]]]]]]]]]]]     TOO CHEAP TO METER: ANATOMY OF A LIE      [[[[[[[[[[[[ 

     The biggest lie put in the the nuclear industry's mouth is the 
alleged claim that an accident like Three Mile Island couldn't happen.
     The second biggest, also put in its mouth, is that it promised 
nuclear power would be too cheap to meter.
     The opposite is true: in the 1950s, when plans for nuclear power 
were drawn up and the first power reactors for civilian use were being 
designed, it was clear to everybody involved that nuclear power could 
not then compete with the cost of fossil fuels. The reason why the 
venture was undertaken nevertheless was the hope that by technical 
advances and economies of size, the cost could be brought down to that 
of fossil fuels within a decade or two. (See, for example, testimony 
by H.D. Smyth, an AEC member, to the Congressional Joint Comm. on 
Atomic Energy, June 2, 1957.)
     The hope was fulfilled, and fulfilled earlier than anticipated. 
Before political roadblocks were put in its way, nuclear energy became 
competitive with coal, and in many countries, such as Germany, the 
cost dropped way below that of coal. But roadblocks or not, in 1973, 
and even more in 1979, the price of oil went so high that it is un-
likely ever to compete with nuclear energy again. In fact, what 
brought oil prices down after 1981 was largely the substitution of 
nuclear energy for oil in power generation, mainly in Europe.
     Where, then, did the phrase "too cheap to meter" originate?
     It was used by Lewis L. Strauss in an address to the Ntl. Assn. 
of Science Writers in New York on 16 Sept. 1954. The fact that he was 
Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and not a member of the nu-
clear industry is a technicality, which would not in itself make the 
statement a lie. 
     What makes it a lie is that he used it in connection with the 
eradication of disease and other scientific marvels that he expected 
to occur at some time in the faraway future. He first reviewed some of 
the breakthroughs that had taken place in the 15 years before his 
speech in 1954, including unlimited power and the ability to investi-
gate the working of living cells by tracer atoms. Then he came to the 
sentence that contains the phrase and whose remainder is invariably 
     "It is not too much to expect that our children will enjoy in 
their homes electricity too cheap to meter, -- will know of great 
periodic regional famines in the world only as matters of history, -- 
will travel effortlessly over the seas and under them and through the 
air with a minimum of danger at great speeds, -- and will experience a 
lifespan far longer than ours as disease yields and man comes to 
understand what causes him to age."
     That sentence, in its entirety, should be eaten by every brain-
washer who uses the "too cheap to meter" lie; it is EXACTLY the same 
as accusing the medical profession of having claimed in 1954 that we 
"will experience a far longer lifespan as we understand what causes us 
to age."
     As a matter of fact, as early as 1958 the nuclear industry did 
explicitly warn that "atomic energy will never be too cheap to meter" 
(more on this and the above in "Too cheap to meter," Background Info, 
Feb. 1987, USCEA, 1776 I St. NW, Washington, DC 20006).
     But I do not believe the nuclear industry will turn out to be 
right on this point. I expect that some time during the global life-
span of nuclear as the dominant energy -- perhaps 2010 to 2070 -- 
residential electric power will indeed become too cheap to meter. 
     The reson for my optimism is a very lowly substance: salt. In 
some landlocked parts of Europe during the Middle Ages it was at times 
so scarce that it was used as a "currency" like gold. And look at it 
now: it still does not come for free, and when you go out for dinner, 
it is still included in the total price for the entire meal.
     But it is too cheap to meter.

Return to the ground floor of this tower
Return to the Main Courtyard
Return to Fort Freedom's home page