Seabrook Station: Citizen Politics and Nuclear Power

By Henry F. Bedford | Go to book overview

3 The Opposition

"No, No, No."

Congressman Sterling Cole, slightly bewildered, peered at the crowd and the television cameras. He knew the atomic energy legislation that he and Senator Bourke Hickenlooper had introduced was important, but hearings of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy had not previously attracted interest of the dimension he encountered that morning in the Capitol. Cole soon realized that he had blundered into the confrontation between Senator Joseph McCarthy and the United States Army, the Washington obsession of the spring of 1954. Redirected, he went off to his own committee room, musing at the paradoxical lack of public interest in the crucial legislative business in which he was absorbed.1

He was right about the significance of what became the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. Developed to give practical expression to President Dwight Eisenhower's vision of the peaceful use of atomic fission, the law ended the government's monopoly of atomic technology and laid the basis for private commercial applications of wartime atomic research. There was, in 1954, little national guilt about the use of nuclear weapons, and the prospect that the atom would soon produce power, profits, and abundance for a peaceful world helped to allay any emerging ethical unease. Lewis Strauss, the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), not only promised electricity "too cheap to meter" but attributed knowledge of atomic structure to divine intervention: "A Higher Intelligence decided that man was ready to receive" nature's secret, Strauss wrote; not to use the gift would obstruct God's purpose.2

Although the Atomic Energy Act encountered some congressional opposition, the general proposition that fission should be adapted to peaceful use, including the generation of electricity, was not seriously

-64-

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Seabrook Station: Citizen Politics and Nuclear Power
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Abbreviations xv
  • Chronology xvii
  • 1 - Introduction 3
  • 2 - The Environment 31
  • 3 - The Opposition 64
  • 4 - Money and Management 94
  • 5 - Emergency Planning 125
  • 6 - Conclusion 162
  • Epilogue 200
  • Notes 203
  • Index 217
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