NER Washington forum; Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Glenn T. Seaborg
So that nuclear power has a number of things of advantage. The voice you just heard was that of Dr Glenn TC Board chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission and our guest this week on the NE our Washington forum a weekly program concerned with the important issues before us as a nation. This week a discussion on the role of atomic energy in our lives. This program was produced for the national educational radio network through the facilities of WMU FM American University Radio in Washington D.C.. I'm Bill Greenwood. Dr. Glenn T seaboard has headed the Atomic Energy Commission since 1961. His discoveries in the field of atomic energy won him the 1951 Nobel Prize in chemistry. He participated in the now famous Manhattan Project that resulted in the world's first atomic bomb. He has
represented the United States government for International Atomic Energy conferences and headed this nation's delegation to the 1963 meeting that produced the U.S. soviet agreement on peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Dr. Seaboard was also a member of the 1964 American delegation that produced the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Dr Seymour your record is full of examples of work in the area of peaceful uses of atomic energy. What real accomplishments in this effort can you report. Well I have been interested in the peaceful uses of atomic energy almost from the beginning. I am pleased to be able to say that these have reached for a lesion in a large number of areas. Perhaps the chief is that of generating electricity from nuclear power in the United States in just the last couple of years there has been a large upsurge of our utilities in turning towards nuclear power to
generate electricity for example firm commitments for the construction of nuclear power plants went from a total of 2 million kilowatts in 1963 64 to five million kilowatts in 1965 to nearly 20 million kilowatts last year in 1986. Another way of showing the dramatic surge is to say that in one thousand fifty eight in the United States the net installed generating capacity of central station nuclear power plants was only 60000 kilowatts. And this year it's still only about two million electrical kilowatts because it takes some time for these plants to be built and put into operating condition. But by 1970 we estimate that the installed nuclear capacity in the United States of nuclear power is expected to be more than 10 million kilowatts. And by
1980 it should be more than 100 million kilowatts and by the turn of the century and that's only 33 years away it should be around 700 million kilowatts and the upturn in the use of nuclear power apparently is going to take a similar trend in other parts of the civilized world. Dr. seaborne just what are the benefits of atomic energy for power as opposed to electricity that's produced. The more familiar scent of course the electricity is identical with the electricity produced from conventional plants and burn it and burn coal and oil and gas. But the reason that there has been this turn towards nuclear power to generate electricity is because it's more economical than the conventional sources in large sizes when we have a generating plant 500000 kilowatts or greater
nuclear source is more economical. In many parts of the United States then the conventional source that's the main reason for the turn to nuclear power but another reason is that it's cleaner. There is no stream of pollutant gases as you find in the effluent from coal burning plants for example. You're saying other nations are also turning to nuclear powers the United States taking any initiative in the proliferation of peaceful atoms. BRAUN Well yes the United States has a program has had a program of cooperation with other countries for more than 10 years now and they have agreements for cooperation with a couple of dozen of other countries and international organizations like you or Adam to develop mutually the nuclear power source for
electricity. And these cooperate programs have helped both the United States and the other countries and they are carried on. And this is important to emphasize under safeguard so that it is not possible to divert the products of the peaceful nuclear power plant to military purposes. How can a nation produce atomic energy and not be able to know how to convert that for military purposes. Well when a nuclear power plant operates it usually generates plutonium as a byproduct. And this plutonium can be used either for as a nuclear fuel for a further generation of nuclear power or as the explosive ingredient in nuclear weapons. What the United States does is impose a system of safeguards with inspection to prevent such
diversion. And it is the policy of the United States to transfer of these safeguard functions insofar as possible to the International Atomic Energy Agency the IAEA which has headquarters in Vienna Austria this is an agency under the United Nations which has the capacity to eight exert this inspection or safeguard function and this is an agency by the way that will undoubtedly play a very important role in the safeguards function in connection with the non proliferation treaty which is currently so much in the news as it is being negotiated. What you're saying though is that without inspection these countries could actually produce military devices. You know I understand it is right if they so desired. And wanted to divert for example the
plutonium which is produced in nuclear power reactors to military purposes. There are a number of nations which in the course of time have the technological and economic capacity to do this. And that's why we regard the Nonproliferation Treaty to be so important. And I you talk about the test ban treaty and of course you were a member of the delegation that helped draw up that treaty there's been a lot of criticism from people who say many of the countries signing this treaty are nowhere near the production of an atomic device at all and it seems rather silly and useless. How do you answer when I know you mentioned the test ban treaty the Nonproliferation Treaty. Which is now under discussion accomplishes a different purpose this is designed to prevent the further acquiring of nuclear weapons by
nations in addition to the present five that have nuclear weapons. How can you answer the. These people who say that many of these countries are nowhere near. Atomic capacity is this just sort of cut off the future possible produce while a number of them are a number of nations do have the potential technological and economic scientific capability to manufacture nuclear weapons. And what the Nonproliferation Treaty is trying to accomplish is to stop a sort of a race in which the number of nations that acquire nuclear weapons might apply to a point where it would be very dangerous to the continued peace of the world. The French have continued testing their atomic devices while the rest of the world seemingly goes along trying to seek this cut back
in the race. Can you comment on that and perhaps even the Chinese testing. Well certainly it would be very pleased if either the French or the Chinese would join in. The test ban treaty or in any treaty limiting nuclear tests. But we do feel that. In the meantime we should make what progress we can in limiting the number of nuclear tests and the number of nations that have nuclear weapons capability. Just because the French and the Chinese are not yet ready to do this doesn't mean that we should stand still with respect to the other nations in the world. We hope and there certainly exists the possibility that France and possibly in the future China will realize that it's to their advantage
to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons and perhaps at some time in the future they will join us. Why would it be to their advantage doctrine in order to decrease the possibility of the conflagration that might result if nuclear war broke out. This is something that would be to the immense disadvantage to any nation could I ask you to elaborate on the Chinese atomic capabilities is it really. As great fear. Some people have made it they have the capability to manufacture nuclear weapons and they have an intense serious national program. Designed to further that capability and to increase that capability. So it's only a matter of time before they will have weapons of increasing
sophistication it's difficult at this time to estimate just told long it will take what it's contributed mainly to this large scale proliferation I noticed coming in or building here today I had to get all sorts of passes we hear a lot of atomic spies is a major worry that this information is getting out. No not at all. The kind of past that you got in getting into this building today is equivalent to the kind of pass that you would require going into almost any industrial plant. Today it's sort of an industrial type of security. So I spy a problem perhaps is not as great as the front page stories would indicate. Well it is not in that area it isn't in the area. By having the possibility of learning anything you say in the ABC headquarters or something of that nature we exchange a lot of information with
scientists or brought about peaceful uses particularly don't we doctors as we do. We have agreements these agreements for cooperation that they mention have an effect with several dozen countries all allow for the exchange of scientific information in the in the area of the peaceful uses of atomic energy and we have such an agreement also with the Soviet Union. In fact I had the pleasure of visiting the Soviet Union in May of 1963. When my Soviet counterpart and their own they kept at the sea and so was the chairman of the Soviet State Committee for the utilization of peaceful utilization of atomic energy. And I signed an agreement for cooperation in the field of the peaceful use of atomic energy. As a result of that we are exchanging visits of scientists and engineers with the Soviet Union
and exchanging information and reports and in general are contributing to the advancement of the peaceful uses of atomic energy through such a cooperative program. How cooperative is it Doctor a lot of times people on the street think that we're giving more than we're getting in this field of exchange or are we actually benefiting visibly. Yes I think that it's a matter of each side benefiting and in some areas one. Has progressed a little further than the other and in other areas it's the other way around and I would say that in balance we are getting about as much as we are giving but more important than this is the contribution that such exchange programs make to understanding between our countries and therefore to the
general for the end of the peace of the world. What do you foresee as a future possible result of this exchange of information and perhaps new programs from atomic use. Well we exchange information for example in the field of advanced nuclear power reactors the reactors that are economically competitive today are not. The type of reactors that we will eventually want to use and to use indefinitely they do not use utilize the nuclear fuel as efficiently as we'd like for example to utilize nuclear fuel only to the extent of about 1 percent of the uranium. And we're in the process of developing advanced reactors and especially breeder reactors that use the nuclear fuel much more efficiently and this is one area where we are exchanging information with our European neighbors as
well as with the scientists in areas in the Soviet Union there are a number of other advanced areas in the field of control thermonuclear reactions. It is the research program to tame the fusion reaction so that it can be used to generate power for industrial purposes is another area in which we are exchanging information or exchanging information in the area of the use of isotopes in medicine and in agriculture and in industry. So that there are. A number of areas in the peaceful uses of atomic energy where this exchange of information is beneficial to both sides in the exchange. Dr. C. Borg I'd like you to put on your magic wizard hat if you could for a
moment and maybe look into the future do you foresee perhaps the replacing of conventional power systems side by the year 2000 by nuclear energy. Yes. Well I think that by the year 2000 we will have about half of our electricity generated by nuclear energy. And then from about that time on essentially all of the new power plants that are built will be nuclear. Now I don't mean to imply that by this that coal will go out of business certainly. There will be an increasing use of cool so that even between now and 1980 there will probably be and almost doubling of the use of coal to generate electricity and this is due to the fact that our requirements for electricity grow so fast they just about doubled every 10 years.
However as time goes on past 1980 and in 1990 year 2000 2010 and so forth. As I've indicated we gradually will change over to the kind of industrial economy where nuclear power will take on more and more of the burden of generating electricity now. This has another pleasant aspect and that is that by that time we will probably need to use our coal and our petroleum products and so forth as sources of chemicals beginning to depend more and more on synthetic chemicals and the time will come when it will no longer be to our advantage to burn these carbonaceous materials just to produce heat since they are such an important source of carbon and hydrogen for these synthetic chemicals. Doctor we talk about nuclear power of one of the Ricks shining innovations can you force
the use of the atom. Well of course one of these is the use of nuclear power for space. And here we have two kinds of devices. We're actively at work developing new and improved so-called snap isotopic powered systems and also snap devices using small compact reactors for a wider use around the world and particularly for use in space where we believe they will play an essential role in supplying the power necessary to operate electronic systems and to sustain life. However these snap devices are only exhilarate power supplies far greater amounts of power will be necessary to propel man into space and propel man in the equipment that he will be using in space.
And if he has to travel any great distance into space he will. For example if he is to reach and inhabit for any length of time the planets he will need the other source a nuclear power that we that we're developing we're developing in cooperation with mass nuclear powered rockets which will be able to do the job of ferrying huge manned and unmanned payloads back and forth across the solar system. Well to the moon first and then to the nearby planets. But all of this increased use of atomic energy would this not also increase the danger of atomic accidents and that the use of nuclear energy in space because these reactors would never return to Earth are essentially never those that are in
orbit Snapp reactors will be up in the sky orbiting the Earth. The altitude of many hundreds a mile for hundreds of thousands of years and the nuclear powered rockets would have their reactors. Remain in space indefinitely that is they would never return to Earth. What about these devices closer to the ground occasionally we hear planes who accidentally drop their payloads. And you say that the use of atomic energy for power will will increase. Will this not be a real possible danger. Well I think the nuclear power plants are subject to regulation under such strict conditions that they won't be licensed for operation unless they're deemed to be essentially safe. And what you're saying also then is that they would probably undergo a very close inspection a
very close inspection during their operation after they do pass the very stringent test of licensing a procedure to obtain the operating license. As best I can recall from my college chemistry you're running a major major source for this atomic power. How is our worldwide supply of uranium. Well with the growth of nuclear power that I just projected were in the position that we need to find more low cost sources of uranium the amount of uranium is adequate. If we develop reactors that can utilize higher cost uranium such as the breeder reactors that I mentioned earlier. However we also feel that an extensive program for exploration for uranium which by the way is
under way by a private industry in the United States will lead to the discovery of much larger deposits of even low cost uranium so that I think there is a potential problem. With respect to sources of uranium it will be solved in two ways one by extensive exploration to find more low cost uranium and secondly by the development of reactors that will be able to economically use higher cost uranium. Now is there anything we can substitute for uranium in this process there is and I should have mentioned that tutorial is another source of fissionable material just like uranium can be used either through the means of its a rare isotope uranium 235 or by converting its abundant isotope into the fissionable plutonium Thore M can be utilized as a so-called fertile material by converting
its isotopes into fissionable uranium 233 so that breeder reactors operating on the thory in the Iranian 233 cycle are also on the drawing boards and when they are perfected it will be possible to burn story M as well as as uranium so that. We have a potentially almost unlimited amounts of uranium and thorium on earth and nuff to last not only hundreds but perhaps thousands of years. When these reactors that can use these fuels efficiently are finally developed. On a related subject Dr recently there were news reports of uranium prospectors who may die because of over exposure to radiation. Could you give us some information on these dangers.
Well the exposure to radiation is one of the hazards of uranium mining and the general problem attendant with it is under investigation at the present time. In other words there's no stock answer at this time no. What about the city radiation count many papers across the country daily print what they call the radiation level. Is this country the United States currently getting a significant dose of radiation from experiments and other sources. Oh no there is there is. The amount of radiation that is placed in the atmosphere due to experiments is completely negligible when atmospheric testing was going on some five years ago.
There were amounts of radiation in the atmosphere that were of concern to a number of people and this is one of the reasons that the limited test ban treaty was negotiated in 1963 but in the meantime there hasn't been any testing in the atmosphere now for nearly five years so except for the Iranians. Except for the Chinese You're right and the French. But this testing has been going on rather moderate rate so far. And I do not believe that it is can be considered very hazardous to the general health of the people in the world by anybody. Dr. Seeburg You said recently that by the year 2000 man stands a pretty good chance of making a very unpleasant place to live.
What did you mean by that statement. Well I didn't mean that we would. This was a possibility. If we didn't change the way that we have been treating our environment that is if we continue to pour waste products into the environment. If we continued to pollute our water and our atmosphere then we could as a result of this assault on our natural environment make the world a much less desirable place to live but I think I went on to say that. We can with planning actually using science and technology to counteract
some of the problems that have been created by science and technology to make the world not only a desirable place but almost an ideal place to live so that I don't believe that I would be so pessimistic as to indicate that this polluted world will be a world in which we will be forced to live in the future I think. I think I have the confidence that we will apply science and technology to the solution of these pollution problems and hence make it possible to evolve a world that benefits to the maximum from science and technology. Thank you very much Dr I trying as you've been listening to a discussion on the role of atomic energy in our lives featuring Dr. Glenn TC Board chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission. This program was produced for the national
- NER Washington forum
- Producing Organization
- WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
- National Association of Educational Broadcasters, WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) Chairman Glenn T. Seaborg on the role of atomic or nuclear energy.
- Other Description
- Discussion series featuring a prominent figure affecting federal government policy.
- Public Affairs
- Media type
Host: Greenwood, Bill
Producing Organization: WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
Producing Organization: National Association of Educational Broadcasters, WAMU-FM (Radio station : Washington, D.C.)
Speaker: Seaborg, Glenn T. (Glenn Theodore), 1912-1999
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-24-12 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “NER Washington forum; Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Glenn T. Seaborg.” 1967-06-06. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 11, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-7d2q9299>.
- APA: NER Washington forum; Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Glenn T. Seaborg. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-7d2q9299