Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Statement by the President Upon Signing Bill Authorizing Appropriations for the Atomic Energy Commission.

August 04, 1958

BECAUSE IT ADVANCES various atomic energy projects required for defense and peaceful purposes, I have today approved the bill H. R. 13121. Certain of its provisions are undesirable, however. On these I have a brief comment.

First, the bill authorizes $ 145 million for an additional plutonium production reactor. Distinguished citizens have advocated this project, and I have carefully weighed their views. It needs to be understood, first, that military requirements govern our need for more plutonium production capacity, and second, that the executive agency to which I look for dependable estimates of these requirements is the Department of Defense. That Department advises me--and I agree--that the necessity for more plutonium for military purposes is not established. The Department is now reassessing these requirements in a study which involves present and future weapons systems and force structures and their relation to the nation's overall defense plans. Until this study is completed, and unless it solidly establishes to my satisfaction the necessity for so large a project, I consider it unsound to proceed.

No less questionable is a provision making this reactor convertible for the generation of electric power. The design would cost $25 million more than a regular production reactor of comparable size; $59 million more would be needed later to convert it for the generation of approximately 300,000 kilowatts of electric power for eventual sale to the public. Reliable economic data supporting this heavy expenditure by the government are wholly lacking. Again, I consider it unsound to proceed.

Second, this legislation limits in various ways the Commission's management of atomic power development as well as other public or private participation in the program. By discouraging private proposals, these limitations impede rather than accelerate the achievement of economic atomic power. Moreover, they tend to involve the government unnecessarily in the construction and operation of full-scale atomic power plants. The principle is well established that it is unwise to legislate detailed administrative and technical procedures.

Third, and a specific example of such limitations, the Commission's negotiations with industry for the construction of a $51 million gas-cooled power reactor are made subject to unduly restrictive time limits.

Statutory time limits on complex technical and financial negotiations discourage industry proposals and hinder the Commission's orderly review and negotiations of those proposals. These restrictions could well force the government into an avoidable capital investment of $51 million and large operating expenditures for years to come.

In these circumstances, I suggest to Congress the wisdom of withholding appropriations at this session for the construction of this reactor. Should industry develop proposals for construction and operation of this type of reactor, I shall in the next session recommend appropriations to carry out the Commission's share of any cooperative arrangement. Alternatively, should it develop that a satisfactory industrial proposal will not be forthcoming in a reasonable time, I will request funds for its construction by the government if this proves at that time to be the sound course of action.

Fourth, the bill authorizes construction of research facilities totaling $39 million in addition to those I requested and also the design of four power reactors. These are not undesirable projects, but they have been included without adequate consideration of other pressing governmental needs requiring funding in fiscal year 1959.

I feel obliged to urge the Congress to guard more vigilantly against the ever present tendency to burden the government with programs, such as those I have here described, the relative urgency and essentiality of which have not been solidly determined.

Note: As enacted, H. R. 13121 is Public Law 85-590 (72 Stat. 490).

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Statement by the President Upon Signing Bill Authorizing Appropriations for the Atomic Energy Commission. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233805

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