THE CULT OF THE ATOM: The Secret Papers of the Atomic Energy Commission by Daniel Ford

THE CULT OF THE ATOM: The Secret Papers of the Atomic Energy Commission

Email this review


From the author of the preeminent Three Mile Island study: the most focused and productive of the current crop of nuclear power books. Ford set out to document what lay beneath the Panglossian facade of the Atomic Energy Commission from the reigns of Lewis Strauss and Glen Seaborg down to Three Mile Island and beyond. Drawing on newly declassified materials and interviews with past and present staff, he has put together a tragic, convincing tale of overconfidence and naive trust: private industry would carry the nuclear ball and America would enjoy an era of electricity ""too cheap to meter."" Most especially, Ford provides detailed descriptions of reactor problems and attempts to solve them--or, to bury them. In the early Seventies, public hearings were held to back up an AEC policy statement approving existing emergency cooling systems as adequate. Dissenters knew their jobs were on the line if they said otherwise. Philip Rittenhouse, a materials testing engineer at Oak Ridge, was one such whistle-blower; his testimony led to protracted hearings--and a shattered career. Ford's prose throughout is cool and precise. He has harsh words to say about Seaborg's ego; but for the most part commissioners and utility executives are seen not as evildoers but as conservative bureaucrats worried about image and expense, and committed to the status quo. The book ends on a note of alarm. It is past time to redress safety grievances, especially in nuclear plants near large cities; but present administration policy is urging the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to speed up new plant licensing--a procedure not likely to bring vigorous enforcement of safety standards.

Pub Date: Nov. 8th, 1982
Publisher: Simon & Schuster