Andrew Ochadlick’s letter on the history of solar hubs and the “risks” in pursuing them is insightful. It is particularly important to point out the need for water to clean any solar radiation collection surfaces to maintain efficiency. I do, however, want to express concern with the implications that come from continuing to characterize Lewis Strauss’s comment as an example of a “grossly inaccurate energy-related” prediction.
In a 1954 speech to science writers, Strauss, then head of the Atomic Energy Commission, said,
It is not too much to expect that our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter, will know of great periodic regional famines in the world only as matters of history, will travel effortlessly over the seas and under them and through the air with a minimum of danger and at great speeds, and will experience a lifespan far longer than ours as disease yields and man comes to understand what causes him to age.
The speculation Strauss made about the future has been selectively quoted over the years, by people who are skeptical about or opposed to nuclear energy, as reflecting the view of the leadership of the commercial nuclear power industry. That is not true. Since President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace speech to the United Nations in 1953, which launched the fission-based commercial nuclear power industry in the US, the industry has recognized that economic competition with fossil fuels would be difficult. See, for example, the 1954 analysis by Theodore Stern,1 who became a Westinghouse senior executive vice president for electric power.
Some believe that Strauss, the US government lead for all nuclear R&D, had fusion in mind for “electrical energy too cheap to meter.” In any case, if a utility decides not to meter a service—for example, water to New York City before 1985—it does not necessarily mean that the cost of providing the basic infrastructure for the service is cheap.