Too cheap to meter

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Too cheap to meter describes a concept in which a commodity is so inexpensive that it is more cost-effective and less bureaucratic to simply provide it for a flat fee or even free and make a profit from associated services.

Although sometimes attributed to Walter Marshall, a pioneer of nuclear power in the United Kingdom,[1] the phrase was coined by Lewis Strauss, then Chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, who in a 1954 speech to the National Association of Science Writers said:

"Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter... It is not too much to expect that our children 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."[2]

It is often (understandably but erroneously) assumed that Strauss' prediction was a reference to conventional uranium fission nuclear reactors. Indeed, only ten days prior to his “Too Cheap To Meter” speech, Strauss was present for the groundbreaking of the Shippingport Atomic Power Station where he predicted that, "industry would have electrical power from atomic furnaces in five to fifteen years." However, Strauss was actually referring to hydrogen fusion power and Project Sherwood, which was conducting secret research on developing practical fusion power plants.[3][4][5]

Strauss gave no public hint at the time that he was referring to fusion reactors because of the classified nature of Project Sherwood and the press naturally took his prediction regarding cheap electricity to apply to conventional fission reactors. However, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission itself in testimony to the U.S. Congress only months before lowered the expectations for fission power, projecting only that the costs of reactors could be brought down to about the same as from conventional sources.[6] Conversely, Strauss viewed hydrogen fusion as the ultimate power source and was eager to develop the technology as quickly as possible and urged the Project Sherwood researchers to make rapid progress, even suggesting a million dollar prize to the individual or team that succeeded first.[7]

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References[edit]

  1. ^ Nuclear doubts gnaw deeper - BBC News, Thursday, 15 June 2000
  2. ^ "This Day in Quotes: SEPTEMBER 16 - Too cheap to meter: the great nuclear quote debate". This day in quotes. 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-13. 
  3. ^ Pfau, Richard (1984) No Sacrifice Too Great: The Life of Lewis L. Strauss University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, p. 187, ISBN 978-0-8139-1038-3
  4. ^ "Abundant Power from Atom Seen; It will be too cheap for our children to meter, Strauss tells science writers," New York Times, Sept. 17, 1954, p. 5.
  5. ^ David Bodansky. Nuclear Energy: Principles, Practices, and Prospects. p. 32. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  6. ^ ATOMIC ENERGY: The Nuclear Revolution Time Magazine, February 6, 1956
  7. ^ Bromberg, Joan Lisa (1982) Fusion: Science, Politics, and the Invention of a New Energy Source MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p. 44, ISBN 0-262-02180-3

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