The Fletcher Prouty Commentary - July


" Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink". In this day and age doesn't it sound absolutely ridiculous for the people of any of our large cities to fear a water shortage? As your good writer (Robert D. Adams, Letters, June 17) has said, " Most large cities are seacoast metropolis locations". All they have to do is have the brains, the guts and the political purpose to use it. Let me recount a brief story.

In November 1963, when I was Chief of Special Operations with the Joint Staff in the Pentagon. I was sent to Antarctica with a large group of VIPs industrialists, newsmen, and others. We went there to witness a most important event. A small nuclear plant was going to be activated at the Navy Base of the shore of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica; and from that moment on all water, all heat, and all electricity for that huge scientific establishment was going to provided by that tiny, inconspicuous nuclear plant.

The marvel of it was that we saw this unit activated. We saw the electricity come on, we felt the heat and in short time we bathed in and drank pure water from the ocean that had been desalinated by this plant. Meanwhile, on the foothills above the base a field of oil tanks were shut off; and for 10 years that base did not draw on those tanks for another barrel of petroleum.

Ten years, that was from 1963 to 1973. We all recall that 1973 was the year of the "Gas Lines" the "Oil Shortage", the "Energy Crisis", and all of the dire predictions that were certain to befall this great consumer nation as soon as that "last barrel" of petroleum had been pumped from the sand domes. So: In 1973 someone was sent to McMurdo Sound to that scientific base and he shut off that wonderful little nuclear plant and took it away. The oil barons were afraid that the penguins might talk.

For half of every year, Antarctica is cut off from the rest of the world. The Navy's job of supporting that base and its vast scientific programs becomes bigger. Petroleum for diesel is shipped across thousands of miles of glacial terrain, and inland stations must be resupplied by air. Since a two-year fuel supply for that nuclear plant, a Martin Marietta PM-3A, is no larger than a single oil drum, the logistical advantage was obvious. That single PM-3A core replaced millions of gallons of diesel fuel. The PM 3-A's electrical output was five times the normal load which was being carried by diesel generators before its installation. It was most efficient.

The entire nuclear plant was installed in three small buildings less than the size of three ordinary dairy barns, above ground. The nuclear element was at the bottom of a hole about 180 feet deep where it could not bother or be dangerous to anyone. It was remote from, but in sight of, the main station. The plan in 1963 was to install other such facilities all over Antarctica in remote facilities, including the "under-ice" station at the South Pole Station itself.

The next question really is unnecessary. "Why, oh why, when we have seen such magnificent things done well, productively and safely with nuclear energy, have these most successful units been withdrawn and hidden from view"? How ridiculous can things get?

There is no reason why such tiny facilities can not be placed all along the South California shoreline to produce cheaply and reliably all the pure, desalinated water needed for all the people and for the irrigation of all the farms in the area.

I am not talking about something that can be designed such as a Space Station or a trip to Mars. This was done in 1963, and operated flawlessly for 10 years. I was at McMurdo when that switch was thrown and that nuclear plant went into action. I was there with officials from Kennedy White House, with congressmen and with industrial leaders. We all know what it did then and what it can do now.

We do not need Mr. McAdams' proposed $10,000,000 to come up with a method of producing potable water. We know how to do it on a large scale. All we need is the brains, the courage to fight the oil barons and their political puppets, and the good old American brand of ingenuity that stops at nothing....nothing at all.....for the good of man.

L. Fletcher Prouty