January 2, 1959. President Eisenhower, one of the most pro-private-enterprise, anti-government-funding American leaders ever, has to deal with a rambunctious legislature that pushes for AEC (the Atomic Energy Commission) to build numerous reactors. (Why? A complex weave of reasons, often nationalistic, often local-political.) No one seems to know which of many reactor designs is “best” (a situation complicated by everyone tooting their own horns). AEC finds itself in political hell, constantly unable to satisfy its various political masters.
On this day, a committee of scientists and engineers cobbled together by AEC three months earlier, delivers its 71-page report. What an inauspicious moniker the committee has, the Ad Hoc Committee on Reactor Programs and Policy! Some of the reactor men I’ve been following are among the eight committee members, and the committee’s specific recommendations – explore this design, research that field, build such a prototype – are familiar to me. In other words, the 71 pages might cover ground I need to examine.
And yet I ask myself: what should I do with this report? Study its solemn pronouncements? Pursue its passage through executive and political channels? The answer is clear: I do almost nothing. The committee’s name is a clue, for this is a face-saving, decision-deferring waste of time. I know instantly that all my detailed notes covering 1959 and into the early 1960s barely mention the Ad Hoc report. So I take a minute to skim the executive summary fronting the 71 pages (just in case, you never know) and then … I bin it.
AEC. 1959. Report by Ad Hoc Committee on Reactor Programs and Policy. Folder “Civilian Power Program, Vol. 2”, Box 122 Entry 9E2A/13, 7, RG 128, NARA, College Park, Maryland.