring energy to people who were oppressed.
The poor nations saw it as a savior. The atoms for peace program was successful “in getting moral consensus against proliferation.”
ELECTRIC UTILITIES INVEST IN NUCLEAR POWER
Even before the Atoms for Peace speech, U.S. utilities wanted to build nuclear power plants. Utility executives held seminars among themselves to share information about the technology. By 1953 the power companies actively campaigned to amend the Atomic Energy Act to allow utilities under federal license to build and operate their own nuclear plants. As the campaign intensified some members of Congress questioned if the utilities had a right to develop the technology. Some believed because the taxpayer financed the research that made nuclear power possible, the technology belonged to the people. Leland Olds, former chairman of the Federal Power Commission campaigned against the corporate takeover of nuclear power. “A small group of well informed men, representing the private utilities and their industrial allies, knows exactly how it wants the Atomic Energy Act changed and its will organized to obtain these changes.”13
Both the electric utilities and the reactor vendors lobbied Congress to amend The Atomic Energy Act. E.H. Dixon, Chairman of the Committee on Atomic Power for the Edison Electric Institute, a utilities consortium, emphasized the propaganda advantages with private nuclear power development in his May 12, 1954 testimony to Congress. “The fear. . .is not that the atom will be an unsettling social and economic force with respect to electric power industry; the fear is that some unfriendly nation may develop in a broad basis this peacetime use of the atom, with the result that that nation will symbolize the atom in industry throughout the world, leaving the implication that we symbolized the atom only in war.”14 Representative Melvin Price argued against the development of commercial nuclear power because the primary objective of the original Atomic Energy Act was to use atomic energy for defense purposes. “Fissionable material continues to be extremely scarce and costly,” he reminded the Congress. “The military use has not been scratched. Our supply of atomic weapons, while considerable in some forms, is dangerously inadequate both as to quantity and variety.”15
Price feared that changing the Atomic Energy Act would interrupt the development and production of nuclear weapons, endanger U.S. security by widening the base of security risk, handicap competitive enterprise, and promote private monopoly in the future peacetime uses of the atom. “Behind all the propaganda and agitation lies the desire to take over the peoples’ $12 billion investment for selfish and I fear monopolistic benefit,” he continued. “Behind all the tentative proposals of those who would take over the peace potentialities of atomic energy lies a federal subsidy ‘gimmick’ of one kind or another.”16
Primarily as a result of lobbying by the electric utilities and the reactor manufacturers, Congress amended the Atomic Energy Act and allowed utilities to build nuclear power plants under federal license. Under the law, utilities leased uranium fuel from the AEC and were charged an additional fee for the uranium burned in the reactor. The AEC provided credits toward future fuel purchases for the plutonium produced. Weapons—grade plutonium was worth more than fuel grade plutonium.
James Morrison, a staff counsel for the AEC, wrote in 1958 that the fuel arrangement “did not reflect the true cost of nuclear power.” Although he supported nuclear power plant development, he thought the plutonium credit program constituted a forced draft approach designed to accelerate U.S. atomic power development at an rate faster than normal economic consideration warranted. Under the arrangement, the costs of the program were born primarily by the taxpayers and utility ratepayers.
“The argument for in accelerated program is expressed in terms of consideration for international prestige — the need to maintain ‘technological leadership,’ and the need of the nation which first used the atom for destruction to emphasize to the world the depth of its concern with peaceful uses of atomic electricity,” Morrison explained. “Subsidized prices and changes may seriously distort the development of nuclear technology by unduly encouraging types of reactors which have high cost fuel cycles or produce large amounts of plutonium. Concealed subsidies, which threaten permanent distortion of reactor economics, are unjustifiable.”17
PUBLIC RELATIONS IN THE NUCLEAR INDUSTRY
To help utilities with their fledgling atomic energy program and to sell the public on the technology, the Atomic Industrial Forum organized a special seminar in 1956, to discuss public relations techniques in communities where nuclear power plants were planned.18
Gordon R. Moleworth, assistant to the manager of the Oak Ridge operations plant outlined the importance of winning local support before building a nuclear power plant:
. . . a hostile public has recourse in the nuclear power field not otherwise open to them. Small community groups aroused to local opposition by fear or apprehension can appeal to their government or their representative in congress, with an excellent chance of at least delaying the process. Such action, even if properly squelched, still can lay the foundation of suspicion and doubt . . .
[Management] in the nuclear field are going blithely along planning the site of power reactors secure in the belief that anyone would be happy to have one of these pioneering projects in his backyard. I certainly hope they are right, but I view complacency as extremely risky.”
As a precaution Moleworth suggested cultivating local support and talking with the local press and political leaders. “The little guy you need the most. . . Don’t send him a cold press release. He’ll need more background, more details. See that it’s handled personally, swing him, and you’ll probably swing the community.
Once the plant is built, Moleworth stressed, it’s important to maintain good rapport with community leaders. “If you take care of the ‘little guy’ and five years later suddenly one of your employees comes up with cancer and promptly files suite against you, you will have a good reservoir of public support and confidence which you may direly need in those days…
“Public support will discourage labor bargaining units from demanding hazards pay for all employees at the plant who wear film badges.” Public relations is “good relations,” Moleworth concluded.
The men wondered how to tell the public about potential plant accidents. Harold Beaudoin, Manager of Public Relations for the Atomic Division of General Electric warned the audience, “One incident happening in one company’s facilities could have a damaging affect on the entire program and its rate of progress. Looked at this way, wet in this industry have a mutual stake in what and how it is interpreted to the public. . .
“The chance of a major accident is probably one in a million, yet our experience A has not as yet brought us to the point where anyone can guarantee that such an incident A will not happen. Although the chance of an incident is very remote, forward—thinking public relations people must consider the risk and provide for any eventuality.” Beaudoin didn’t suggest an exact strategic approach for describing accidents, but did tell the audience about his company’s program distributing comic books throughout the school system in the United States.
Dr. Walter A. Hamilton, speaking for the Nuclear Development Corporation, reminded the audience of statement once made by Edward Teller, about nuclear power, ‘No matter how many fool proof devices we build into a reactor, there is always some fool enough to overcome them. So we have to assume we can’t make everything foolproof.”’ Tel1er’s statement never made it into the comic books.
Few people understood atomic energy, and many thought it apart of the atomic bomb program. Dr. Frank K. Pittman, deputy director of the Division of Civilian Application for the Atomic Energy Commission, told the audience, “It is one of the I major responsibilities of you and other public relations people to erase the concept of the atomic bomb and replace it with the concept of the nuclear reactor.”
Charles D. Matthews, Secretary of the Committee on Commercial Uses of Atomic I Energy for the United States Chamber of Commerce continued the talk, “You must implant in the minds of our people the picture of the constructive atom — working for I them. You must minimize the mental picture of mass destruction, and misery whenever the words atomic energy are mentioned. You must answer their questions in simple, truthful, and easy-to-understand ways. You must tell the public what it wants to know. . .
“Perhaps some of us who want to see rapid progress in converting nuclear energy for the benefit of mankind would like to underplay the radiation problem. But I think we would be less than honest with community at large if we do not face up to the issue with truth and sincerity. There is strength in truth and in strength there is understanding and acceptance. . .
“You as public relations men will have a part of the obligation of telling the advantages of atomic energy. Be honest about the problems such as uncontrolled radiation which face us and challenge the inventive genius of American Scientists and engineers.
“The point I am trying to make is you must do everything possible to create an atmosphere in which mention of the words atomic energy will call forth in the minds of our people visions of new medical discoveries and cures, new agricultural commodities, new industrial techniques — in short a better life — realizing all the time in the back of our minds, the atom can kill.”
The men started to recognize the technology’s limits. E.R. Tranpell, who once served as a public relations adviser to General Groves during the Manhattan Project said, “It is time to start telling about waste disposal. As you will know, the problem is far from licked. It will be licked because it has to be. At some point in the future this could be a sharp and mean obstacle across the path of nuclear power development and utilization of nuclear fuels.”
Dr. Robert Charpie, assistant director for the AEC’s Oak Ridge facility warned against painting too rosy a picture. “For too long we have been kidding the public that nuclear energy is going to be the panacea which solves all problems, and makes life completely comfortable, which eliminates disease, etc. It has been said on occasion, that electricity will become so cheap, because of the advent of nuclear power, that we won’t bother to meter it. It is high time that we set the record straight, that we tell the American people that nuclear electricity is not an established fact and that when it does become an established fact it will not significantly change their way of life over night.”
“Nuclear energy,” he said optimistically, “does not have to be exaggerated to be interesting, nor even sensational.” Charpie described nuclear power for what it really was “an international Olympics” with the Russians as the prime competitors and the “winner will be the nation which gives the world at the earliest possible time competitive nuclear power.” Essentially, the nuclear industry promoted the technology for its propaganda value to the United States, rather than a viable technology.
Jerome D. Lutz, editor of Nucleonics, a trade journal, took Charpie’s pronouncement a step further:
There is little question that we have been using the atom in the cold war, that we have been using nuclear information as a come-on. It is clear that consciously or unconsciously we have been keeping information classified so I that we would be offering something substantial to other nations. It has been said that declassification would seriously reduce the barter value of information. I can’t believe that the intrinsic value of information we possess is so low that it its value or appeal has to be played up by putting a secret tag on it.
But the State Department needed the nuclear carrot to build military alliances, and atomic energy remained cloaked in secrecy. The public never understood the potential dangers of nuclear power. Countries formed alliances with the United States in exchange for nuclear technology, and never realized until after the fact, that atomic energy had technical problems, and limited economic value. The nuclear industry never shared its doubts about the technology with the American public.
PREVENTING NUCLEAR POWER ACCIDENTS
Scientists recognized potential dangers with nuclear power operation, and engineers designed several back-up systems to prevent a plant accident from harming the public. If a reactor over-heated, the system was designed to shut itself off and water poured into the reactor to cool the fuel core. A reactor vessel surrounded the fuel core to prevent the escape of any radioactivity. If the reactor vessel breached, radiation still couldn’t escape because the entire reactor was surrounded with a concrete and steel dome.
Despite all the back-up systems and safety precautions, an accident remained possible. Just in case, the AEC did not allow utilities to build nuclear power plants near cities. To better understand the consequences of an accident, the AEC commissioned a study. WASH 740 assumed something went wrong at a 200,000 kilowatt plant, thirty miles from a major city. Under this scenario, radioactivity would contaminate 150,000 square miles, kill 3,400 people, and injure 43,000. Property damage could reach $7billion.
After reading WASH 740, the private insurance companies refused to sell liability insurance to utilities for a nuclear power plant accident. Thos. W. Delzel of the Portland Electric Company wrote to Representative Clinton P. Anderson of the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy about the problem. “At this time no insurance can be obtained to cover damages from an explosion of a reactor with its possible damages both locally and possibly in remote locations, owing to fallout at great distances from the plant location. Although I appreciated that a disaster of this character is extremely remote, the fact that it can occur makes the risk greater than most private utilities can afford to take.”19
Insurance companies explained to reporters their reason for not wanting to insure nuclear power plants. “The hazard is new. It differs from anything which our industry has previously called upon to insure. The catastrophe hazard is apparently many times as great as anything previously known in industry and therefore poses a major challenge.”20
Utility executives told congress they could not continue a nuclear program without insurance. The private insurance companies agreed to provide $60 million per reactor accident, and the Atomic Energy Commission recommended that the federal government underwrite the cost of all accidents. But Clinton P. Anderson limited the government’s liability to an additional $500 million. Thus the Price-Anderson Amendment to the Atomic Energy Act became law September 2, 1957, setting a $560 million liability limit for a utility. In the event of an accident, damaged persons could receive only 11¢ on the 1957 dollar.
And so the commercial atomic power program began. The AEC provided research subsidies and the federal government provided accident liability protection. Nuclear power looked good for the nation’s image and enhanced a utility’s own prestige. The positive public image and subsidies made it easy to overlook the technical and economic problems.
A Nuclear power opponent David E. Pesonen aptly described the phenomenon, “The atom has the power to mesmerize men, leading them to preposterous incantations, afflicting them with what Sir Charles Snow has called “the euphoria of gadgets.”
Footnotes to Chapter 1
1. “Atomic Energy,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January 1947, p. 1.
2. Sam Schurr, “Economic Aspects of Atomic Energy as a Power Source,” speech to the American Economic Association, January 23, 1947, published in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April-May 1947, p. 107.
3. Farrington Daniels, “Atomic Power Education,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 15, 1946, p. 1.
4. Daniel Cuthbert and Arthur M. Squires, “The International Control of Safe Atomic Energy,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April—May 1947, p. 107.
6. Alvin M. Weinberg, testifying before the Senate on the Atomic Energy Act, 1946.
7. David Lilienthal, speech to a community meeting in Crowfordsville, Indiana, published in “Atomic Energy is Your Business,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 1947, pp. 335-338.
8. Oscar M. Rubenhausen, address to the National Conference Board of Atomic Energy, October 1952, cited by Leland Olds in “Big Business Moves In,” The Nation, June 1953. e 9. Norbert Wiener, “Two Big for Private Enterprise,” The Nation, 1950, reprinted in America’s Energy, Robert Engler, editor, New York: Pantheon Books, 1980, p. 311.
10. Industrial Advisory Group, “Report to the Atomic Energy Commission,” December 15, 1948, published in Mechanical Engineering, March 1949, p. 207.
11. “report to the Industrial Advisory Group,” Journal of Reactors Science and Technology, Volume 2, Number 3, Atomic Energy Commission, TID—2503.
12. AD Hoc Advisory Committee on Co—Operation Between the Electric Power Industry and the Atomic Energy Commission, “Power Industry’s role in Atomic Energy _ Development,” March 28, 1951, published in Mechanical Engineering, September 1951, p. 702.
13. Leland Olds, “Big Business Moves In,” The Nation, June 6, 1953.
14. E.H. Dixon testifying before the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, on amendments to the Atomic Energy Act, May 12, 1954.
15. Melvin Price, statement to the House of Representatives on Amending the Atomic Energy Act, June 10, 1953, in Vital Speeches, June 15, 1953, pp. 562-565.
17. James L. Morrison, “Federal Support of Domestic Atomic Power,” Vanderbilt Law Review, December 1958, pp. 209-217.
18. Public Relations for the Atomic Industry, Proceeding of a Meeting for Members, March 19 and 20, 1956, Atomic Industrial Forum, New York —City, New York.
19. “Insurance Lack is a Threat to Atomic Power, Industry Warns,” Business Week, February 25, 1956, p. 168.