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Obama and the Military-Industrial-Scientific Complex
by Karl Grossman
Dwight Eisenhower's farewell address as president 48 years ago is famous for his warning of the rise of a "military-industrial complex" in the United States. In fact, the original draft of the speech warned not only of a "military-industrial complex" but of the "military-industrial-scientific complex." Only because of the plea of Eisenhower's science advisor, James Killian, was the word "scientific" eliminated.
The "military-industrial-scientific complex" was the far more accurate description of the complex of vested interests manipulating the US then - and now. Obama has named as his secretary of energy Dr. Steven Chu, a physicist and director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a staunch advocate of nuclear power - typical of the sentiment of those in the national nuclear laboratory system. At his confirmation hearing before the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Dr. Chu declared that nuclear power "is going to be an important part of our energy mix." He also spoke for an $18.5 billion loan guarantee program for new nuclear power plants.
Dr. Chu declared that nuclear power "is going to be an important part of our energy mix."
As his science advisor, Obama appointed physicist John Holdren, who in 1970 "started my career working on nuclear fusion" at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, he noted in a speech last year. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is where the hydrogen bomb, based on fusion, was developed. But, said Dr. Holdren in his January 17, 2008 talk on "Meeting the Climate-Change Challenge," he "decided" that fusion "was not going to work by the time I died" in terms of non-military use. So he "started looking at approaches to meet our energy needs that could help more quickly." He has long considered fission, how atomic bombs and nuclear power plants work, as a source of energy particularly to deal with global warming. This despite the overall "nuclear cycle" - which includes uranium mining and milling, enrichment, fuel fabrication and disposal of radioactive waste - having significant greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming.
Eisenhower in the January 17, 1961 address declared: "In the council of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
Eisenhower warned: "Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposing danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite."
The system of US national laboratories which grew out of the crash program of World War II to build atomic bombs, the Manhattan Project, was - and is - the base for much of the scientific establishment about which Eisenhower was concerned.
With the war over, the scientists, engineers and corporate contractors at the facilities that had sprung up continued to build atomic bombs, thousands of them, and then came the drive to build an even more lethal nuclear weapon: the hydrogen bomb. But nuclear weapons don't lend themselves to commercial spin-off. What else could be done, they asked, with nuclear technology to perpetuate the jobs and contracts which began with the Manhattan Project during the war? The Manhattan Project was turned into the Atomic Energy Commission. Under it, and at the former Manhattan Project laboratories the commission took over and the new laboratories it built, the push was on for all sorts of other things nuclear: nuclear power plants, food irradiation, nuclear-powered airplanes and spacecraft, atomic devices for excavation including their use to create harbors - anything to bring more activity and money to the scientific vested interests established during the war.
"...public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite."
David E. Lillienthal, the first chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, used words similar to those of Eisenhower in a series of lectures in 1963 at Princeton University and in a book published that year, Change, Hope, and the Bomb.
Lillienthal said: "The classic picture of the scientist as a creative individual, a man obsessed, working alone through the night, a man in a laboratory pursuing an idea - this has changed. Now scientists are ranked in platoons. They are the organization men. In many cases, the independent and humble search for new truths about nature has become confused with the bureaucratic impulse to justify expenses and see that next year's budget is bigger than last's."
He spoke about the "elaborate and even luxurious [national] laboratories that have grown up at Oak Ridge, Argonne, Brookhaven" and the push to use nuclear devices for "blowing out harbors, making explosions underground to produce steam, and so on." They demonstrated, he said, "how far scientists and administrators will go to try to establish a nonmilitary use" for nuclear technology.
In Dr. Steven Chu, Obama chose as his energy secretary someone who has long been known for promoting nuclear power. "Nuclear has to be a necessary part of the portfolio," he declared in a 2008 speech. "The fear of radiation shouldn't even enter into this." At his confirmation hearing, he spoke of how nuclear power produces purportedly "carbon-free" energy. Dr. Chu joined with other national laboratory directors in 2008 in a statement titled, "A Sustainable Energy Future: The Essential Role of Nuclear Energy."
He will have a key role in charting the energy future of the United States in his new role as head of the Department of Energy, an agency of 15,000 employees which runs the national nuclear laboratory system. The Department of Energy was given control of the national laboratories after the Atomic Energy Commission was dismantled in 1974 because, determined Congress, it was in conflict of interest having the power of both promoting and regulating nuclear power. The Department of Energy was given the nuclear promotional role and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission formed to regulate nuclear technology (very poorly, as it has turned out).
Chu declared..."The fear of radiation shouldn't even enter into this."
Dr. Chu's Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory was an original laboratory of the Manhattan Project and then called the Radiation Laboratory. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, at which Dr. Holdren worked, was set up in 1952 as an offshoot of Lawrence Berkeley - its establishment spearheaded by Dr. Edward Teller as he sought to develop a fusion weapon, the hydrogen bomb. Essentially, he was given his own national laboratory to do that. Dr. Teller became the long-time director of Lawrence Livermore.
An extensive report on Dr. Holdren and nuclear power during the Clinton years was done by Jeffrey St. Clair.  He describes how Dr. Holdren was "tapped" by then Vice President "Gore and Clinton's science advisor Jack Gibbons to head a task force on energy and climate policy as part of the Presidential Commission on Science and Technology. Holdren's panel was well-stocked with allies of the nuclear lobby.With this roster of advisors, it's not surprising that Holdren's report largely parrots the line advanced by the Nuclear Energy Institute (the main nuclear industry trade group), calling for increased research and development subsidies for fusion and fission, export of US nuclear technology and the creation of a new Nuclear Energy Research Institute to underwrite `new reactor designs with high-efficiency, lower-cost and improved safety to compete in the global market.'" On fusion, "Holdren and his gang" recommended $280 million in "fusion research, a proven waste of money in terms of energy production." The scheme, said the piece, was to "funnel fusion energy research money to places like Lawrence Livermore Lab and its mammoth National Ignition Facility."
Dr. Holdren's appointment is being applauded by some like nuclear advocate Rod Adams, who wrote in his Atomic Insights Blog, it "provides one more reason for believing that the second Atomic Age is gaining momentum and will soon be a self-evident reality."
"American energy policy is overly influenced or outright controlled by the major, non-renewable energy providers - Coal, Nuclear, Oil - and not by the United States citizenry or for our common good," says CLEAN, a movement of state and local organizations and individuals seeking to have the US government promote the use of safe, clean, renewable energy technologies, on its website. "This energy policy and the political climate that enables it has created a reliance on fossil fuels that now endangers our health, environment, security, and economic prosperity. CLEAN will advance this new energy future by educating and coordinating the citizenry to exercise its own power and influence and reclaim its rightful role in democratic self-determination."
Karl Grossman is professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury and author of books involving NASA including The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program's Nuclear Threat To Our Planet.
1. Jeffrey St. Clair, Nuclear Saviors: Kyoto, Gore and the Atomic Lobby, http://counterpunch.com/stclair03242007.html. For more on Holdren see Jeffrey St. Clair's profile of the scientist and his promotion of nuclear power in Born Under a Bad Sky (AK Press, 2007).
2. For more information, go to CLEAN's website at http://theclean.org or the website of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, http://www.nirs.org
[26 sep 09]