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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > What Carter Missed at the Capital

The phone rang early Monday morning after the largest citizen demonstration in Washington since the anti-war and civil rights marches. It was the White House calling the May 6 Coalition which sponsored that day’s anti-nuclear overflow gathering by the U.S. Capitol. Would the coalition send some people to meet with President Carter before noon?

What a difference 100,000 citizens make! It was only a few days before that the appointment secretary for President Carter had replied to the coalition that the president and all of his representatives were too busy to attend the Sunday gathering.

When six members of the coalition walked into the White House conference room they saw Jimmy Carter with all his key political aides–Jordan, Wexler, Powell, Rafshoon, Eizenstat, as well as science adviser Frank Press and environmental specialist Gus Speth. Obviously the White House was concerned with the political impact of the anti-nuclear movement.

The coalition group did not disappoint them. Donald Ross told Carter that while they approved his campaign promises, they did not approve his present policies. He urged Carter to fire Energy Secretary James Schlesinger, shape up the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and come out unequivocally against any new nuclear plants.

Ross and others with him stated that the anti-nuclear effort would move into the early presidential primary states, starting with New Hampshire, and make the issue of unsafe, uneconomic atomic energy one that no candidate could ignore.

Carter urged the visiting citizens to be fair to him and blamed the Congress for not dumping the Clinch River breeder reactor project. Insupportable and wasteful as the futuristic Clinch River project is, the public is presently vulnerable to the operating nuclear plants in New York City, Chicago, Boston and other cities. Clinch River is a typical Carterian diversion from the more immediate subject–the nukes now building up that prodigious radioactive material that must never escape.

On today’s nuclear plants he would say only that “it was out of the question” to close them down, but that he would push for alternative energy sources. We’ve all heard that before, and the shifting is becoming quite shopworn.

Nuclear energy now accounts for only 3 percent of the nation’s total energy consumption. And evidence from governmental, industry and university studies, together with actual reproducible energy efficiency achievements around the country, shows that at least 50 percent of the nation’s energy usage is wasted. Cutting down this waste would fight inflation, help consumers, reduce hazardous pollution and free capital resources. Our country can find a way to replace 3 percent of its energy from 50 percent of its wasted energy.

Carter highlighted the Chicago area with its heavy reliance on nuclear plants for electricity (about 45 percent) to illustrate his point. Even in this area of highest nuclear concentration shutting down the plants is feasible. A forthcoming technical study by the Barry Commoner group at Washington University in St. Louis will show how this can be done.

With 50 percent of the energy wasted and with 35 percent excess electric generating capacity above peak loads nationwide, having to resort to expanded use of available natural gas, coal, geothermal and hydro power, and biomass (waste plant material) may be unnecessary.

The choice is clear: either atomic energy is stopped promptly, or it will be stopped later after a nuclear plant meltdown. Americans will not tolerate the loss to human habitation of hundreds or thousands of square miles of residential, business and farmland. Certainly not when similar plants near their homes also are capable of generating the same human, genetic and economic devastation.

Unlike the risks of other forms of energy) after an atomic power plant meltdown or other nuclear material catastrophe, the survivors cannot go home again.

Carter would have benefited from seeing-the friendly, courteous assemblage of people by the Capitol. They had paid their own way and included those who had ridden more than 600 buses from many states on long drives to Washington. They had a sense of community.

Washington’s park police commented that the grounds were cleaner after the demonstrators left than before they came. The police liked the crowd and some even vented their displeasure to the visitors over Carter’s move to let oil prices be decontrolled. The visitors, in turn, promised more rallies and teach-ins around the country.

Along the corridors of Congress the next few days, legislators were heard talking about the nuclear power question with a new sense of urgency. One senator, holding hearings on the subject, said that he is being received more attentively now by his moderate Democratic colleagues. A little citizen effort goes a long way in giving the lawmakers a more refined sense of reality.