Three Mile Island: These cooling towers
became one of the most familiar sites in the nation as we all awaited the
outcome of the accident at a nuclear power plant. This particular danger is
past. But it has given some people second thoughts about our reliance on
nuclear power. Yet it provides fully 13 percent of our electricity now. We
need more energy. Should we build more nuclear plants, or should we say
"Enough—we stop here?"
Good evening and welcome to The Advocates. I'm
Michael Dukakis. Tonight we're coming to you from the campus of Ohio State
University here in Columbus, Ohio. And we are the guests of the Pro Con
Series of Forum Debates presented by the Department of Communication here at
Ohio State University.
What course should we take with respect to nuclear power? Is
it a technology which has gone far enough, and should we take steps to end
it? Or is it safe enough and dependable enough to be a reliable source of
energy for our future? President Carter has said that we must continue to
rely on nuclear energy. But he has also said that we should do so only as a
last resort. And while about 13 percent of our total electric energy needs
are supplied today by nuclear energy in this country, in some parts of the
country, notably places like Chicago and Vermont, that number is more than
50 percent. Tonight's ADVOCATES debate has something new and different. I
hope it's going to be interesting, and I hope it's not going to be too
There are a great many people who are watching us here in
Columbus, Ohio, who are part of a cable television system known as the QUBE
system. And they have buttons connected to their television sets which
permit them to respond almost instantaneously to questions that I'm going to
be asking them during the course of tonight's debate.
And I'm going to put the first question to our QUBE system
viewers now, and it is this: Before you've heard tonight's arguments, how do
you feel generally about nuclear power? Do you favor it? Do you oppose it?
Or are you as yet undecided? If you favor it, please push button number 1.
If you oppose it, please push button number 2; and if you are still
undecided, please push button number 3; and please respond now.
While we're waiting for the tally on that first question to
our QUBE system viewers, I should tell our national audience that this is
not a scientifically selected or representative sample either of the people
in Columbus, Ohio, or the people of our nation; but we want to involve our
QUBE system viewers; and we're going to be doing so. And let's now turn and
see if we have a tally.
Fifty-five percent of our QUBE system viewers favor nuclear
power, 26 percent oppose, and 18 percent are undecided. Mr. Roisman, you've
got your work cut out for you this evening.
Now let's turn to our advocates, and our first advocate who
will be presenting his witnesses and making an opening, is advocate Anthony
Roisman. He is a staff attorney for the National Resources Defense Council,
and he opposes the further construction of nuclear power plants, which is
our question this evening—"Should we stop construction of nuclear power
plants?" Mr. Roisman—
Thank you. The recent accident at the Three Mile
Island nuclear plant has shown that we cannot continue to take the risk of
nuclear power. With me to prove my case tonight are physicist Michio Kaku,
energy analyst Charles Komanoff, and environmentalist Barry Commoner.
Seventy-two nuclear power plants are licensed to operate in
the United States; but this year alone, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
has ordered 20 percent of them shut down because of serious safety problems.
A presidential commission recently reported that we cannot be assured that
we have a satisfactory way to dispose of our nuclear waste. And a
just-released report by a committee of the National Academy of Sciences
indicates that low level radiation may be substantially more serious to our
health than we had previously assumed. Not surprisingly, new orders for
nuclear power plants have essentially disappeared, and plants already on
order have been canceled or deferred for a substantial period of time. The
continuing nuclear meltdown is making even more obvious the fact that
superior alternative energy systems will work. With energy efficiency, not
doing without—but doing better with what we already have, and with solar
energy, we can easily halt the further construction of nuclear power plants
and begin a phase out of the plants already in operation. We will prove that
case tonight. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Roisman. Advocate Avi Nelson says,
We can't afford to have a moratorium on nuclear
power. We should continue to use atomic energy in the United States. With me
tonight to help me make this case, two distinguished witnesses, Dr. David
Rossin, senior nuclear engineer from Commonwealth Edison and Professor Alan
Manne, professor of Operations Research at Stanford University.
We're arguing tonight the cause of moderation against the
extremes. We don't think that there is any viable form of energy that should
be eliminated. We see long lines building again at gasoline stations. And it
indicates that we continue to depend on foreign oil only at our peril. The
fact is that the safety record for nuclear power is better than for the
fossil fuels of oil and gas. It's more economical than oil and gas. And
sure, we should develop alternative technologies; but the fact is that at
the present time, and for the foreseeable future, unfortunately, these
technologies simply do not exist. All we are asking tonight is that while we
continue to research and develop those technologies, we should also continue
to develop and research nuclear power so that atomic energy, safe and
economical, can continue to be used by the people of the United
Thank you, gentlemen. We'll get to your cases in
just a moment. But first, a word of clarification about tonight's
Stopping construction of nuclear power plants, the question
we debate this evening, means, at a minimum, that no new plants will be
ordered, that those under construction, unless substantially complete—and by
that I mean more than 50 percent completed—should not be completed or
opened, and that the plants now in operation should be phased out as quickly
as they can be replaced. That means that for all practical purposes, there
would be no nuclear plants in operation in this country 20 to 30 years from
now. We're going to be going to the cases of our advocates and their
witnesses in a moment, but let me put now another question to our QUBE
What do you think is the most serious nuclear safety
problem. Is it a major accident, low level radiation, or the disposal of
radioactive waste? If you think it is a major accident, please push button
number 1 of your set. If you think it is low level radiation, please push
button number 2. If you think it is the disposal of radioactive waste,
please push button number 3. And if you are undecided, please push button
number 4; and please respond now.
And now, Mr. Roisman, would you call your first
My first witness tonight is physicist Michio
Welcome to The Advocates, Mr. Kaku. Before we
begin the questioning, let's turn now to our survey and our monitor and see
just what our audience thinks about safety problems affecting nuclear.
Thirty-two percent of our QUBE system audience believes
that it's a major accident which is the most serious safety problem
affecting nuclear. Six percent think it's low level radiation. Sixty percent
think it's the disposal of radioactive waste, and only 2 percent don't have
an opinion on that issue. Mr. Roisman, you may begin.
Mr. Kaku, in the past, the nuclear industry has
seriously misled the American public about the safety risks and about the
economics of nuclear power. Now that the accident at Three Mile Island has
occurred, they've assured us that it's the first time there's been a major
accident at a civilian nuclear power facility. Is that the truth?
That statement is totally false. The government has
been less than candid concerning the history of major accidents at nuclear
installations. In fact, the Harrisburg accident marks at least the seventh
major accident, including explosions and partial meltdowns at nuclear
installations. For example, in Detroit, 1966, there was a partial meltdown,
which almost required the evacuation of one and a half million people from
the city of Detroit. One, two fuel bundles out of 105 fuel bundles melted
down completely. The force of detonation of the reactor would have been
about 20 tons of TNT, a small atomic bomb. That was a breeder reactor.
Look at Alabama—1975—there was a major fire which wiped out
over half the back-up systems. The water level descended dangerously low to
about four feet above the reactor. The reactor core was almost exposed, and
we almost lost a good portion of Alabama in that accident.
All right. Mr. Kaku, what about the claim that no
one has been hurt or injured as the result of the operation of nuclear power
plants? Can you briefly tell us—is that the truth?
That's also incorrect. If you look at the recent
government reports concerning the Three Mile Island, the government now
concedes that one to ten people will eventually die of cancer in the Three
Mile Island area. Now, that figure of one to ten deaths does not include the
workers who were exposed to maybe hundreds of times the normal dose. It does
not include the radiation levels recorded for the first, second day. And it
does not include other forms of radiation recorded at the site. So you see
that that figure is probably on the low side, and the, the National Academy
of Sciences has recently published a report stating that there will be 2,000
deaths due to cancer before the year 2000, due to the generation of nuclear
Finally, the nuclear industry tells us that after
Three Mile Island, they've learned their lesson; and now, nuclear power
plants will be safe. Can you briefly tell us—is that the truth?
Well, we learned a few things at Three Mile Island;
but just a few days ago, at Oyster Creek, New Jersey, we almost had an
instant replay of the Three Mile Island. The same operator error, the same
read—, misreading of the gauges, the same failure of a valve; and in this
site, the water levels again became dangerously low—about five feet above
the core. Now, this is not to mention the nuclear waste program, which is
also unsolvable. The nuclear waste program, okay, hasn't come to a halt
because we don't know what to do with the hundreds of tons of waste
products. Each reactor produces about 30 tons per year.
Mr. Kaku, I'm sorry I have to interrupt. But we've
got to turn now to Mr. Nelson, who has some questions for you.
Thank you, Mr. Dukakis.
Mr. Kaku, you listed, or you cited the seven
serious accidents of nuclear power. Could you site seven serious accidents
with regard to coal or gas and oil or hydroelectric?
There's no doubt that the generation of coal, okay,
poses a serious health hazard, if you look at the casualty figures of black
lung disease among miners, or if you look at the cave-ins. But there is a
qualitative difference between coal and nuclear power, and that is that coal
plants don't detonate like breeder reactors; and coal plants don't melt
As a matter of fact, isn't it true, isn't it
Mr. Nelson, let's let Mr. Kaku finish briefly; and
then we'll go on to another question.
So, you are correct in stating that there have been
major accidents in, in coal-fired plants—
Yes, and isn't it true—
—and in coal mines.
I wasn't thinking of coal mines so much as the
deaths that occur because of respiratory problems, estimated between two and
two hundred people die a year because of the use of coal. And there have
been countless deaths, or at least countless explosions, gas asphyxiations,
accidents on the road, because of gasoline. And, of course, there have been
numerous accidents with hydroelectric, haven't there?
In fact, there have been, a number of people have
been killed because of those technologies, numbered in the thousands, isn't
Well, then, isn't this, isn't this basically the
problem, then, Mr. Kaku? Don't we have to, instead of focusing on nuclear
energy, now everybody is familiar with Three Mile Island and the talk about
the problems of radiation with health hazards, but don't we also have to
talk about the health hazards and the risks with the other
That's correct. If you look at uranium mining
compared to coal mining, uranium mining, the miners have a casualty rate of
about 5 percent, which is comparable to the casualty rate in the mining of
coal. So you see that uranium miners do get flooded with uranium oxide
particles in their lungs which will eventually cause cancer.
But, of course, we mine considerably less uranium;
and again, I emphasize that I was talking about the health of the general
public. Let me talk now about the question of radiation. Do you think that
there is a risk of radiation because of the ordinary operation of nuclear
That's correct. In the operation of nuclear power
plants, you do have the emission of radioactive radon, argon, krypton, and
Is it a health hazard?
Also, you have numerous spills. You have numerous
small accidents—about two thousand eight hundred accidents in the year
Isn't it true, Mr. Kaku, that the amount of
radiation that comes from a coal plant, not a coal mine—a coal plant, is
larger than that from a nuclear plant; and if the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission, the N.R.C., had jurisdiction over the coal plants, their
radiation standard is such that the coal plants would be shut down. As a
matter of fact, Grand Central Station in New York couldn't get licensed.
There is higher radiation there than coming from nuclear power plants, isn’t
Mr. Kaku, if you can, this will have to be a brief
Right. I think these figures are misleading; because
if you take a look at the radon gas, there is a considerable amount of radon
gas coming from coal mines. But I repeat, coal mines do not melt down in
Class 9 accidents requiring evacuation of up to the state of Pennsylvania
according to government reports.
Mr. Kaku, thank you very much for being with us on
The Advocates. Appreciate it.
Mr. Roisman will be presenting his second witness in a
moment. But let me pose another question to our QUBE system audience. Which
do you believe would be the cheapest way to generate electricity in the
future? Is it nuclear? Is it coal? Is it solar energy? If nuclear, will you
please push button number 1 in your set. If you believe it's coal that's
cheapest, please push button number 2, if solar, button number 3, if you're
undecided, button number 4; and please respond now. Now, Mr. Roisman, would
you call another witness please.
My next witness is energy analyst Charles
Welcome to The Advocates, Mr. Komanoff. Nice to
have you with us. Lets see what our viewing audience in Columbus thinks
about the question that I posed to them. Which is cheapest? Twenty-one
percent think it's nuclear, 25 percent think it's coal, and 51 per- Three
percent have no opinion. Mr. Roisman—
Well, Mr. Komanoff, do we need nuclear power for
our energy supply?
Well, today nuclear power provides only 13
percent of our electricity, which amounts to only 2 percent of all the
energy we use.
So, we're not talking about doing very much coal
in lieu of nuclear energy at all tonight, are we?
No, not at all.
Do we need it because it's so cheap? The audience
seems to think maybe not. What do you think?
Well, the audience is ahead of the utilities on
this question. Nuclear power may have been cheap in the early days. But its
costs have been skyrocketing. Since 1972 alone, the cost of nuclear
electricity has increased by 350 percent, which is about half again as great
as the rate of increase for coal-fired electricity; so that nuclear today is
certainly more extensive than coal electricity.
is it a cheap substitute for oil?
No, because only one tenth of our oil is used to
make electricity. If nuclear is going to displace oil, that means that our
heating and transportation systems where we use most of our oil are going to
have to convert to electricity. But this would be prohibitively expensive.
The cost of providing a barrel of oil's energy equivalent from a nuclear
plant completed today would be between 50 and 100 dollars per barrel,
whereas oil is still only $20 per barrel.
What would be a sounder energy policy for this
country than continued reliance on nuclear power?
We must begin the transition to a solar economy,
which Dr. Commoner will discuss. And part of that transition involves
increasing the efficiency with which we use our energy.
Do you mean doing without, turning down the
No, not at all. I mean increasing our efficiency
so that we can obtain more energy services, more heating and lighting and
transportation, without increasing the amount of energy resources we
consume. For example, if we improve our automobile efficiencies by just
three miles per gallon, that would save the equivalent of our entire nuclear
power output today.
What about elsewhere? Do we have a lot of energy
that we can save?
The potential for increased energy efficiency
goes across the entire spectrum of energy use. Let's look at American
industry, which uses one third of our energy. The efficiency improvements
which have been made in our factories since 1973 are today saving three
times the energy that we now get from nuclear power. The same kind of
figures apply for the heating and cooling of buildings, in appliances,
everywhere that we use energy.
So essentially, energy conservation can displace
the need for nuclear power. But how expensive will it be if we continue to use nuclear
power? What will that cost us?
Well, it's hard to put a number on it. But
certainly the cost of patching up our existing nuclear plants would be
great, and that's no guarantee that we won't have more accidents, more
serious than Three Mile Island; and certainly, the cost of continuing to use
and expand nuclear energy will be staggeringly high on the day that there is
another nuclear accident, and we've expanded our nuclear capacity so that we
have to shut down a large percentage of our electrical capability
immediately- It would be far better to cut our losses now, to begin phasing
out nuclear power and in an orderly way so that we don't have to rely on
this unreliable, unnecessary, and very expensive energy source.
Thank you, Mr. Komanoff.
Gentlemen, on that note, we're going to turn to
Mr. Nelson, and he's going to be asking you some questions, Mr.
Let me understand something, Mr. Komanoff. Are you
saying that the risk of nuclear power plants is very high if we continue to
operate them and build them?
The risks are high in terms of public health and
safety and also of an undependable electrical system.
Then why don't you advocate closing down all the
Well, Dr. Commoner will address that; and he will
show that we can-
But you're on the stand. Why don't you advocate
closing down the nuclear plants? If the risk to public health is as great as
you're alleging, then why don't you advocate shutting them now?
I think we should begin today a program to phase
out all nuclear power plants in this country.
Over what period—, over what period of time?
We could cut out probably one half to two thirds
of our nuclear capacity today without incurring any risk of blackouts or
brownouts. The remainder could be phased out over the next five years.
So, as I understand it, what you're saying is for
five years, you would be willing to take some risk. You'd be willing—. In
other words, there are other things to consider here besides just a matter
of the risk to public health.
Certainly we need to balance risks and
—and balance economics, etc.
Not because of economics, but because we need a
reliable, dependable electrical supply.
You talked about conservation. Everybody's in favor
of conservation. But clearly, it's in the interest of the producer, as well
as the consumer to have more efficient electrical appliances. The
air-conditioner manufacturer will find it easier to sell his
air-conditioner. The consumer will want to use an air-conditioner that uses
less electricity. Isn't this being done now?
The appliance manufacturers, to use your example,
have been lobbying vociferously against the imposition of efficiency
standards that could save a considerable amount of electrical
Mr. Komanoff, I ask you again, if you came up with
an electrical air conditioner which uses less electricity, you could sell
that as a product. The consumer wants it, and the producer wants it. Isn't
this being done now?
These appliances do exist. Unfortunately, the
public still thinks that electricity is cheap. It doesn't realize the
savings that it can obtain by going to improved energy efficiency.
I think what is really happening, isn't it, that we
have had some conservation measures; and some people are concerned about the
high cost. But in spite of that, our energy consumption has gone up. And
therefore, I would ask you, if you are going to impose more conservation,
are you in favor of mandatory controls that would require this? You talked
about standards before. Would you make them mandatory?
I don't think any of the American public would be
opposed to mandatory standards governing the efficiency of air-conditioners
or refrigerators. Polls have shown that the American public supports these
kinds of standards. And, in fact, energy consumption in the economy has been
growing since 1973 at only one quarter of the previous rate, which shows
that conservation is beginning to take effect.
Mr. Komanoff, you have an interest-—
Gentlemen, I'm sorry. I'm sorry; I have to
interrupt. We've run out of time. Mr. Komanoff, thank you very much for
being with us. Appreciate it. For those of you who may have joined us late
on tonight's debate, we're debating the future of nuclear energy in this
country, and particularly whether or not we should stop the construction of
nuclear power plants. J Mr. Roisman has presented two witnesses who oppose
further construction of nuclear power plants and believe that we should
phase them out, and Mr. Nelson in just a moment will be presenting his case
and his witnesses.
But first, let me ask our cable television audience here in
Columbus on the QUBE system to address themselves to another question. Which
do you believe is the safer way to generate electricity, the safer way,
nuclear or coal power? If you believe it's nuclear, would you press button
number 1 please of your set. If you believe it's coal, would you press
button 2. If you are undecided, would you press button 3; and would you
please respond now.
While we're waiting for the results, let's turn to the case
against stopping construction. Mr. Nelson, the floor is yours; would you
present your first witness.
Thank you. I call Dr. David Rossin please.
Welcome to The Advocates, Dr. Rossin, and we'll
get to your testimony in just a minute. But let's turn to our QUBE results
and see what they tell us. Which is safer: nuclear, 22 percent; coal 71,
percent; no opinion, 7 percent. Your work is cut out for you, gentlemen. Mr.
Dr. Rossin is a senior nuclear engineer at
Commonwealth Edison. Dr. Rossin, little while ago, we heard Mr. Kaku talk
about some accidents that occurred with nuclear power, in particular the
Fermi reactor and the problem at Browns Ferry. Was his description
Well, in the first place, those accidents were
fully reported to the American public. They weren't covered up at all. The
Fermi accident, there was no threat to Detroit, none whatsoever, and
similarly, with Browns Ferry. I think the representation was really way out
By the way, can a nuclear power plant explode like
an atomic bomb?
Okay- Three Mile Island—much has been made of it,
a lot of discussion. Has it proved that we were too confident, that we
didn't understand the probabilities, that we misread what was going on at a
nuclear power plant?
We've learned a lot already from Three Mile
Island, and we know that some mistakes were made. And we know that some
design improvements can be made and are being made in nuclear plants. But I
think the overriding factor is that the analysis shows that the main thing
we've tried to do is to design nuclear plants in such a way that even if a
lot of things go wrong, even the unexpected, that the health and safety of
the public is protected. And that's what happened at Three Mile Island. The
emergency systems functioned, and the containment building kept the
radioactive gases contained so that the radiation that was released that
could possibly affect the public was extremely small, minimal.
Now, well, what about this radiation, Dr. Rossin?
We've heard all sorts of reports, some of them frightening, about how much
radiation came from that plant. Was there a danger to the public?
We've heard some very frightening reports; and I
think if I can fault the press on one point, it's the sensationalizing of
the story about the radiation releases at Three Mile Island. The radiation
releases were extremely small. The most that any individual, any member of
the public, could possibly have received from that plant was the equivalent
of two chest x-rays, the equivalent of living in Denver, Colorado, rather
than living in Middletown, Pennsylvania, for one year. Now, these amounts
are extremely small; and they are not going to cause epidemics of cancer or
any of the other frightening things that you've seen in the press.
So what you're saying is that somebody who lives
in Denver, Colorado, in the course of actually less than a year, would get
as much additional radiation as somebody standing next to the Three Mile
Island facility during the entire nuclear accident.
Well, actually, the higher dose rates were on the
mainland, across the river from Three Mile Island; and that's exactly what
I'm saying—the person standing at the point of the highest exposure, naked,
outside of the house, 24 hours a day, throughout the entire period of the
Let me get to—, while we're on the subject of
radiation, let's talk a little bit about everyday radiation. There are some
people who have tried to make us believe that if there's any radiation,
you're in danger. What exactly is the relative amount or the relative danger
from everyday kinds of radiation verses a nuclear power plant or even the
There is radiation all the time. I think one of
the things that has to come out of Three Mile Island is a maturity on the
part of the American people to compare risks, and one of these is radiation.
So, I'm going to use a unit, and that's milli rem. We get 50 milli rem from
the sky, from the sun, every day. We get 50 from our surroundings. We get
another 50 every year from x-rays. I'd say we get 50 per year. Now, the
amount from nuclear plant, at most, is a fraction of one percent, uh—your
average, a fraction of one milli rem per any member of the public per
Dr. Rossin, let's move to the question of wastes.
Do you think that there is a significant technical problem in terms of
handling nuclear wastes.
I think the technology for disposing of
radioactive waste is well known, and every step has been demonstrated in the
laboratory or experimentally.
Why isn't it being done?
The problem has been that every program seems to
be solved by either political or legal means. The fact is that we've got
over 30 years of waste from the nuclear weapons program, and we've got waste
from nuclear power that's been generated up to today. And even if we shut
every nuclear plant tomorrow, we'd still have a moral obligation to dispose
of the waste we've already generated. And if we can dispose of those, we can
dispose of any more that are generated.
Dr. Rossin, let me interrupt at this point. Mr.
Roisman, you have some questions, I'm sure.
Mr. Rossin, let's talk about Three Mile Island
for a minute. Was human error involved in that accident in your
You know there are a lot of investigations going
on, and I'm not going to-
—and I'm going to—
—prejudge the results.
Do you have the—, "do you believe that there was
any human error involved in the accident?
There certainly were some human errors involved.
We know that, but I want to wait until these investigations are
I understand that. All right. Is that, isn't that
an impossible thing to correct? Aren't we fallible as human beings? Can you
get rid of human error in the nuclear
Obviously not. The basic assumption for all
nuclear safety design is that people will make mistakes.
And you think that the human being, however, can
be made to make the mistakes to a minimum level?
What we've tried to do is design in such a way
that if the unexpected happens, the public will be protected.
Let me ask you about a letter that was written to
your utility, Commonwealth Edison, on September 30, 1977, from the Director
of the Office of Inspection and Enforcement, advising you of a $21,000 fine
being levied against your utility, in which it is said, "Lack of
implementation of effective management controls permitted the personnel
errors that resulted in these events." They referred to continuing
management inadequacies and stated, "If these management inadequacies are
not corrected, they could lead to more serious situations. Doesn't this
suggest that human error is not correctible, even by design?
I consider that a very unfair question, and I'm
surprised you didn't let me know it was coming. I'm very familiar with the
letter, and I think you should have checked the letters that we've received
in the last six or eight months which have commended us on the improvements
that we've made.
Well, I did want to look at some subsequent
letters; so let's look at the one that came out on March 21 of 1978, from
Mr. Volgenau in which he says to you, and imposing another $21,000 fine, "We
are particularly concerned with the number of events caused by personnel
errors and the apparent inability of Commonwealth Edison to effect lasting
corrective actions." Are you sure that we can really get rid of human error,
even with a utility as well respected as your utility?
You weren't listening to me, Mr. Roisman. I said
we're always going to have human error in anything that human beings do. And
the most important thing is to anticipate that human error could occur, and
we must protect the public. We're not perfect, and we're never going to be
perfect. But we are going to be safe.
All right. Let's talk about the safety and low
level radiation which you discussed. Do you disagree with the conclusions of
the National Academy of Sciences, just recently released, that there really
is at this time no basis to assume that any level of radiation is safe and
that we must assume that even the small amounts that you say come from
nuclear plants can be harmful to our health?
You didn't read the report very carefully. The
report reaffirmed the 1972 report and said we must assume, as a
conservative, protective measure that any radiation is harmful.
I believe that's what I said.
We, we do assume that.
That's all I read of it. That's the part I was
interested in. Now let me look—. Let's look at another aspect.
Well, Mr. Roisman, let me—. I think, I think Dr.
Rossin wants to make an explanatory statement. I think he should be entitled
to do so.
I think I need one.
I would agree with that.
The point that we're trying to make, and the point
that the National Academy made, is that we've got to put radiation risks in
perspective with the naturally occurring radiation that everybody receives
all the time, that radiation ought to be minimized, but that there is no way
to eliminate radiation, and that we have to put radiation risks in
perspective. And I think that's what's going to happen.
Let me ask you one last question about nuclear
waste. You said that we've got a big political problem. It's not a technical
problem. Isn't the root problem that nobody, no governor, no state, wants
that nuclear waste and that's where the problem is. No one is convinced that
you're right, that we safely can dispose of it.
A brief response please, Dr. Rossin.
I disagree. I think we know how to handle nuclear
waste, and I think when states get their input, they'll be able to say,
"Yes, we can handle these facilities because they will be safe; and they
will not affect the public."
Dr. Rossin, thank you for being with us. You're
going back, too? ... We're going back to him. I'm sorry.
We're going to ask you just another question or
two, and, apologize, Mr. Nelson.
Dr. Rossin, let me ask a bottom line question.
Should there be a moratorium on nuclear power plant building or
Frankly, I think the idea of a moratorium on
construction or on new plant licenses is a cop-out. If we have a safety
problem, it's not plants or new construction that constitute a safety
problem. The N.R.C. has not found that there's a safety problem that
requires the shutdown of nuclear power plants, and I believe they'll conduct
a thorough investigation; and I don't think they will.
But, the point is, the point is that the plants
under construction are going to have the benefit of what we learned. It's
absolutely crucial that we have diversity in our energy supply structure;
and the only hope for having any alternative energy sources, be they solar,
wind, or whatever, is that we have a solid, economical electrical system to
back them up.
And is nuclear power still economical, in spite of
what the other side said, and after Three Mile Island?
Well, I don't think we do things casually; and we
just ordered two nuclear plants at the end of last year after detailed
economic evaluations between nuclear and coal. And nuclear looked like the
energy that will be produced from that plant will be about 20 percent less
expensive than from the coal plant.
Dr. Rossin, on that note, I've got to ask you to
leave. Thank you for being with us.
Mr. Nelson is going to have another witness in a moment,
but let me again ask our QUBE system viewers to address themselves to still
another question. What about your own energy habits? What do you think is
likely, and what would you be willing to do in the future? Will you use more
electricity, do you think, about the same, or do you think you're going to
be using less? If more, please push button number 1; the same, number 2; if
less, number 3; and if you're really not quite sure, please push button
number 4. And would you respond now. Mr. Nelson, would you call your next
I call Professor Alan Manne.
Professor Manne, nice to have you with us.
Before you answer your first question, let's turn
and see just how our audience here in Columbus feels about the question we
just posed to them. About 18 percent think they're going to use more, about
45 percent think that they'll use about the same, 36 percent think they're
going to use less, only 1 percent have no opinion on that particular
question. Mr. Nelson—
Professor Manne is Professor of Operations
Research at Stanford University and by background, an economist. As an
economist, Professor Manne, what do you think is going to be the needs or
the mix of our energy requirements in the future?
I think that in the future it's going to have to be
a much more diversified mix than the one we have today. Today's mix consists
75 percent of oil and gas, which means we've got to do research in
development on synthetic fuels, on fusion, and on solar—all of those
options; but we must also remember that if we can bring 300 nuclear plants
on line by the year 2000, if we can do that, then nuclear power by the end
of the century will be producing as much energy equiv—, energy equivalent of
Saudi Arabia today, or the United States today.
What about Mr. Romanoff's statement earlier that
we're going to need less electricity?
I think that's baloney. In fact, energy—
I'm glad Senator Kennedy isn't here to hear
In fact, power growth has been substantial since
1972, despite all the good things that are said in favor of conservation. We
know that total energy consumption in this country is up from 67 quads in
1970 to 78 quads last year. It isn't growing as fast as the Gross National
Product. It's not growing as fast as it used to, but it's still growing.
And, to enforce conservation, I think it's going to take either an army of
inspectors, an army of government inspectors, for these mandatory controls;
or it's going to take much higher prices that neither the Congress or the
public is going to be happy with.
Where will we get this additional electricity if
we need it?
Electricity, for the balance of this century, is
very, almost surely, going to come from a combination, from a diversified
mix of coal and nuclear; that possibilities do exist for solar electric well
beyond the turn of the century but not in large amounts until that
Professor Manne, you used the term "quad" just a
few moments ago. Could you tell us, us lay persons what that means?
I'm sorry. A quad is ten to the power fifteen.
That's a million—
That doesn't help me at all.
—billion; it's a million billion British Thermal
Units. I don't know whether that helps.
That's a lot of power.
Professor Manne, let me get to the question of
solar. We've heard a little bit about it tonight. I have a feeling we're
going to hear some more later on tonight. Can the solar alternative be a
panacea? Will solar be our salvation?
Well, some years ago, nuclear advocates were
telling us that nuclear power was going to be too cheap to meter; and I
think that solar advocates, to make their case today, to get a viable R and
D program going, are saying the same kinds of things. But I think that we
should examine those claims very carefully. Most of the solar technologies
are well known and have been well known for between 20 and 50 years, for
example, alcohol from grain, or, for example, low temperature heating. Both
of these almost surely depend on oil and gas prices being double or triple
what they are today. The only bright hope in the solar area probably is
photo voltaics. But here, I think we have to beware of the advocates of
photo voltaics claiming that we can follow the success of the semiconductor
industry. But there are differences. Unlike semiconductors, we cannot reduce
these collectors to very small size. Unlike semiconductors, we don't have
easy fixes for the problems of storage.
Professor Manne, I'm going to break in at this
point, that perhaps, Mr. Nelson, when you come back for another question or
two, you can ask the definition of photo voltaic. But let's go to Mr.
Roisman who's going to ask you some questions.
Well, Mr. Manne, you don't have a lot of
confidence in the American public. You think that we'd have to force energy
conservation down their throat. Do you really believe that if they had
available in the stores appliances that display prominently which ones were
more efficient, and if they understood what it would cost them in dollars
and cents to buy the one that was more efficient, the American people
wouldn’t have the good sense to choose that one? Is that your
I think the American public is very smart. I think
there's a place for lifeboat ethics, that lifeboat ethics are very suitable
for short voyages. We haven't seen this kind of lifeboat ethics displayed
very much in our gasoline lines in California in the last few weeks. I think
that the—, you'd better be very realistic about what are the limits of
I'm glad you mentioned voyages and cars. I know
you've made a projection as to just how much energy you think we're going to
need in the year 2000. What did you assume would be the efficiency of our
automobiles in the year 2000?
Much higher than today.
How much? Can you give me some idea how much
energy difference do you think they might save between today and the year
If you look into the details on the energy
efficiency standards, that's not going to save that many quads.
Oh. Well, that's interesting now because the
Science Magazine, and you notice I've been going to authorities tonight
because I thought it would be helpful for both of us, on April 14 in 1978,
they had an important article in here written by a member of the Department
of Energy and two very distinguished experts in the field of energy. They
pointed out that without reducing the strength of our automobiles or their
performance, by the year 2000, we could increase the energy efficiency of
the automobile three times over what it is now. And you may be surprised to
know what the result of that would be. Did you know that it would be the
equivalent of all the nuclear power you project for the year 2000? Were you
aware of this?
I don't believe everything that I read in Science
Does Science Magazine believe everything they
read of yours, Mr. Manne? Let me ask you another question. You've indicated
that you see a growth in energy between now and the year 2000. Do you think
that the utility industry has been a good projector of what our growth would
be? Do you think your growth figures and their growth figures are fairly
consistent— Mr. Rossin's and yours—would you reach agreement with him?
I think everybody is gradually adjusting his views
on that. My projections do allow for much lower growth of energy than they
have in the past.
I understand that. You're, you're getting
religion. But my question was do you in the industry, the utility industry,
would you think that you and Mr. Rossin would be in agreement on that
question? You're both witnesses on the same side.
I'm not sure what Mr. Rossin would say about
electric energy. My own projection is that it is going to be in the year
2000 between two and two and a half times larger than it is today. To meet
those demands, we're going to need some coal and some nuclear plants.
Were you aware that in the period 1974 to 78, for
five years, that the average annual projected growth of electric energy, I'm
not talking about after the 1973 oil embargo, the utility industry projected
the rate of growth would be eight and half percent a year? And the actual
growth was only 3.4 percent a year. Were you aware of that figure?
A brief response please, Mr. Manne.
I certainly was aware of the actuals, the
projections you're referring to took place in an era well before the present
Mr. Roisman, I have to interrupt at this point.
Thank you, and we're going to go back for some questions with Mr. Nelson,
but I'm going to ask the first one. Professor Manne, what is a photo
A photo voltaic cell is a cell made from silicon;
the sunlight impacts on it direct solar; a direct electricity results from
Would this be hanging off a house or
It could be on top of a house.
Professor Manne, let's assume that Mr. Roisman's
figures are correct, in which case the automobile would be using less
gasoline; but the fact is, isn't it, that there's no conversion between
gasoline and electricity in the automobile, so that even if we were trying
to make some kind of conversion, either we are going to have to use nuclear
power, or we're going to increase our dependence on oil?
Let me give a somewhat more relevant example than
the automobile. It's the heat pump. The heat pump is a way of using
electricity fueled by either uranium or coal to replace oil. That's a more
obvious alternative, a way of swapping.
One last, one last question. What do you think are
Let's be very brief about it.
—of stopping nuclear development?
I think we'll be importing a lot more oil. I think
those oil imports will be very, very risky.
Professor Manne, thank you very much for being
We're going to be going back to Mr. Roisman and
his final witness in a minute. But let me ask one additional question of our
QUBE system viewers. Some opponents of nuclear power say that we can supply
some 25 percent of our electric power through solar and other technologies
by the year 2000. Do you think that that is possible? If you think it is,
would you push button number 1. If you think it is not, would you please
push button number 2. And if you're undecided on that particular question,
please push button number 3; and please respond now. All right, Mr. Roisman,
will you present us with your last and rebuttal witness.
My next and final witness is environmentalist
Welcome to The Advocates, Dr. Commoner. Before we
get into your questions and answers, let's turn to our monitor and see just
how people feel about the future with solar and its potential for 25 percent
production. Fifty-eight percent of our QUBE system viewers agree with that,
36 percent disagree, and 6 percent are undecided. Mr. Roisman—
Mr. Commoner, first let me ask you something
about Mr. Rossin's statement. He pointed out that Commonwealth Edison had
ordered two nuclear power plants in 1978. Do you know whether that order was
what we call a “firm order” in the business?
My understanding is that there were a lot of
if's put into the arrangement. The utility, as I understand it, can back out
instantaneously if there is evidence that the waste can't be handled. And so
far, we have no waste-handling system. I don't think those are firm orders
Thank you very much. Now let's talk for a moment
about solar energy, Mr. Commoner. How much do you think we can realistically
expect solar energy to deliver in our energy systems by the year 2000. And
when, if ever, can we have solar energy as a permanent replacement in our
On the year 2000, I agree with what we heard
from the audience—just about 20 to 25 percent. In a 50-year period, we can
be wholly solar. The way to do it is to start now phasing out nuclear power
plants and substituting more efficient ways of producing electricity that
will lay the basis for going solar.
All right, you remember Mr. Nelson in his very
open said to us, from his vantage point as an expert, that solar energy
doesn't work. Does it work, Mr. Commoner, from your vantage point as an
Well, let's take it from the vantage point of
Mr. Rossin. He lives in Chicago, and I will assume that he is sufficiently
open-minded, even though he works for an electric utility, to have a gas
burning stove in his kitchen. Let's assume that.
My wife likes gas stoves.
Good. I will now tell you that every time you
boil water to make coffee, you are using solar energy. Why? Because the
People's Gas Company, your competitor, had the wisdom a year ago to write a
contract with a feed lot, big cattle place in Guymon, Oklahoma, which
converts the manure that the cattle produce into methane. Methane is the
fuel that's in natural gas. They pump that fuel, the methane, into the
natural gas pipeline that goes from Texas to Chicago; and they're selling it
at $1.97 a thousand cubic feet, which is cheaper than the deregulated price
of natural gas. I hope everybody understands that manure is a renewable
resource. We will never run out of it. It comes from the sun.
Don't you think, Mr. Commoner,—if, if, if I
understand correctly, then, our opponents' case is solar energy?
Absolutely. Very good. Now let me ask you a
second question about solar energy. What about electricity and the so-called
photo voltaic cell? Well, Manne says it's a pie in the sky. What do you
Well, you know, it's a very sad story. It's a
sad story because it's a terribly serious commentary on the failure of
American policy; and I want to tell it. Two years ago, the Federal Energy
Administration developed a very detailed plan whereby the purchase of
placing an order by the U.S. government to the photo voltaic industry of the
U.S. would bring the price down within two years so that it would pay
economically to put photo voltaic cells on street lights rather than use the
utility. And in five years, they would be cheap enough to be used, counting
the cost of the batteries, Mr. Manne, they would be cheap enough to use
instead of utility electricity in the Southwest. Now, what happened was the
Congress wrote a bill for about a fourth of what the F.E.A. could pay. Mr.
Carter vetoed it.
So with policy changes, photo voltaics are a
And, in fact, you know where the reality is—the
biggest company making photo voltaic cells in the U.S. promptly picked
itself up, went to Italy, wrote a joint contract with Mont Edison, a
government-supported industry, to build the biggest photo voltaic cell
factory in the world in Florence, Italy. And we are left behind.
You're described as a visionary—
—but are Americans too disillusioned to believe
in your vision? What do you think?
Well, I think people are very disturbed about
the lack of a serious energy policy in this country. I think they're sick
and tired of hearing about mistakes made by the government, mistakes made by
the utilities, and no vision, nowhere you've heard often, now, the public
wants solar energy. The government isn't interested in it. The utilities
aren't interested in it. I think the reason why people are disillusioned is
that they have not yet understood the reality, which is that we can put
solar energy in place today, as we have started in Chicago; and we can have
a totally solar economy in the next generation—
—and I think we ought to do it.
—thank you. I have to break in at this
Mr. Nelson, some questions please.
Mr. Commoner, to go back to the example of
People's Gas, what percent do they get of their gas do they get from the
They're getting 1.6 million cubic feet a day. I
don't know what their total production is.
It's less than about one percent. I think that's
Yeah, but you know, it's a lovely start.
Except, you made it- sound like they were
generating much of their energy from this; and I thought we should put it
No, I didn't say that. I just said that Mr.
Rossin was using some.
Let me ask a question about solar energy. There
was a group of very prominent scientists that met recently to study exactly
this. Professor Heinrich of Harvard, I think was the chairman of it.
The American Physical Society.
Their conclusions were very different from yours,
were they not?
In fact, they concluded that they doubted that
more than one percent of the nation's electricity can be generated from
sunlight by the end of this century.
And they also said that it would take, in effect,
an annual investment of between one and two billion dollars a year for ten
years. That's 20 billion dollars, which is more than the government put into
nuclear or fusion or anything.
Right, right. You know, I have a slogan about
solar energy that I think is very applicable.
I'm looking forward to it.
It is entirely possible to be in favor of solar
energy and stupid at the same time. That report is stupid, and I say it
The report was based entirely on using photo
voltaic cells to imitate central power plants, huge installations. Now, the
only reason why it pays to have a large central power plant, because you
understand it takes a lot of money to ship with the energy; the only reason
why it makes sense is that there is a large economy of scale. That is, the
bigger the plant, the cheaper the electricity. That's why we have big
nuclear power plants and big coal plants. Now: moment. There is no economy
of scale in solar energy; and anyone who proposes to build a large central
solar plant and then ship the energy is causing us unnecessary costs.
That is what I would call stupid.
Your disparaging remarks about ten—. Your
disparaging remarks about ten outstanding scientists aside, let's assume for
the moment at least that there is the possibility that you're wrong. You're
asking us to commit a huge amount of resources to a program which is
unproven. We heard this about 25 years ago with fusion power; that in ten
years, if we commit a lot resources, we'll have fusion power. It's been 25
years. We spent three billion dollars. We don't have fusion power because
the visionaries of the time turned out to be wrong.
What is your question?
The question is this: What happens if you're
wrong? Who pays for the short fall? Mandatory controls? Shouldn't we at
least spend some of the money elsewhere just in case Mr. Commoner is wrong
and the ten distinguished scientists are right?
Well, well, as you know I've written—
A brief response please, Dr. Commoner.
Yeah. I've written a great deal about it, and
there's a very easy way of developing solar energy at no risk, at no risk.
And the way to do it is to introduce non-solar procedures, for example,
using natural gas to run an engine that produces electricity and heat; and
then gradually, as you get it, replace the natural gas with solar methane.
You will never run out of energy. You'll first have it mostly from natural
gas, then gradually more from solar. There is no risk in going solar—none
Dr. Commoner, thank you very much for being with
We now come to that point in our debate where our
two advocates will sum up with a closing statement. And we'll begin first
for one minute with Mr. Roisman.
The people who told you that the Three Mile
Island accident couldn't happen, who told you the nuclear waste problem
would be solved long before now, who assured those army privates who stood
by the bomb tests that they wouldn't get leukemia or any other damage from
the radiation exposure, are now telling you that energy conservation and
solar energy won't work. To use a popular word tonight—baloney. And I don't
have to be a visionary to see it because it's here. You heard Mr. Komanoff
tell you that in the industrial sector alone, we've already saved more
energy than our nuclear power plants generate just since 1973. You heard Dr.
Commoner tell you about the methane gas that's really been created. And in
neighboring states to this state of Ohio, people are running their cars on a
mixture of gas and solar-produced alcohol. The solar age and the
conservation age are here. It is the people who keep looking backward who
have the history of broken promises, who are telling us, "Don't move ahead."
The time is now. Stop this nuclear lunacy and go solar! Thank you.
Thank you Mr. Roisman. Mr. Nelson, you have one
minute for your closing.
If I can begin with a quote—"This author is of the
opinion that the problem of the utilization of solar energy is well worthy
of the attention of engineers; for even now, it is very nearly a solved
problem." It's from the Smithsonian, dated 1915. These kinds of visions, and
these kinds of dreams have been around for some time. But the fact is that
we are being asked here to devote untold amounts of money to unproven
technologies. We don't know whether or not we will get energy back from
them. We are only told to have faith. The fact is that nuclear power is here
now. It is safe, and it is economical. There have been a great deal of
exaggerations of the risks involved, especially recently. But you know, it's
an interesting story—50 years ago when electricity was coming into prominent
use, there was a widely held belief that you could always, you must always
keep something plugged into the outlet because otherwise, the electricity
would leak out on the floor and give you a shock when you walk into the
room. We smile at that now because we know it was foolishness. But we have a
fear of the unknown, and we are being frightened; and in so doing, we are
having some people telling us that a viable, safe, economical form of energy
should no longer be used. We ask only that as we continue to develop
research in solar energy and in alternative forms of energy, we also
continue to develop nuclear power.
Thank you both very, very much. We now turn to
you in our audience and ask you how you feel. First, to our QUBE system
viewers here in Columbus, what do you think—should we stop the construction
of nuclear power plants? If your answer is yes, please push button number 1;
if your answer is not, button number 2; if you're still undecided, button
number 3; and respond now.
To those of you in our national viewing audience, would
you please send us your "Yes" or "No" vote with your comments on this
question on a postcard and mail it to The Advocates, Box 1979, Boston,
02134. Let's see where our QUBE viewers stand now.
"Yes," 44 percent on whether or not we should stop
construction; "No," 53 percent; still "Undecided," 3 percent.
Our thanks now to Mr. Roisman, to Mr. Nelson, and to their
very distinguished witnesses for a very exciting debate, to all of those
good people on the QUBE system who have participated with us this evening,
and especially to our host of the Pro Con Debate Series here at Ohio State
University, thank you all very, very much, and good night.