Features Thursday, February 19, 2015 - 05:30
By, Dr.K S Parthasarathy This writer discovered an easy method to find out anti-nuclear writers! Look for the well known catch phrase "too cheap to meter" in their articles. If you find it more often, the writer is most likely anti-nuclear! Wikipedia describes "too cheap to meter" as a concept in which a commodity is so inexpensive that it is more cost-effective and less bureaucratic to simply provide it for a flat fee, or even free, and make a profit from associated services. According to the legend, some prominent pro-nuclear advocate promised that nuclear power will one day be too cheap to meter.Since then, anti-nuclear critics convincingly argue that nuclear power has failed to deliver on its promise. It is an effective taunt to demoralize the pro-nukes who according to the anti nukes are already down, post Fukushima! Who gave this unattainable promise on nuclear power? Or was it an attribution made totally out of context?Nuclear energy began with very high hopes. Alex Kirby, BBC environment correspondent, attributed the phrase to Walter Marshall, former Chairman, Central Electricity Generating Board, (BBC News, June 15, 2000). According to Kirby, Walter Marshall, one of its pioneers in the United Kingdom, told Britons that nuclear energy would provide energy "too cheap to meter." It was going to usher in an era of abundant, clean power, and an end to the filth and smoke of coal-fired power plants Kirby was wrong. There is convincing evidence that Lewis Strauss, Chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission, while addressing the National Association of Science Writers, made the relevant statement on September 16, 1954 He stated thus: "Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter," he declared. "It is not too much to expect that our children 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 and 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" (The New York Times, September 17, 1954). A Google search, with "Walter Marshall" and "too cheap to meter" as keywords, gave 757 references. When the search was repeated, with "Lewis Strauss" in place of "Walter Marshall," I got 2720 references. These numbers change slightly, but their order is the same. Surely Strauss is the winner! The quote can be attributed to him! This exercise is unnecessary, as the documentary itself evidence is convincing. Since these are the pioneers who used the catch phrase this writer's method is not applicable to them. Ramachandra Guha, our own well known historian, cast his net far and wide when he wrote: "Back in the 1950s, when nuclear energy was all the rage and scientists the world over were claiming that it would soon be 'too cheap to meter'…." (Anthropologists among the Marxists and other Essays). This writer did not expect such a wrong statement from a historian. Google searches with the names of well known antinuclear critics, Praful Bidwai, M.V.Ramana, Rosalie Bertell, Arnie Gundersen and Arjun Makhijani, with the phrase "too cheap to meter" for each, registered 393, 1040, 1170, 13700 and 56700 references respectively. It indicates how prolifically they benefited from using this catch phrase in their articles! "It has been repeatedly inflicted on the public, because it's cute, catchy and empty of substance," Morgan Brown, Atomic Energy Canada Limited, wrote about the catch phrase in RADSAFE news group. He compiled a number of quotes from the time period before and after Strauss' speech; none indicated anything but a rational technical approach to the economics of nuclear power. Morgan's review provided abundant evidence that few people in the industry at the end of 1950s really believed that nuclear power would be very cheap. Strauss did not refer to nuclear energy in his speech. Some argued that he was talking about energy from fusion rather than fission. Strauss knew about Project Sherwood, the USA's secret programme on controlled nuclear fusion. Chris Anderson of WIRED BLOG network did his own research on the origin of the "too cheap to meter" phrase. He also thought that Strauss was talking about "fusion" because Strauss knew that fission would probably be more expensive than coal. Anderson clarified that "too cheap to meter" didn't mean free -- it just meant too cheap to monitor closely. He noted that some buildings built around that time, including the World Trade Center, were designed without light switches in each office; the building managers could just turn whole floors on and off , like a Christmas tree. Is there anything too cheap to meter? "Today, we have three technologies -- processing power, digital storage capacity and bandwidth -- that touch nearly as much of the economy as electricity, and they really are becoming too cheap to meter," Anderson added. Anti nuclear activists mostly use "too cheap to meter" out of context. Nuclear power is unlikely to become too cheap to meter. I hasten to add that a person does not qualify to be anti nuclear just because he used the catch phrase once or twice! The writer is a former Secretary, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, India.E-mail: ksparth@yahoo.co.uk Tweet
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