Senator Clinton Anderson on fossil fuel opposition to atomic energy
Senator Clinton Anderson (D-NM) was a long time member and sometimes Chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy.
As part of my energy history research, I’ve been reading Outsider in the Senate: Senator Clinton Anderson’s Memoirs. There are several passages in that book worthy of note.
While the three services competed with one another in research on ballistic missiles, I tried to promote my favorite project, which was the development of a rocket powered by atomic energy. A Defense Department study made in 1956 had actually concluded that the project was quite feasible and stood a good chance of success if pursued diligently. The undertaking was given the name “Project Rover: and it was considered a more efficient way to propel a rocket than conventional chemical fuel. But Defense Secretary Charles Wilson ruled that research on Project Rover “continue on a modest scale,” which was, of course, its kiss of death. At the time, I was convinced that the petroleum interests were desperately trying to strangle the project. Dr. Eger Murphee, who was in charge of missile programs at the Pentagon, was formerly a high official at Standard Oil. Jimmy Doolittle, the wartime flying ace was an executive of Shell Oil and he, too, vociferously opposed Rover. I felt that I was faced by a conspiracy that was promoting petroleum fuel for rocket propulsion. But the principal problem, I realized, was that a nuclear-propelled rocket, which could carry heavy payloads far out into space, had no apparent military application, and the Eisenhower Administration still had no grasp of what space exploration for its own sake meant.
(Emphasis added. p. 179. Note: period described was from 1956 to just before Sputnik in Oct 1957)
Here is another passage from the same book that is worth sharing and remembering:
I put a great deal of time into softening some of the provisions of the Gore-Holifield bill, [which requested $440 million for federally financed nuclear reactors] in the hope of avoiding an open fight between public and private power forces, and in July, I joined in sending to the Senate floor a modified version of the measure. The Senate passed the bill by nine votes, but that’s as far as it went. In the House, it ran into opposition not only from the private power people, but also from the coal interests, to whom any form of atomic generation of electricity seemed to be a threat.
When I searched for a link to provide in the above quote to give more background on the Gore-Holifield Bill, I came across another passage worth recording. It is from volume III of Richard Hewlett and Jack Holl’s A History of the Atomic Energy Commission, which is individually titled Atoms for Peace and War, 1953-1961: Eisenhower and the Atomic Energy Commission.
In seven hours of floor debate on July 24, 1956, the Democratic majority in the House struggled to maintain party ranks in support of the Gore-Holifield bill, but Congressman Cole’s success in pushing through amendments favored by the Administration foreshadowed the final outcome. With twenty-seven Democrats not voting and an equal number siding with the Republican opposition, the bill failed by twelve votes.
Ever since the formation of the McKinney panel sixteen months earlier, Senator Anderson had harbored visions of a well-articulated federal program for nuclear power development that the Democratic members of the Joint Committee might propose as a key plank in the party’s platform for the 1956 elections. Now that dream was in shambles. Frustrated by the Administration’s refusal to accept any substantial increase in funding for the development of nuclear power, Anderson became even more suspicious of Strauss’s motives. He even convinced himself that Strauss was really opposed to nuclear power on any basis because it would threaten the economic interests of the Rockefellers, who he believed had vast holdings in fossil energy resources.
(p. 344-345. Note: I have no idea why that quote is phrased so that it indicates Hewitt is uncertain about whether or not the Rockefeller family had vast holdings in fossil energy resources.)
Lewis Strauss, who was the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission from June 1953-June 1958, served as a Rockefeller family financial advisor from 1950-1953. While in that role, he worked with John D. Rockefeller III to set up and serve on the board of trustees for the Population Council.