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Nuclear Electricity And The Citizen's Rights

          Every aspect of the determined public relations campaign of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, and the electric utility industry shows an infringement on the rights of U.S. citizens. The misuse of public funds for this purpose should raise the eyebrows of even the most cynical observer.

          In the Declaration of Independence are the following historic words:

      "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness . . ."

          It is becoming increasingly clear that our democratic rights to the pursuit of happiness, in the form of a livable environment, are being seriously curtailed.

          It is no secret that we face an environmental crisis of deep proportions because technological developments have resulted in massive pollution of our air, our land, our rivers, streams and oceans. It is also no secret that electric power generation is a major offender. Not only does the generation of electricity pollute in a serious and direct way; it also provides the power for a host of additional industries which pollute massively.

          Platitudes abound from the electric utility industry and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission concerning electric power "needs." Facts are curiously lacking.

          Instead of a painstaking analysis of how increasing electric power delivery was being used, the dogma was advanced that electricity production must increase 10 percent per year, as it did for several years, far, far into the future. Projections of this, at least to the year 2000, are commonplace. This dogmatic projection, in the total absence of any rational examination, represents a national disgrace.

          Cliches such as "power means progress," or "we need more cheap electric power," or "growth is the cornerstone of civilization" are quite shopworn and overtly dangerous for the continued existence of life on earth. But no forum has been opened to consider the issue of optimum electric power production.

Flameless electric heat is pure fresh, so clean, so right for your family
The electric power industry promotes increased consumption of electricity through expensive ads like this one. The electric heating promoted here not only requires vast amounts of electricity, it's also more wasteful than any other form of heating. In order to produce 1 unit of electric heat, 2½ units of fossil fuel are burned. And in the process, 1½ units of heat are totally wasted.

          The electric utility industry and the Atomic Energy Commission have been conducting a joint public relations campaign to sell the 10 percent annual growth in electric power production as a magical requirement of existence. And they pay for the campaign with public funds! This misuse of taxpayer funds by AEC is a scandal. The AEC admits doubling its public relations staff from 35 to 70 full-time Public Relations people, to "sell" the atom. Instead, the AEC and the electric utility industry should be sponsoring a serious public forum on the subject of electric power requirements.

          Indirectly, the electric utility industry is using tax money to brainwash the public through ads in national magazines, TV spots, etc. What funds the utilities expend are regarded as part of their tax deductible "costs." The public pays for these in addition to the regular charges it pays to provide a profit for the utilities.

          So two groups—the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (and its Congressional Joint Committee patrons) and the electric utility industry—both promote their wares, with an apparent disregard for the public's right to understand, and participate in a meaningful debate and decision concerning electric power requirements. This represents blatant disfranchisement of the public—use of public funds for propaganda without any public participation.

          The inalienable rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are even more seriously infringed upon by the development of nuclear electricity in its rash proliferation. Very few citizens are aware of two major ways this comes about.

          For many Americans, the purchase of a home is an important step in their pursuit of happiness. And because of the risk to that happiness, inherent in a loss of their home, Americans are accustomed to buying home insurance to protect that crucial investment of life savings. Little known to most Americans is the presence of a "Nuclear Exclusion" clause in their homeowner's insurance policy. A typical set of nuclear exclusion clauses from a Homeowners' policy issued by Hartford Insurance Group (one of the nation's largest and most reliable insurance companies) are as follows:

      2. Nuclear Clause—Section 1: The word "fire" in this policy or endorsements attached hereto is not intended to and does not embrace nuclear reaction or nuclear radiation or radioactive contamination, all whether controlled or uncontrolled, and loss by nuclear reaction or nuclear radiation or radioactive contamination is not intended to be and is not insured against by this policy or said endorsements, whether such loss be direct or indirect, proximate or remote, or be in whole or in part caused by, contributed to, or aggravated by "fire" or any other perils insured against by this policy or said endorsements; however, subject to the foregoing and all provisions of this policy, direct loss by "fire" resulting from nuclear reaction or nuclear radiation or radioactive contamination is insured against by this policy.

      3. Nuclear Exclusion—Section 1: This policy does not insure against loss by nuclear reaction or nuclear radiation or radioactive contamination, all whether controlled or uncontrolled, or due to any act or condition incident to any of the foregoing, whether such loss be direct or indirect, proximate or remote, or be in part caused by, contributed to, or aggravated by any of the perils insured against by this policy; and nuclear reaction or nuclear radiation or radioactive contamination, all whether controlled or uncontrolled, is not "explosion" or "smoke." This clause applies to all perils insured against hereunder except the perils of fire and lightning, which are otherwise provided for in the nuclear clause contained above.

          Many citizens are under the illusion that such exclusion clauses apply to nuclear war. Nothing could be further from the truth. If a nuclear electricity plant (or any of its necessary related activities, transport, fuel cleaning, or waste disposal) results in radioactive contamination of one's home, these nuclear exclusion clauses in homeowners' policies mean the citizen may lose the investment in his home, even though he has taken the wise precaution of buying insurance.

          The astounded citizen might ask why the insurance industry sees fit to make a special exclusion of nuclear or radioactivity damage to his home. The insurance industry does not add a premium for coverage against radioactivity or nuclear damage. They just refuse to insure.

          What nuclear or radioactivity damage worries the insurance companies? Is it nuclear war? Hardly. For if it were, they could readily so specify in the policy.

          Clearly, the insurance industry, known for carefully protecting its profits, has taken very definite notice of the burgeoning nuclear electric power industry. It is obvious that it doesn't like what it sees at all. This lack of confidence in the safety of the nuclear electricity industry is expressed by the Nuclear Exclusion clauses in homeowners' policies. Underwriters refuse to risk dollars on the fail-safe formula developed for the nuclear electricity industry.

          Considering the insurance industry's long history as a profit-maker, the public would be well advised to take heed of its extreme skepticism.

          The insurance companies saw the nuclear electricity industry as a hazard, and moved quickly to protect themselves. The public is denied a similar opportunity.

The Constitutionally Questionable Price-Anderson Act

          In the earliest days of the peaceful atom, there were wildly optimistic projections that electric power would become so inexpensive through nuclear electricity generation that metering the electricity would be hardly worthwhile. Those economic forecasts have proved sadly incorrect. In spite of massive subsidies by the federal government, direct and indirect, nuclear electricity is hardly holding its own against fossil-fueled electricity generation. And, it must be pointed out, the latter receives no federal assistance.

          The Atomic Energy Establishment, embarrassed by its great promises and great expenditures, wanted to make some public showing that nuclear electricity generation was moving ahead, as advertised. But the leaders of the electric utility industry were disinclined to invest in nuclear power, lacking insurance coverage against possibly catastrophic nuclear accidents. The private insurance industry, feeling that the risk of accidents was unknown, would no more insure the industry against major nuclear accidents than it would the public.

          The AEC sponsored one well-known study of the potential cost of a serious accident in nuclear electricity generation. The published results (Report Wash-740, known as The Brookhaven Report), which considered reactors only 1/5 the size of those currently being developed and planned, still concluded that a serious accident could produce monetary losses up to 7 billion dollars—over and above the injuries and losses of life!

          There is no evidence that new reactor-developments have lessened the potential money losses to be faced with a major accident. Engineering developments may have cut the risk of certain accidents, but the larger capacity of the newer plants may have offset this. Indeed, no estimate has been made that excludes an even larger possible loss from the new, highly experimental, nuclear electricity reactors.

          So the private insurance companies refused full coverage for nuclear electricity plants, and the electric utility industry would not risk construction and operation of nuclear electricity generating stations without insurance coverage. An impasse had arrived in the development of "the peaceful atom." Sensing that their major promotion was in jeopardy, the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy came forth with a fantastically bold solution.

          A bill was proposed, known as the Price-Anderson Act, which simply eliminated individual liability in the event of a major accident in a nuclear electricity plant. Originally this act set 500 million dollars as the maximum liability for a single nuclear plant disaster (more recently extended to 560 million dollars). And, in addition, all but 60 million dollars of the insurance up to this limit was to be provided by the U.S. taxpayer. So if we consider the 7 billion dollar potential loss projected by the Brookhaven report, we note that private insurance carriers, in spite of governmental prodding, refused to cover more than one percent of the potential loss. This probably makes nuclear-electricity generation one of the least attractive insurance risks known.

          The key point, over and above the lack of confidence of the insurance industry in nuclear electricity plants, is the utter disregard of personal rights the Price-Anderson Act represents for the average citizen. Since the maximum coverage is 560 million dollars per nuclear electricity accident, and since the damage can run to 7 billion dollars, in a serious accident, the individual might recover only 7 cents out of every dollar lost, assuming he is lucky enough to emerge from such an accident with his life.

          The insurance industry will not suffer. The electric utility industry will not suffer. Through the generous manipulations of the U.S. Congress (prodded by the Joint Committee), only the citizen will suffer—in the name of progress.

          If the Price-Anderson Act were repealed, as assuredly it should be, it is extremely doubtful that any future nuclear electricity generating plants would be built above ground. Indeed, it is extremely doubtful that any electric utility company would be so foolhardy as to continue operation of nuclear electricity plants already built.

          Electric utility propagandists, and atomic energy entrepreneurs, state that the extreme skepticism of the insurance industry shouldn't put anyone off. The insurance industry, they tell us, refuses to underwrite the risk simply because there is no prior "experience" upon which to base an estimate of the risk of major nuclear power plant accidents. Precisely.

          But there is much more to it than this simple truth. The industry is saying, in a most persuasive manner, that they (the insurance industry) have no confidence whatever in the hopeful, optimistic safety calculations of nuclear electricity propagandists, certainly not enough confidence to risk dollars.

          Another area of disfranchisement of citizens by the nuclear electricity industry must be clearly understood. The Atomic Energy Commission and the electric utility industry are well aware of the public's great skepticism concerning the safety of nuclear electric plants. So they resort to a form of public relations that might easily be construed as bribery.

          For a variety of obvious economic reasons, power companies prefer to install their nuclear-electricity-generating plants as close as possible to the heart of major metropolitan centers. Such installations mean minimum transmission costs and losses in delivering power from production site to site of utilization. If they could get away with it, the utilities would place these plants directly in the major metropolitan centers. Indeed, if the nuclear plants were as safe as the propagandists claim, there would be no reason not to do so.

          Realizing they are ill-prepared to answer questions that may be raised in such a large community, the utility companies shrewdly avoid these locations. There is little that can make installation of a nuclear-electric power plant look attractive in a major city.

          But, in dealing with the small community, located near a major metropolitan center, a workable promotion scheme is available to the electric utility industry, along with the probable absence of the sophisticated knowledge of the real hazards. This promotional scheme deserves careful examination, since it is used repeatedly to take advantage of millions of citizens.

          A small community is chosen, generally less than 20,000 population, some 20-40 miles from a major metropolitan population center. Of course, anyone even mildly conversant with nuclear-accident hazards realizes that a major nuclear plant accident, that close, can easily endanger a million or more residents, in a major metropolitan center, through the spread of radioactive poisons.

Go play in the nuclear power park
The AEC and the electric power industry spend millions promoting the idea that atomic energy is safe and clean.

          The "softening-up" begins with an advance guard of utility propagandists whose job it is to convince the officials of the small community and its Chamber of Commerce that jobs will be created. The odor of money flowing into a community works magic. And the citizens of a small community are mesmerized by the prospect of a reduction in their taxes, such taxes ostensibly to be paid instead by the nuclear electric plant. These economic "incentives" are hard to resist. Such attractive lures are accompanied by that classic blandishment, "Nuclear Power Plants are Good Neighbors," a homespun slogan designed to make one almost expect the nuclear power plant to baby-sit, restore happiness to broken homes, or play pinochle with the old folks.

          In a recent example of such blatant gimmickry, a group known as MEPP is perpetrating this scheme on the small community of Ipswich, Massachusetts. The major target for disfranchisement is Boston. The MEPP group labels itself as dedicated "To Conserve Ecology." MEPP publishes a monthly, entitled "Plum Island Sounding News," distributed without charge to the residents of Ipswich. The "News" presents a blissful description of nuclear electricity's wonders, dismissing at the same time, any real consideration of the hazards such a plant presents. And the "News" proclaims in a full-page highlight:

          Tax base Without Nuclear Plant . . . $66 per $1000.

          Tax Base With Nuclear Plant . . . $24 per $1000.

          Thus, through a set of economic enticements, perpetrated upon a community of less than 20,000 residents, plus a whitewash of nuclear hazards, a great city of millions can be placed in jeopardy, without having any opportunity to participate in the decision.

          This devious approach is used repeatedly throughout the country, with minor variations. The net effect is that 90 percent of all United States citizens can be placed at risk, powerless to do anything about this anti-democratic procedure that somehow characterizes nuclear-electricity promotion. Such publications as the "Plum Island Sounding News" are designated "educational," so, of course, the taxpayer foots the bill for them.

          We must consider the "educational" effort practiced by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in more detail. In a recent speech, Mr. Howard Brown, Assistant General Manager of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, gave a talk entitled "The AEC Goes Public: A Case Study in Confrontation."[1] As everyone knows, the AEC has been spending taxpayer dollars to sell the public on the wonders of nuclear electricity for many years, while carefully glossing-over any adverse information about the hazards of nuclear electricity generation. Mr. Brown starts out with a lament:

          "We've had a public information program for 20 years and a lot of effort has gone into it. For example, we've put out something like 10,000 press releases. We have a film library of some 11,000 prints. We've put out some 50 annual and semi-annual reports. We've made hundreds of speeches over the years, held scores of news conferences, and have circumnavigated the globe many times over spreading the gospel of the peaceful atom. Despite this, the message wasn't getting through. So, last Spring, the Commission decided to take a more direct, a more personalized approach.

          "Since last March, the Commissioners and the staff have attended 39 public meetings on the environment. delivered some 22 speeches on the environment, and attended 10 Congressional Hearings, and submitted over 300 pages of testimony. We've prepared 66 articles on environment-related matters. Over 140,000 copies of our booklet, entitled Nuclear Power in the Environment, have been distributed. We've more than doubled our staff effort in headquarters from approximately 35 man-years to over 70 man-years, not counting regulatory activities . . ."

          In spite of this massive infusion of taxpayer dollars into propaganda, the public resistance to nuclear-electric-power generation has grown remarkably. In fact, the more propaganda the AEC puts out, the more public indignation rises, for obvious reasons. The public is far more intelligent than Mr. Brown realizes. Facing the specter of a technology that can potentially eliminate the continued existence of all living things on earth, the public is indeed interested to hear about atomic power, but what they want is hard information, not the "gospel of the peaceful atom."

          The AEC wants to provide information—that is, one-sided information. When a nuclear plant is planned for a region, the AEC will gladly send speakers, all expenses paid by the U.S. taxpayer, to tell the residents of the area how perfectly safe nuclear-electricity generation is.

          But, if those same residents want speakers to discuss the potential hazards of nuclear power generation, they must locate these speakers themselves and then pay for them out of their own funds. Is this what the AEC calls helping to present a "balanced" picture?

          If there is anything the AEC cannot handle, it is an honest, open forum discussion of the hazards of nuclear electricity generation. Operating within the safe confines of its own public relations circuses, the AEC fares very well. It can slander critics, preach "the gospel," and whitewash all hazards. Recently we determined to find out whether the Atomic Energy Commission could stand the light of scrutiny by a jury of unbiased scientists. The following challenge was issued. (January 28, 1970)


      "Chairman Holifield, we urge you to nominate a jury of eminent persons, physicists, chemists, biologists, physicians, Nobel Prize Winners, or National Academy of Science members, or American Association for Advancement of Science members—none of whom have any atomic energy ax to grind. We urge you to serve as Chairman of a debate. Dr. Tamplin and I will debate each and every facet of the evidence concerning the serious hazard of Federal Radiation Council Guidelines against the entire AEC Staff plus anyone they can get from their 19-odd laboratories, singly, serially, or in any combination.

      With their 20-year background on this problem and their large staff to draw on, they should be razor-sharp at a moment's notice. We are ready now. If there is any valid reason for questioning our submission to peers and for questioning our evidence, this eminent jury of peers will certainly determine so. If the debate before eminent peers is not held, then by default, We think the entire country and the world will know the answer without further question."

          In spite of numerous repeat offers to the AEC for such an open-forum debate on these most crucial issues, the AEC remains in hiding. And yet, education of the public is supposed to be a major obligation of the Atomic Energy Commission.

          Nuclear electricity, as can be seen from everything discussed here, is being promoted with an impressive disregard for citizens' rights. A total lack of candor characterizes proponents' presentation of the hazard considerations. Gimmicks are used to disfranchise the citizens of major metropolitan centers. Citizens stand to lose their property, without compensation, in the event of nuclear accidents—assuming they are lucky enough to preserve their lives!

  1. "The AEC Goes Public, A Case Study in Confrontation," Howard C. Brown, Jr. Delivered before the Atomic Industrial Forum's Tropical Conference on Nuclear Public Information, Los Angeles, California, Feb. 11, 1970. Available through the Atomic Industrial Forum, New York, NY.

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