Nuclear America: Military and Civilian Nuclear Power in the United States, 1940-1980

By Gerard H. Clarfield; William M. Wiecek | Go to book overview

10
"Too Cheap to Meter"

THE COMMERCIALIZATION OF NUCLEAR POWER, 1957-1967

THE FRUSTRATIONS AND DISAPPOINTMENTS that the Kennedy administration encountered in the diplomacy of nuclear arms were notably absent in the growth of civilian nuclear power during the same period. The political conflicts of the Strauss-Eisenhower years dissolved, and power reactors seemed to establish their technological feasibility and market competitiveness with relative ease. Faster than even sanguine nuclear proponents dared predict in the 1950s, nuclear reactors came on stream and utilities rushed to place orders for nuclear plants.

The economics of America's first commercial nuclear power plant, Shippingport, were dismal: it produced electricity at a cost of 64 mills per kilowatt hour at a time when conventional coal- fired plants were producing at 6 mills per kilowatt hour. 1 But rather than daunting nuclear proponents, these figures only stimulated them to demand greater government support for the infant industry. The acrimonious dispute over reactor policy that had plagued Washington since 1955 lingered on, despite the defeat of the Gore-Holifield bill. Joint Committee Democrats, municipal utilities, and rural electric cooperatives continued to demand a more active federal role in developing commercial nuclear power, while in the AEC and in industry, the ideological stance of Lewis Strauss predominated. Strauss remained convinced that the federal role should be limited to removing impediments to wholly private reactor development (such as by

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