Brower: I became pro-nuclear at the end of World War II, when the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki made it unnecessary for me to move from the battlefields of Italy to the shores of Japan. I was grateful for that, not quite realizing the consequences-which I've come to realize since then. In the mid '50s, I was still very pro-nuclear. In the mid '60s, I was beginning to be a little bit dubious, but still thought the question was where you put reactors, not whether. In mid-1969 I was attending a conference in Chicago. I found out that what had been promised for 14 years for disposing of nuclear waste still wasn't being done. Now, nine years later, it still isn't being done.
Mariah: What did you mean when you said that if we don't fight nuclear proliferation and win, all the rest is academic?
Brower: If the United States doesn't lead the world back from the nuclear brink to which it led it in the first place, then nuclear war will be inevitable. A nuclear war would reduce civilization to a few fragments of whatever capable cultures there were that were not dependent on high technology. All our interest in wildlife, parks, forests, and wilderness will have to be transferred to radioactive forms of wildlife, parks, forest, and wilderness.
Now I don't want us to give up working for wilderness, parks, forests, wildlife, and wild rivers-assuming, which we must, that we will end nuclear proliferation, we have to have other things ready to go. But if we don't defuse the nuclear threat to humanity, everything else is academic.
Mariah: Mother Jones magazine quoted you as saying, "I am extremely apprehensive about Carter's policy on nuclear development." You've met with Carter in person. Why are you apprehensive?
Brower: When I met with him, I handed Carter a letter saying why I thought he should veto the Clinch River Breeder Reactor appropriation. He explained that he had made every effort to get that out of the legislation, and couldn't. But, strengthened, I think, by what he heard from our group, he did veto the appropriation the very next day. Nevertheless, that seems to be a less than clear veto, because Mr. Schlesinger is working hard to get further appropriations for continued breeder reactor demonstration building-for huge investments in what we think is just a down payment on disaster.
Mr. Carter has not been able, apparently, to overcome the persuasiveness of Mr. Schlesinger. And Mr. Schlesinger, with his old training as head of the Atomic Energy Commission, the CIA, and the Department of Defense, is not really the sort of person who can build faith around the world about what U.S. intentions are in respect to nuclear. Mr. Carter is saying he doesn't want more proliferation, but he is offering to sell reactors to a lot of shaky governments, and this is a two-step route to proliferation not only of nuclear reactors but of nuclear weapons.
For that reason, I think Carter's campaign promise that nuclear was to be the last resort has been violated. The people who trusted him on this, along with me, are being disillusioned.
Mr. Carter's been receiving a lot of evidence as to what the alternatives can be. Amory Lovins* has met with him and explained these. But Carter still seems to be under an enormous amount of influence from Mr. Schlesinger, and I think that Mr. Schlesinger was a most unfortunate choice, and continues to be more unfortunate day by day. He should try other work. [Brower might be pleased to learn that, just recently, Mr. Schlesinger criticized the Bush administration for failing to take effective steps to reduce American consumption of gasoline and other oil products].
Mariah: If we don't change our course, do you foresee nuclear war as inevitable?
Brower: Yes-if we don't change our course, nuclear war is inevitable. I think that will be so clear in the next few years that we will change our course; that's why I'm guardedly optimistic.
Mariah: But there seems to be little the average person can do to help change that course.
Brower: People who are deeply concerned about the environmental ramifications of nuclear experiments have not yet expressed their concern well enough. They've been sitting watching and waiting. They haven't thanked the President for what he did do, for his veto of the Clinch River Breeder, which was the bravest anti-nuclear move had has made so far. When constituencies don't speak, they share the guilt for what happens politically. If the environmental constituency sits on its hands, the environmental opportunities of the leader vanish into thin air.