Atomic Energy Commission
Atomic Energy Commission (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
In 1946, the U.S. Congress passed the Atomic Energy Act, which created the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) to promote, monitor, and control the development and use of nuclear energy for civilian and military use. Not only was a buildup of nuclear weapons for defense expected, but also the development of nuclear science for peaceful uses. For security reasons, all nuclear production facilities and reactors were owned by the U.S. government, but the information from research was to be controlled by the AEC. The Manhattan Project facilities, where scientists had developed the first atomic bombs during World War II, were taken over by the AEC. In 1954, Congress passed the Atomic Energy Act Amendments, which made possible the development of commercial nuclear power. The AEC was assigned the responsibility of promoting commercial nuclear power at the same time it was charged with developing safety regulations and controls for nuclear power plants.
The work of the AEC encompassed all areas of nuclear science. The AEC studied the production of nuclear weapons, improved and increased nuclear facilities, and oversaw the development of new weapons, such as the thermonuclear device, a fusion bomb, and nuclear propulsion for warships, especially submarines. The study of nuclear reactors led to improved energy-producing reactors and a new type of reactor, the breeder reactor, that produced new fuel while producing energy. Commercial production of nuclear...
(The entire section is 455 words.)
Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Cooke, Stephanie. In Mortal Hands: A Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009.
Hewlett, Richard G., and Oscar E. Anderson. A History of the United States Atomic Energy Commission. 1962. Reprint. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.
Walker, J. Samuel. A Short History of Nuclear Regulation, 1946-1999. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2000.
(The entire section is 55 words.)
Atomic Energy Commission
Background (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
In July, 1945, an interim committee formed by President Harry S. Truman drafted legislation to establish a peacetime organization similar to the Manhattan Project. This proposed legislation, the May-Johnson bill, proposed a nine-member part-time board of commissioners that included a significant military contingent and continued government control over atomic research and development. The bill was opposed by most U.S. atomic scientists because it established military control over research and would thereby stifle the free exchange of ideas. In late 1945, as support for the May-Johnson bill collapsed, Senator Brien McMahon introduced substitute legislation with reduced security requirements and diminished military involvement. This bill was signed into law by President Truman on August 1, 1946. The McMahon Act, officially the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) of 1946, transferred control over atomic research and development from the Army to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), which consisted of a five-member full-time civilian board assisted by general advisory and military liaison committees.
(The entire section is 153 words.)
Impact on Resource Use (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
While the main mission of the AEC was to ensure national defense and security, the Atomic Energy Act also called for the development of atomic energy for improving the public welfare, increasing the standard of living, strengthening free enterprise, and promoting world peace. The commission was also authorized to establish health and safety regulations for possessing and using fissionable materials and their by-products.
In 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous “atoms for peace” speech to the United Nations called for the development of peaceful applications of atomic energy, and in particular for nuclear reactors that would produce power. This goal required eliminating the AEC’s monopoly on nuclear research; Congress passed the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, which continued the AEC’s role as sole regulator of nuclear activities, allowed licensing of privately owned facilities for production of fissionable materials, and imposed several safety and health requirements. To transfer technology from government to private industry, the AEC established the Power Demonstration Reactor Program, under which industries designed, constructed, owned, and operated power reactors with financial and other assistance from the AEC.
As the nuclear power industry grew during the 1960’s, the Atomic Energy Commission came under increasing criticism for an inherent conflict of interest in its roles as promoter of nuclear...
(The entire section is 344 words.)
Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Global Resources)
U.S. Department of Energy. About the Department of Energy: Origins and Evolution of the Department of Energy. http://www.energy.gov/about/origins.htm
U.S. Department of Energy. Office of Science: The Atomic Energy Commissions (AEC), 1947. http://www.ch.doe.gov/html/site_info/atomic_energy.htm
(The entire section is 49 words.)