Com Ed’s start on nuclear

Commonwealth Edison (now buried within giant Exelon) was one of the largest utilities in the late 1940s and into the 1950s. When the United States opened up to nuclear energy, with new legislation in 1954, Com Ed was one of the first out of the starting gates; its Dresden 1 plant was the first private nuclear power station in the country.

What intrigues me is how slow the “quick” entry actually was. In March 1951, Com Ed’s chairman Charles Freeman (soon to be replaced with a more aggressive head) wrote to AEC’s chairman, Roger Dean, asking to be allowed behind the top secret fences of the AEC to study the new technology:

Representatives of the Commonwealth Edison Group of Companies have been interested in the development of nuclear power, particularly as they could be adapted to power production and are glad to learn from the news release recently sent out by the Atomic Energy Commission that industry is invited to participate in the research and development of nuclear reactors as they may be applied to industrial purposes. The Commonwealth Edison group of companies therefore request permission from [AEC] to institute a study of the economic possibilities of the subject with the aid of representatives of the Commission to the end that by being informed they may make a contribution to the development of reactors which will not only supply the government with needed products but will economically develop power in the process. For many years the companies have carried on industrial research at universities and research institutes…”

Freeman, Charles Y. 1951. Freeman to Dean, Mar. 9, 1951. “Industrial Application of Atomic Energy for Power Purposes,” Box 56, Entry E-67A1, RG 326. NARA II, College Park, Maryland.

Given the R&D capabability of Com Ed, they would have been studying, to the limited extent they were permitted, the new atomic science from the late 1940s. So “quick” is by no means accurate.

Note also Freeman’s reference to “needed products.” This is code for reactor-waste plutonium. For a brief period, AEC would only countenance the idea of power reactors if they were redesigned to also pump out plutonium for military purposes.

1951 letter