Article ID: CBB772561084

“Wandering in the Desert”: The Clinch River Breeder Reactor Debate in the U.S. Congress, 1972–1983 (January 2018)


The experimental Clinch River breeder reactor, approved by the U.S. Congress in 1970 for construction in East Tennessee, would have used plutonium instead of uranium. The project drew the ire of environmentalists who insisted that plutonium was too dangerous for commercial use, along with opponents of nuclear proliferation. Tennessee’s representatives in Congress, however, desired the jobs that the project would create, and formed legislative coalitions to ensure continued appropriations for the project. Funding lasted until 1983, when fiscal conservatives, concerned about ballooning cost projections, joined with environmentalists to defund the breeder. Interpretations of U.S. nuclear policy in the 1980s have often revolved around the Three Mile Island meltdown’s aftermath, but Clinch River was not affected by the incident. Instead, the Clinch River controversy revolved around other unrelated issues. The Clinch River story therefore offers a corrective to accounts that privilege national public opinion at the expense of other variables.

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Authors & Contributors
Lav R. Varshney
Rechard, Rob P.
Brook Manville
Brice Laurent
Silva, Carol A.
Herron, Kerry G.
Technology and Culture
IEEE Technology and Society Magazine
East Asian Science, Technology and Society: An International Journal
The Bridge: Journal of the National Academy of Engineering
Science and Public Policy
Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History
University of Oklahoma Press
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Cornell University Press
Technology and politics
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Science and war; science and the military
Nuclear Power
Trump, Donald H.
Hosni Mubarak
Zeynep Tufekci
Wiener, Norbert
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21st century
20th century, late
20th century, early
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Hanford Nuclear Site (Washington)
Du Pont Company

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