322. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter 1


  • Funding for the Clinch River Reactor

I understand that you have spoken with Jim Schlesinger and are considering approving the ERDA request for Clinch River funding. I feel that you should know that such a course could have extremely serious effects on the success of your non-proliferation efforts in the critical next six months.

We are asking other nations to make profound changes in their own energy plans because of our concern with the proliferation risks of the global trend toward a plutonium economy. The only way in which we can demonstrate our willingness to share in the sacrifices we are asking of others is by clearly slowing down our breeder program and that we no longer look upon it as the centerpiece of our energy strategy. This is entirely consistent with your campaign statements to “minimize our efforts in the breeder field.”

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It is for these reasons that I—as well as the Department of State, ACDA, the CEQ and the Domestic Council—strongly recommend that you either zero out the Clinch River budget item or make a much more meaningful cut in the program than ERDA contemplates. The funding level they have recommended in no way slows the heart of the Clinch River program and in fact entails a $41 million increase in spending over FY ’77. I submit that this will not be seen as a serious action on our part by the Germans, the French, the Brazilians, the Pakistanis or the Japanese.

At the same time, the course of action I am advocating does not require any concrete sacrifice in our domestic energy situation. If either PRM–152 or the breeder program review3 indicate that the Clinch River Reactor is not inimical to our efforts in the proliferation field or is essential to our domestic energy needs (both extremely unlikely), then a budget supplemental can be sent to Congress in plenty of time for action before the beginning of the new fiscal year, with no interruption in the program.

At your request I will be forwarding to you first thing tomorrow, a paper on what we can do in regard to international restraints with the hope of getting other nations to join in our efforts. By far the most potent option available to us is exactly this one: to clearly tell the rest of the world that we consider the dangers of proliferation seriously enough to halt for the time being our own progress toward commercialization of the breeder by stopping or dramatically slowing the first big step—further work on the Clinch River Reactor. 4

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Global Issues, Oplinger/Bloomfield File, Box 42, Proliferation: Clinch River Breeder Reactor, 2/77–9/79. Confidential. Sent for information. At the top of the memorandum, an unknown hand wrote “NOTE: Delivered to the Pres. Via Rich Hutcheson [illegible.]”
  2. See Document 317.
  3. See Document 337.
  4. In his memoirs, Carter wrote “My first veto” of a congressional bill was a “$6 billion authorization bill for energy research,” including “$80 million for commencing construction of a nuclear breeder reactor on the Clinch River near Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Because it was enormously expensive and unnecessary, and would open up a new and dangerous plutonium industry in our country, I was determined to prevent construction of this prototype plant.” (Carter, Keeping Faith, pp. 101–102)