Saturday, December 15, 2007

Some Bad History from Harvey Wasserman

Harvey Wasserman has trotted out his old saw about the Paley Commission Report again.

According to Wasserman:
In 1952, President Harry Truman's Blue Ribbon “Paley Commission” Report showed that the future of American energy was with the sun and wind. Predicting 15 million solar-heated American homes by 1975, the administration pointed the way to a green, energy efficient economy. One that would have avoided the current climate crisis, and rendered the nation energy self-sufficient.

But in December, 1953, at the behest of the nuclear weapons industry, President Dwight Eisenhower told the world its energy would come from atomic reactors. The “Peaceful Atom” would provide electricity “too cheap to meter.” When no utilities would invest in it, the Republican administration offered massive subsidies, and federal insurance against liability for accidents and terror attacks. When it became clear the industry had no answer for its radioactive waste problem, the government promised to take care of it. Federal agencies promoted the technology while allegedly regulating it.

Readers who saw my earlier post on the Paley Commission know that this is a load of balderdash, but I'd like to particularly call attention to Wasserman's claim that the report "pointed the way to a green, energy efficient economy." The Paley Commission predicted the United States consuming several times as much coal in 1975 as it actually does in 2007. It predicted that nearly every imaginable natural resource would be used as fast as it could be pulled from the ground. Its predictions were, with almost no exceptions, wrong.

Much like Wasserman himself.

As for "Atoms for Peace," this isn't the way it happened... at all. There was no "behest of the nuclear weapons industry," as the nuclear weapons industry was probably the most socialized entity in US history in its early years. (My entire hometown was planned, owned, and operated by the U.S. government until 1959. I grew up going to church in a standardized, Army Corps of Engineers-issued chapel.) Also, Wasserman's claim that "no utility would invest in it" is simply wrong. American utilities risked considerable amounts of their own capital on the first-generation nuclear plants knowing that they would be unprofitable. It's true that there were subsidies, but the construction of fossil fuel plants was heavily subsidized in the 1950s as well. Simultaneously, the Soviet decision to pursue civilian nuclear technology was made before Eisenhower's 1953 speech- at a time when nuclear resources were desperately needed by the Soviet military. Indeed, Eisenhower's "Atoms for Peace" strategy was to try and cripple the Soviet nuclear weapons program by convincing them to divert fissile material to an international repository of fuel for civilian nuclear enterprises. This is widely understood by historians, but for some reason Wasserman seems incapable of acknowledging it.

No comments: