During the contentious effort that resulted in passage of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, Sen Eugene D. Milliken (R-CO) played an important role in establishing an attempted US government monopoly over all atomic energy information.
During the House-Senate conference committee to resolve differences between versions of the bill passed by the two legislative bodies, Milliken gave a speech lasting 90 minutes that supported the highly restrictive Senate version of patent provisions.
Byron Miller, one of the people most responsible for writing the law and shepherding its passage described Milliken’s actions favorably.
After a careful study of the objections raised in the House, he concluded that the Senate section alonie could both preserve the secrecy sought by other sections of the bill and serve the public interest in a field developed entirely at taxpayers’ expense.Miller, Byron S., “A Law is Passed: The Atomic Energy Act of 1946“, The University of Chicago Law Review, Summer 1948 Vol 14, Num 4. p. 816
Some called the patent provisions that Milliken defended “socialistic”. Others said they threatened the end of the American patent and free enterprise system. Milliken argued that the provisions were necessary to protect the interests of taxpayers by preventing private industry from profiting off of the technology.
Government ownership of all patentable information related to atomic energy helped discourage private investment and development. For eight years, the US invested only a tiny fraction of its vast atomic engineering and science budget in programs aimed at developing atomic energy as a future power source.
Without any support, it was impossible to design and build systems that could compete in the markets dominated by coal, oil and natural gas.
Until the patent section of AEA46 was revised by the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, no commercial enterprise made any investments in developing useful atomic energy.
Even though Milliken passionately defended patent provisions that had raised strenuous objections from groups ranging from the American Bar Association and the National Association of Manufacturers to the House Patent Committee, there no evidence of opponents accusing him of having special interest reasons for handicapping useful atomic energy.
Later on, in 1949, Millikin sought to maintain America’s policy of not sharing any atomic energy information with anyone, including Canada and the UK, its closest allies. The security barriers preventing information exchange extended past weapons-related information; they included industrially useful atomic information. At the time, both Canada and the UK were actively pursuing power reactor development.
Looking back from our distant position in history, I’ve learned that Millikin had financial reasons to impede technological breakthroughs that might reduce demand for oil and gas.
Before his election to the Senate, Millikin had served as the president of Kinney-Coastal Oil. He was also part of an oil shale claims partnership that included Karl C. Schuyler, Sr. and George A. Taff. (Shell Oil Co. v. Kleppe, 426 F. Supp. 894 (D. Colo. 1977)
Those extensive leases were subjected to a number of challenges over several decades. Legal challenges were grounded that these claims did not constitute discoveries of a valuable mineral deposit pursuant to 30 U.S.C. § 22 et seq.
Challengers made the argument that shale deposits had no value because they could not be profitably extracted and marketed using available technology and existing market prices. (Shell Oil Co. v. Kleppe, 426 F. Supp. 894 (D. Colo. 1977)
As a Senator, Millikin supported a federal synthetic fuels program, which was aimed at producing useful liquid fuels from shale (kerogen) and coal. That program showed that oil shale had value because it could be mined and converted into useful liquid fuels.
There’s little doubt that Sen. Millikin understood energy’s important role in our industrial economy. Even though he was a self-proclaimed conservative, he advocated for governmental suppression of atomic energy development. He also supported federal programs that might make his own holdings in oil and gas leases more valuable.
Most historical interpretations of the political turmoil over atomic energy control during 1945-1946 focus on the topics of international control schemes, military versus civilian governance, and control of militarily useful atomic secrets. Few, if any, focus on the way that the resulting legislation and governance choices imposed an important delay in efforts to put atomic energy to use in serving humanity.
That’s my focus area.
While my research and broad-based reading on this topic will continue, I felt the need to stop and document a specific, intriguing story that qualifies as a smoking gun.
Note: On Atomic Insights, ‘smoking gun’ is a category of posts that document instances of nuclear opposition that can be directly tied to the desires of competitive industries to maintain their market share. It also applies to individuals whose wealth and power is directly tied to continuation of the Hydrocarbon Economy.