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Dick Thornburgh on: Nuclear Energy in the 1970s
Dick Thornburgh Q: How did people think about nuclear energy before the accident in '79?

RT: I don't think there's any question that at the time, people looked upon nuclear power as a possible panacea for our energy problems. Someone had once noted that nuclear power was eventually going to be "too cheap to meter" and that's a very promising kind of characterization. To the extent that we thought at all about safety questions, environmental questions, that would be only on the basis of a couple of incidents that had occurred at nuclear power plants around the United States. But they weren't given much wide publicity and I think the general public was unaware, blissfully unaware, of any of the hazards that were involved.

Q: What were the energy problems of the '70s?

RT: Well, the big problem was the formation of OPEC and the potential strangle hold that the oil producing companies had on developed nations. We saw, in fact, at the time the Three Mile Island nuclear accident occurred, oil and gas prices were skyrocketing and one of the prime concerns of an administration in Washington, President Carter's administration, was how to deal with this. And, of course, the nuclear option was flatly on the table so that people were very much interested in what contribution nuclear energy could make to our energy future. Other countries around the world were similarly situated and, indeed, relied upon and continued to rely upon, nuclear energy as a far more significant contributor to their energy mix than we do in the United States.

Q: In the '70s did you see an acceleration of the building of nuclear power plants?

RT: To be honest about it, I didn't really pay much attention to nuclear power. It was not an issue. I was aware of the fact that the first commercial nuclear power plant had been put into position in Pennsylvania, near my hometown of Pittsburgh. That was always a source of pride to the state, that we had been a forerunner in developing this new sort of energy, but it was really not on the agenda in terms of being an issue during my campaign for governor or any other campaigns that had occurred during the 1970s. So that we, like I suppose most Americans, kind of knew a little bit about nuclear power, obviously deriving from the development of nuclear weapons. We knew that this had been converted to commercial use in some respects, but it wasn't exactly a preoccupying issue of the day.

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