And strike they have, in a gathering show of strength against President Carter's decision to forgo the use of plutonium as a nuclear fuel.
Just yesterday the House Science and Technology Committee, after weeks of maneuvering, voted 19 to 11 to disregard Carter's objections and authorize $150 million to begin construction at Clinch River. That vote led Senate Minority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) to say he was "optimistic for the first time" Congress would fund the Clinch River breeder.
What has been most striking is the way diverse lobbies have closed ranks in the last three weeks against Carter's move to cancel the Clinch River, Tenn., plant that will breed more plutonium than it burns while making electricity. The U.S. Labor Party side-by-side with the AFLO-CIO. Westinghouse hand-in-hand with General Electric.The American Petroleum Institute in step with the Atomic Industrial Forum. Japan, West Germany, France, Great Britain and Iran all speaking out with one voice for Clinch River.
"They're flooding Capitol Hill with letters from people whose jobs depend on Clinch River and that includes 19 congressional districts," said James Cubie, director of the anti-nuclear group New Directions, of the breeder lobby effort by the nuclear industry and its labor unions. "This is the heavyiest lobbying I've ever seen."
Behind Carter's move to kill Clinch River are environmentalists like Cubie, Mark Reis of Friends of the Earth and Tony Roisman and Tom Cochrane of the Natural Resources Defense Fund, a coterie of small constituencies and even smaller budgets.
The mst effective lobbyist against Clinch River has been Navy Adm. H. G. Rickover, who took his case to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean two weeks ago when he hosted President Carter's submarine voyage in the USS Los Angeles.
A key lobbyist for the plutonium breeder is Dwight Porter, onetime U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna and now in the Washington office of Westinghouse Electric, prime contractor for Clinch River. Porter has testified publicly on Capitol Hill for the breeder hours after he has privately lobbied for it.
Porter is one of as many as 10 nuclear lobbyists who have worked both sides of the Atlantic, orchestrating the comments of industrialized countries like France and Great Britain for Clinch River. The Atomic Industrial Forum's Carl Walske made a special trip to Europe to gather Common Market views in favor of the breeder and brought them back to Capitol Hill.
"Here in the U.S., breeder interests are saying you can't kill the breeder because foreign countries are going ahead anyway," said one senior Carter administration official, "and overseas they're telling the foreigners that if they hold tight we can turn it around at home."
Lobbies exist for and against Clinch River right inside Carter's Energy Research and Development Administration, where there are many old hands from the extinct Atomic Energy Commission who managed the $2 billion breeder program 10 years ago.
Letters favoring breeder budget reductions have been held back from Congress by ERDA, according to congressional and environmentalist sources. Congressional Haison director Hollister Cantus is said to have made personal visits to congressmen soliciting pro-breeder anecdotes. Visual aids supporting the breeder were understood to have been passed by ERDA to Rep. Marilyn L. Lloyd (D-Tenn.), whose committees include Science and Technology and whose district takes in Clinch River in Tennessee.
"If we are asked what our personal views are . . . well, we are required to tell it," ERDA's Acting Administrator Robert W. Fri said last week. "I know if Marilyn Lloyd asked for technical help she would have gotten it."
So strong is the Clinch River lobby in Congress that last Wednesday Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.), counted on by the White House as a vote against Clinch river, told Fri:
"I tend to side with the President, but frankly I think the chairman (Energy Research and Development Subcommittee Chairman Frank Church) has the votes to win this battle and the votes to win it on the floor of the Senate."
Carter has little support for his Clinch River move in the Senate and what support he had in the House appears to be on the wane.
Science Committee Chairman Olin E. Teague (D-Tex.) presided over hearings last week by playing tape-recorded conversations he had with officials in France, Great Britain and the Soviet Union describing plants already breeding hte plutonium whose spread Carter wants to stop in Tennessee.
"The French already have their Clinch River and the rest of the world is moving that way," said Church, whose chairmanship of the energy research subcommittee makes him the most powerful voice in the Senate for Clinch River. "I have difficulty accepting the argument that if we forgo the breeder we will set an example the other industrialized countries will follow."
If the White House wonders why Church is such an intense opponent of Carter's on Clinch River, many observers wonder how Carter got so adamant about nuclear weapons proliferation and why he chose to close Clinch River as a means of halting weapons spread.
Carter's concern can be traced to last year's election campaign when he was sent a questionaire by the League of Conservation Voters asking how he felt about the spread of plutonium and its use in nuclear weapons.
In his handwritten reply, Carter gave River a "low priority" in national energy needs. Carter said he would make "drastic cuts" in the breeders research program and he agreed that the plutonium produced by breeders "is the most dangerous substance known to man" that could be used by terrorists to make atomic bombs.
When he took over the Oval Office, Carter was influenced by four or five White House staffers who felt strongly that stopping the spread of plutonium was central to stopping the spread of atomic bombs.
Three stand out in their support for the closing of Clinch River: Gustave Speth, a member of the Council on Environmental Quality; Jessica Tuchman, a member of the National Security Council, and Kitty Schirmer of the Domestic Council staff. At no time did energy czar James R. Schlesinger wholeheartedly come out against the breeder; his support for Carter's move has been described as "lukewarm."
The strongest voice against Clinch River is almost surely Rickover, who met at least twice with Carter in the weeks before April 7 when the President announced his intention not to proceed with Clinch River. It is no secret Richover pooh-poohed Clinch River, partly because it uses and breeds plutonium and Rickover's research breeder at Shippingport, Pa., will use thorium as a starting fuel and will breed an isotope of uranium called U-233 instead of plutonium.
An irony of the therium breeder is that the U-233 it breeds is a better weapons material than plytonium. It makes smaller, cheaper and cleaner weapons. But in the process of being made it breeds at least three of the most radioactive isotopes known, which make it difficult and expensive to extract the U-233 from the other spent fuel elements.
"This is why the thorium cycle should be looked at a replacement for plutonium," said Federal Energy Administration John F. O'Leary in explaining the Carter administration's move away from plutonium. "Somebody who wants to can extract plutonium for $200,000. It would cost them $200 million to extract U-233 from the thorium fuel cycle."
Critics of the thorium cycle say it has been around for 30 years and has never been looked at seriously by any body except Rickover. They say it's expensive, messy, wasteful and needs plutonium or weapons-grade ranium to get it started. No matter, Rickover's thorium breeder starts up in November, a ceremony that President Carter had accepted Rickover's invitation to attend.
The votes to cancel or proceed with Clinch River are on Capitol Hill, not in Shippingport. And what exerts the most influence on Capitol Hill right now are not Rickover's plans but the plans for France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and Japan.
The first three countries have small plants breeding plutonium in quantities of hundreds of pounds. France has under way a Clinch River-size plant that will breed plutonium by the ton. The Soviets will soon have a bigger plant and so will the British. Japan has told the White House it will defer its breeder plans but not indefinitely.(FOOTNOTE)oreign countries see in Carter's Clinch River move a transparent attempt to get them to halt their breeder plans so the United States can dominate the market for plutonium at some later date. Congress sees Clinch River as the only way the United States can maintain a strong voice in world nuclear fuel policies. Either way, Jimmy Carter comes down on a different side.(END FOOT)