In a recent post, I mentioned my idea that Jimmy Carter’s anti-nuclear energy policy was a deliberate strategy provided by his handlers and I mentioned my memory of the emphasis placed on his nuclear credentials during the campaign. I did some more digging this morning and came up with some pretty good supporting material for those people who do not remember the 1976 US presidential campaign.
MR. REYNOLDS. Governor Carter, I’d like to turn to what we used to call the energy crisis.
Yesterday a British Government commission on air pollution, but one headed by a nuclear physicist, recommended that any further expansion of nuclear energy be delayed in Britain as long as possible. Now, this is a subject that is quite controversial among our own people, and there seems to be a clear difference between you and the President on the use of nuclear powerplants, which you say you would use as a last priority. Why, Sir? Are they unsafe?
MR. CARTER. Well, among my other experiences in the past I’ve been a nuclear engineer (emphasis added), and I did graduate work in this field. I think I know the capabilities and limitations of atomic power.
But the energy policy of our Nation is one that has not yet been established under this administration. I think almost every other developed nation in the world has an energy policy except us.
We have seen the Federal Energy Agency [Administration] established, for instance, in the crisis of 1973. It was supposed to be a temporary agency; now it’s permanent. It’s enormous; it’s growing every day. And I think the Wall Street Journal reported not too long ago they have 112 public relations experts working for the Federal Energy Agency [Administration] to try to justify to the American people its own existence.
We’ve got to have a firm way to handle the energy question. The reorganization proposal that I’ve put forward is one first step. In addition to that, we need to have a realization that we’ve got about 35 years worth of oil left in the whole world. We are going to run out of oil. When Mr. Nixon made his famous speech on operation independence, we were importing about 35 percent of our oil. Now we’ve increased that amount 25 percent. We now import about 44 percent of our oil.
We need a shift from oil to coal. (emphasis added) We need to concentrate our research and development effort on coalburning and extraction that’s safe for miners, that also is clean burning (emphasis added). We need to shift very strongly toward solar energy and have strict conservation measures and then, as a last resort only, continue to use atomic power (emphasis added).
I would certainly not cut out atomic power altogether. We can’t afford to give up that opportunity until later. But to the extent that we continue to use atomic power, I would be responsible as President to make sure that the safety precautions were initiated and maintained. For instance, some that have been forgotten: We need to have the reactor core below ground level, the entire power plant that uses atomic power tightly sealed, and a heavy vacuum maintained. There ought to be a standardized design. There ought to be a full-time atomic energy specialist, independent of the power company, in the control room full-time, 24 hours a day, to shut down a plant if an abnormality develops. These kinds of procedures, along with evacuation procedures, adequate insurance, ought to be initiated.
So, shift from oil to coal; emphasize research and development on coal use and also on solar power; strict conservation measures–not yield every time the special interest groups put pressure on the President, like this administration has done; and use atomic energy only as a last resort with the strictest possible safety precautions. That’s the best overall energy policy in the brief time we have to discuss it.
This segment of the debate received quite a bit of attention. For example, the Public Broadcasting System aired Debating our Destiny: Reaction to the first Ford/Carter Debate MacNeil/Lehrer Report September 24, 1976 the evening after the debate. That show included the following exchange:
We’ve asked these guests to select moments from last night’s debate that they think will show us the strengths and weaknesses in the candidates’ performances last night and how those moments helped them to decide on a winner. Miss Van Home, you picked as one of Carter’s high points his discussion of energy — in particular his remarks on nuclear energy — and we’ve excerpted just a small portion of that:
JIMMY CARTER: I would certainly not cut out atomic power altogether; we can’t afford to give up that opportunity until later. But to the extent that we continue to use atomic power I would be responsible, as President, to make sure that the safety precautions were initiated and maintained. For instance, some that have been forgotten: We need to have the reactor coil below ground level, the entire power plant that uses atomic power tightly sealed and a heavy vacuum maintained; there ought to be a standardized design…
ROBERT MacNEIL: Miss Van Home, why did you select that piece?
HARRIET VAN HORNE: I didn’t know any of those things, not being a nuclear engineer, and I thought it was very good that he was so knowledgeable on this point. That’s rather reassuring — it’s nice to know, if we’re going to be atomized some day, it’s awfully nice to know that we could have a President who’d know just what to do. I think his flaws came out in this little excerpt, however — par for power — and that rushed delivery; if he’d only pause and take a breath, and sort of measure out these words. But if you listen to what he said, it was very wise and very reassuring. I liked it. If he could just go back and read it again in standard English.
As any political observer knows, there is very little time available for candidates to explain their major campaign platform so when something makes it into the talking points for a debate there is a lot of prior calculation about the potential effects of the comments.
I will leave it to readers to explain why Mr. Carter’s statements reveal just how little he knew about the operation and construction of atomic power plants.