President Carter assured a House delegation yesterday that he will make no commitment this year to building a nuclear breeder reactor, despite his recent proposal to begin a new breeder study program.
The administration, which has been trying to kill the controversial Clinch River breeder in Tennessee since last April, worked out a compromise two weeks ago with congressional breeder advocates.
Under the compromise, the Energy Department would design another reactor two or three times the size of the Clinch River facility, but less vulnerable to diversion to weapons-grade nuclear fuel.
However, nine members of the House Science Committee who oppose the breeder wrote the President Friday expressing concern about the compromise and requesting a meeting.
"We are concerned that the compromise moves us substantially ahead with the breeder program before a comparable program for developing alternative energy resources is in place," the group said in its letter.
"We are not convinced that the compromise is necessary to terminate the Clinch River breeder reactor. We are concerned that the compromise may signal a series of actions by the administration that will result in an earlier commercialization of the breeder than if we did nothing at this time."
According to House members who attended the requested meeting yesterday, the president agreed to four points:
That the compromise represents only a design study, not a commitment to construct a facility.
That the administration would not approve any stronger commitment to the breeder program in legislation this year.
That Carter would step up funding of alternative energy programs, such as solar, geothermal and conservation.
That the energy supply programs under consideration for the national energy plan, phase 2, will include a strong role for solar power.
Unless alternative technologies are developed on the same timetable and funding level as nuclear research and development, the letter said, "five years down the line, when major 'go-no-go' decisions are to be made on alternatives, the country will have only one well-developed alternative: nuclear," the letter said.
It added that the solar program is "in significant disarray within the [Energy] Department, without a coherent home, and without strong advocacy."
Rep. Timothy Wirth (D-Colo.) reported that " the president essentially agreed with everything" that was in the letter. He added that Carter will go to Colorado May 3 for "Sun Day," a national celebration of solar energy, and will officially open the new Solar Research Institute in Golden.
A White House spokesman agreed that the president, who was accompanied at the meeting by Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger, was "in general agreement" with the congressmen.
Besides Wirth, Reps. Richard Ottinger (D-N.Y.), Hamilton Fish (R-N.Y.), Hamilton Fish (R-N.Y.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), George Brown (D-Calif.) Dan Glickman (D-Kan.) and Thomas Downey (D-N.Y.) attended the meeting.
The House Science Committee meets today to vote on the compromise.