]]]]]]]]]]] 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 censored: "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.
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