140. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant for Science and Technology (Hornig) to the President’s Special Assistant (Valenti)1

In the proposals for “An Expanded Program of International Cooperation in Desalting,” Secretary Udall and Chairman Seaborg make several suggestions worth serious consideration for use in a Presidential statement at the forthcoming international desalting symposium.2 These include the offer of:

Surveys to identify and compare available water and energy resources and needs.
Detailed feasibility and economic studies of particular projects.
Research and development on special problems involved in foreign desalting plants.

In addition, I would think that the President could reiterate the firm intention of the United States to share its desalting technology with other nations, both by making our research reports available and by improving our consulting capabilities and our facilities for receiving foreign scientists and engineers to review our activities here.

However, I believe that the central proposal by Udall and Seaborg for a 300–500 million dollar assistance program raises several very serious questions and should be very carefully thought through before any decision is made on whether to include a reference to it in any Presidential statement.3

One major concern is the timing of such a program in relation to the state of the technology. We have not yet built or even authorized any large desalting plants. The largest plant on which we have actual experience produces on the order of a million and one-half gallons a day. If we try too quickly to assist in the construction of large plants [Page 252] abroad, without having well developed and tested technology on hand ourselves, we risk severe damage to our international prestige and reputation4 and the proposal might backfire for either of two reasons: 1) by resulting in an uneconomical “white elephant” which might require continuing operating subsidy over its useful lifetime (in addition to capital subsidy) or 2) by resulting in a “lemon” which might not operate satisfactorily without extensive and costly modifications.

A dual purpose (power and water) plant of the type being considered for Israel would produce water at about 35/1000 gallons. Since the water is worth at most 20/1000 gallons to grow oranges (and less for any other crop), the subsidy required would be about $5 million per year. A “water-only” plant would produce water at a higher cost and therefore would require a higher subsidy. The same problem comes up elsewhere in the world except that it is harder to sell power in nations which are less developed than Israel.

I think it might be appropriate for the President to point out that we are just in the process of undertaking a five-year R&D program to cost nearly $200 million, and to talk about overseas financial assistance, if at all, only in the context of a future time, certainly after we have gotten authorization for at least one plant here.

We must also consider the following very significant concerns:

The relation of the proposal to our existing foreign aid programs.
The palatability to Congress of undertaking an expensive foreign assistance program in the absence of any comparable domestic program. What will be the effect of announcing he will request this money before he has made any request for U.S. plants.
The foreign policy issues raised. The only concrete item in sight is the Israeli plant which raises the question of aggravation of Arab-Israeli problems implicit in U.S. assistance to a large plant in Israel.
The questions raised in supplying, with U.S. financial aid, large nuclear plants capable of plutonium production to some of the politically less stable countries that might be candidates.

Some of these questions would be much easier if the President were to propose an internationally managed loan fund analogous to the Southeast Asian Development Program.

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I understand that the State Department, the Budget Bureau and Mac Bundy’s shop are also concerned about questions of this nature raised by the Udall-Seaborg proposals, and it seems especially important to me that the views of these agencies be sought. I understand Charlie Schultze is pulling together their comments.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, White House Central Files, FO 7/1–FO 7/5, Box 53. No classification marking.
  2. Dated September 10; see footnote 5, Document 139.
  3. The Interior Department’s draft Presidential statement read: “Science has given man great powers—the power to destroy and the power to create. We are endeavoring with all our might to limit the power to destroy. We have been sitting at world council tables for years in pursuit of this endeavor. It is time we called the world to one conference room to use the other power—the power to create.” The statement described water as the most vital, and most limited, resource: “The dribble from a leaky faucet in New York City may be the liquid which slaked the thirst of a dinosaur, watered the hanging gardens of Babylon, or refreshed Hannibal at some Alpine stream.” Neither sentence appeared in the final version of the President’s remarks. (Attachment to letter from Holum to Pollack, September 15; Department of State, SCI Files: Lot 71 D 483)
  4. According to “An Expanded Program of International Cooperation in Desalting,” “Perhaps foremost among the above objectives and corresponding benefits noted above is the prestige implication of United States leadership in desalting. The United States experience, both affirmative and negative, in two other areas of modern technology—atomic energy and space—establish beyond a doubt the great significance to the promotion of our vital interests abroad of maintaining technological leadership. There is no field where the value to be derived from such leadership is more apparent at the present time than in that of desalting the water of the sea. The strong appeal of this concept is apparent to the President and to the leaders of many other countries.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Charles E. Johnson Files, Nuclear Desalting of Water (Nuclear Power), 1 of 3)