122. Memorandum of Conversation1

  • SUBJECT
    • Impending Energy Crisis and Means to Meet It
  • PARTICIPANTS
    • Acting Secretary Irwin
    • Mr. Donovan Zook, Director, Office of Atomic Energy Affairs, SCI
    • Mr. James E. Akins, Director, FSE
    • Dr. James R. Schlesinger, Chairman, AEC
    • Mr. John J. Flaherty, Assistant General Manager for Energy and Development Programs, AEC

Under Secretary Irwin and Mr. Akins outlined the world energy scene, which had deteriorated considerably since they had last met with Dr. Schlesinger.2 Under Secretary Irwin said that this was the reason for his letter of May 17, attached.3 Dr. Schlesinger went over the list of subjects Under Secretary Irwin had suggested we might discuss. He commended the Department for its activities in the energy field, for our testimony before Congressional committees, and for our private work with members of Congress to convince them of energy needs and the necessity of taking action. He said he hoped that this would be continued and expanded.

Dr. Schlesinger said that one field where considerable savings in oil consumption could be made would be in tankers. He said that in the trip from the mid-east to American and European markets 15 percent of the fuel carried by the tankers is consumed. If nuclear powered tankers were used, this would result in saving literally millions of barrels of oil per year. When Mr. Zook noted the current interest of the Maritime Administration in nuclear propulsion, Dr. Schlesinger observed that this interest was focussed primarily on containerized cargo ships rather than tankers. Mr. Akins said he would take the matter of nuclear-powered tankers up with major oil companies soon.

Dr. Schlesinger and Mr. Flaherty were less optimistic about the prospects of producing gas from tight formations through nuclear stimulation than they had been at the earlier meetings. The problem is essentially one of public resistance to the nuclear detonations which would be required. Mr. Flaherty said that he had just come back from [Page 296]Wyoming where he was trying to get community acceptance of a few test sites and that he had “just escaped from a mob intended to tar and feather him.” The AEC still believes that it would be relatively easy physically to open up gas resources at the rate of one trillion cubic feet per year with the explosion of one hundred nuclear devices a year. This should cost no more than 50¢ a thousand cubic feet and additional radiation would be minimal. However, the increasingly negative attitudes of environmental groups in Colorado and Wyoming, where the nuclear explosion would take place, is so intense that we should perhaps stop considering this as a practical measure to increase energy supplies. They pointed out that the matter was ironical since more energy could be made available through this method than would be produced by using the same quantity of uranium for straight nuclear powered electricity generating plants.

Under Secretary Irwin and Mr. Akins said that they had talked informally with our European and Japanese allies about the prospects of cooperating to find and develop new sources of energy and avoid the competition for available energy in times of crisis. They said responses had varied from skepticism to enthusiastic approval.

Dr. Schlesinger said as he had at the earlier meetings that the only way to solve the problem would be through a strong coordinated international organization similar to the European Coal and Steel Community. He had hoped such an organization could be established.4 He said that the United States was prepared to share some of its technology but that the new secrecy comes from the Europeans, particularly the French, not from the Americans. Mr. Akins said that there appeared to be some suspicion from the Europeans that we might be using this proposal as a device to assume control over their economies. He said that this, of course, was true and that while the United States could expect, through its advanced technology, to reap very substantial commercial benefits in such an “energy community,” this would not be the primary reason for the proposal. The Europeans should see, if they haven’t already, that the alternative to close cooperation among the major consumers is a shortage of energy combined with sky-rocketing prices, which would be disastrous.

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Mr. Akins said that we would be working up a draft proposal on how cooperation might be carried out among the countries which are heavy energy consumers, and that we would certainly want to incorporate AEC points of view. He said that we would work on a first draft and would discuss this with the AEC within a month or so. Mr. Flaherty said he would welcome the opportunity to work with us on this.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, FSE 13. Confidential. Drafted by Akins.
  2. See footnote 1, Document 109.
  3. Attached but not printed is Irwin’s May 17 letter to Schlesinger.
  4. In a speech before the 1972 OECD Ministerial Council, Irwin argued for the formation of a consumers union “to increase the availability of all types of energy resources, to lessen, to the degree possible, an overdependence on oil from the Middle East, to coordinate the response of consuming countries to restrictions on the supply of Middle East petroleum, and to develop, jointly and cooperatively, a responsible program of action to meet the possibility of critical energy shortages by the end of this decade.” He added that the OECD High Level Group was the logical forum for the development of such a program. (Airgram A–171 from USOECD Paris, May 30; National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, OECD 8–2)