IN A PHONE booth in Fort Dix, N.J., during basic training, the end of it, actually, this kid got into the phone booth behind mine. He was very young, virtually bald as we all were, and he called home-a priest I think. He had just gotten his orders, what would follow basic training, where he would go next, and he took them out and started to read them all of a sudden he broke down, cried and yelled, "They lied to me." He was not going into the missile program as promised. I was in the next booth. I listened to the entire conversation, listened in wonder. The kid was sobbing, feeling this defeat in a very personal way, feeling sold out and cheated and foolish and what made me wonder was not that he felf this way but that he was surprised that the Army had lied to him. Now I know how he felf. It is how I feel about nuclear energy.

They lied, they lied, they leid. My God, did they lie. They told us it was safe. What a lie. They told us it was clean. Did you ever hear such a lie? They told us a lot of things and all week they have been telling us one lie after another. First they vented radioactive something because they wanted to and then you vented it because they didn't want to and now maybe they didn't vent at all. There is only one thing you can count on. They lied.

As a nation, we are like people who have been told the check is in the mail. This is the one where we grow up and get the bad news and learn that never again are we going to listen and believe the garbage we've been getting from the utility companies. They told us so many things. My God, they lied.

Boy, did I want to believe them. It was wonderful-just the promise of it. Clean fue. Efficient fuel. Non-petroleum fuel. Non-arab fuel. No more blackmail and boycotts and no more meetings in funny sounding places where all of a sudden the price of gas goes up. This was going to be the promise and we were told, assured, that the people who scoffed, who said there was a safety factor to consider, were the crazies-relics of the 1960s. When will we learn?

With me, it is always too late. With me, I have this distrust of people who demonstrate. I always thinks they're being emotional, nonanalytical. When they demonstrated about the Seabrook plant in New Hampshire, I was on the side of the company Think about it.Would a company build a plant that wasn't safe? Would they tell you it was safe if it wasn't? It seemed to be logical. It seemed to make sense. They couldn't be lying. Now we know.

They said they had backup devices behind back up devices. It was like some guy telling some girl how she could not become pregnant. It was something we wanted to believe. It was as mean and big a lie as that. It was this system and that system and even if there was a meltdown you could never have the sort of thing they talked about in the movie, "China Syndrome." The stuff would never go all the way to China. Ha, ha, they said. Don't be ridiculous, they said who do you think we are, they said. Liar, I say. That's who they are.

Those responsible have the habits of a burglar. In the middle of the night they dumped 400,000 gallons of slighty radioactive water into the Susquehanna River. When asked about that and emissions into the air, the company spokesman said, "I don't know why we need to tell you every step we take, everything we do." A man who tells you nothing cannot be accused of lying.

It is hard to understand. It is their utility and their people and their industry. It's hard to believe that they would lie to themselves, too, although it's easy to envision "yes men" all the way up the line telling itsy-bitsy lies that add up. But a lot of it is not what they said, but what they didn't say. They didn't say they didn't know what would happen. They didn't say they didn't know at all. They acted as if they knew everything there was to know about nuclear energy. They acted as if they had it all under control. They were lying.

So far no one has died and so far there has been no mass evacuation and so far this is no catastrophe. The chances are that things will be all right and the chances are we will learn from our mistakes and the chances are that nuclear energy will make some sort of comeback. Almost nothing is certain in this life and almost nothing is certain about this episode. There is only one thing you can count on for sure.

They lied.