Jimmy Carter photo

Oak Ridge, Tennessee Remarks at a Roundtable Discussion With Oak Ridge National Laboratory Scientists.

May 22, 1978

Well, the first thing I want to say is that I'm very proud to be at Oak Ridge with all of you.

When I was in the nuclear program in the early fifties, Oak Ridge was almost like Mecca for us, because this is where the basic work was done that, first of all, contributed to the freedom of the world and ended the war and, secondly, shifted very rapidly to peaceful use of nuclear power.

I have never been here before. Admiral Rickover 1 has told me a lot about this place, and so has my wife, who came here during the campaign. But I know that your major thrust has now shifted away from the production of nuclear power for destructive purposes and toward a broad range of peaceful and constructive uses.

You still contribute to the defense of our country, for which I'm very grateful as Commander in Chief and as President. I think that we've now reached a time in the evolution of our country when your work is going to be of increasing importance. We are now addressing questions that have not been addressed adequately, questions that have not been solved or answered in the past.

The Nation is concerned about those problems that you are trying to solve here. And I think we've just now begun to realize the diversity of them and the interrelationship among them and how important international cooperation has become.

We've got a real need under the National Energy Plan, that we are now having considered by Congress, which we hope will soon be addressed successfully, a challenge for the future which you can help to solve—the accurate inventorying of our limited resources, the proper extraction, modification, distribution, use of those resources, how to eliminate waste and get maximum benefit for our people from what God has given us in minerals and through the Sun and through our water and land supplies.

We've got, I think, a burgeoning concern about the health or environmental impact of long-term exposure to both very small quantities of radiation and to what was formerly considered to be negligible amounts of pollution in the air, in the water and the land. And your work here is contributing greatly to understanding these complex matters and to deriving answers to those questions as well.

In the future, I think the success that we will strive to achieve in the energy field is heavily on your shoulders. You've been blessed by a concentration here of superb intelligence and experience, a breadth of knowledge and unlimited vision among the scientists and those who support them.

We've got some technologies that are already well underway—the fluidized bed coal combustion—others that are not quite so far along but still have not yet been utilized fully—the gas-cooled reactor, breeder technology in all its forms, how to expedite and make more energy efficient the enrichment of uranium to determine the limits on its proper use, other radioactive materials to be used, like thorium.

Far into the future perhaps—not quite so far if you are successful—is the use of fusion power. I know that you've had great scientific achievements here in reaching perhaps the highest temperatures of anywhere else on Earth. And we still have, as you well know, three limiting factors on having a successful and sustained fusion process here on Earth, and the work here at Oak Ridge can contribute greatly to that.

We've not yet been able to solve the question of proper disposal of nuclear wastes, even though your work at Oak Ridge in the production of fissionable quality nuclear material began many decades ago. And I think the whole world still waits for a clear concept of how used nuclear fuels can be stored and preserved, perhaps for additional use in the future, without danger to our life or the quality of our existence.

We've initiated—Secretary Schlesinger, working closely with me, Secretary of State Vance, and others—an international nuclear fuel cycle study to evaluate the inventory of nuclear fuels throughout the world, how they might be mined, how they might be purified or concentrated in their fissionable qualities, how they might be burned more expeditiously and with higher efficiency, how the power from them might be distributed, how we might prevent their being converted into explosives for the destruction of humankind, and how the waste might be disposed.

These are questions of increasing interest to many nations in the world who have not yet been involved in the nuclear generation, but we and our own allies and friends, even our potential political enemies are trying to work now in harmony to answer many of these questions which address you.

And the last point that I'd like to make that is a major responsibility of yours that I recognize very clearly, is that of public education. I think there are a lot of misapprehensions about energy of all kinds, in particular, nuclear fuels.

We've tried to expedite the licensing process. It takes, quite often, 12 years or so from the time when a decision is made, a firm decision to construct a nuclear powerplant in the United States, to the time it actually begins to produce usable quantities of electricity or other power. This is excessive time required.

And the proper balancing of environmental constraints with the expeditious supply of nuclear power for our people is one that is a responsibility of yours and also of mine.

So, I recognize that you have great work ongoing here, some much too advanced for me to comprehend or to understand. But you've got my appreciation and my support.

And I hope that this visit here will not only be instructive for me but it will help to clarify some of the interrelationships that exist between you and me, and will let me, t;rank Press, my Science Adviser, Dr. Schlesinger, who's head of the new Department of Energy, and you work with a greater sense of partnership, mutual commitment, and the assurance of success that we have experienced even in the past.

So, on behalf of the people of our country, I want to thank you and express my admiration for what you've already achieved and let you know that I am sure, because of the quality of your work, that your achievements will be much greater and much more beneficial in the future.

Thank you very much.

1 Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, Deputy Commander for Nuclear Propulsion, Naval Sea Systems Command, Department of the Navy.

Note: The President spoke at 1 p.m. in the Central Auditorium at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Headquarters. Following his remarks, the President, Secretary of Energy James R. Schlesinger, John M. Deutch, Director of the Office of Energy Research, Department of Energy, and Frank Press, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, participated in the discussion with Oak Ridge scientists.

During his visit to the Oak Ridge facilities, the President viewed several displays in connection with the Laboratory's research and toured the Gaseous Diffusion Facility.

Jimmy Carter, Oak Ridge, Tennessee Remarks at a Roundtable Discussion With Oak Ridge National Laboratory Scientists. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244928

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