From Global Nuclear Risks to a Solar-Hydrogen Economy

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S. David Freeman interviewed by Mary Beth Brangan and James Heddle

S. David Freeman – EON photo

The late S. David Freeman was a legendary public utility administrator, who was a committed advocate of a solar-hydrogen economy credited with holding the lifetime record for the number of nuclear reactors shut down on his watch. He was a major force in the negotiation of the scheduled shutdown agreement of Diablo Canyon which is now being contested at the instigation of California Gavin Newsom at the behest of a nuclear industry threatened by an overdose of market forces.
This is an interview excerpted from our 1992 documentary PUBLIC POWER – From Energy Crisis to Solar Democracy . At that time he was the Administrator of SMUD, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which terminated nuclear power generation in response to a popular vote.



The government has subsidized all of the supply side sources, the fossil fuels as well as nuclear. Nuclear, I think stands out for its hypocrisy more than the others because the nuclear people are now coming along and saying, “Hey, we’ve got the answer to global warming and all we want is a market-oriented energy policy.” This is what the Bush administration is saying. And yet, if you know anything about the subject, you know that Wall Street has rated nuclear power too risky to use. You can’t get it insured. And the government is providing free insurance. It’s subsidizing the technology in the most fundamental way. It couldn’t be used if you didn’t have the Price-Anderson Act. So how can anybody with an IQ of over 100 and a straight face say that nuclear power is something to be used in a market-oriented energy policy?

I’ve had the misfortune of probably having had as much experience with nuclear power as anyone else since I came to the Tennessee Valley Authority. They had 14 large reactors under construction, and we shut eight of them down. And then I came here to SMUD and found that another reactor had just been shut down. I think that as the years have gone on, the analysis of the nuclear technology becomes clearer and clearer and could spend this country’s most expensive technological failure thus far. I think the bottom line is that this technology was advertised as too cheap to meter, and it’s turned out to be too expensive to use. In order to make it safe enough, it becomes uneconomical.

The visit to Chernobyl in April distilled a lot of things that were floating around in my mind. The safety issue tends to be sloughed off and brushed aside. And then you go over and see that there’s millions of people whose lives are essentially wiped out and an area the size of Northern California is contaminated forever, or at least for thousands of years, and the enormity of the accident hits you, where you’ve got hundreds of thousands of people contaminated. We can keep the lights on without running that kind of risk. I mean, you’re talking about the gene pool of the world. Why do you want to pursue something that is inherently capable of providing a nuclear hell for large parts of this world? It just doesn’t make sense, except that there’s all this money.

The opposition grew and grew and grew, and it was because the people didn’t play a role or wasn’t even consulted or had no part in the development. And one of the problems with nuclear power is it’s inherently a centralized technology that requires a very strong central government. It requires a very large police force. And of course the solar option, and people should realize this, they keep sloughing away at solar power, but this is very important. The solar option is a complete alternative to the fossil fuels. And the reason I say that is, I know there’s not much sun in North Dakota or Maine, but solar power can take ordinary water and break it into hydrogen and oxygen, and the hydrogen can be moved in a pipeline just like natural gas is moved in a pipeline. So we can have a solar hydrogen energy economy that completely satisfies all of our energy needs.

And hydrogen, when it’s burned, has a byproduct. Water. So there’s no pollution and it can be used in fuel cells, ideally, and the fuel cells may power cars. So the technology for a cleaner and more economical energy economy is there.


James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan are co-founders of EON – the Ecological Options Network. The EON production SOS – The San Onofry Syndrome: Nuclear Power’s Legacy received its World Premier at the Awareness Film Festival in Los Angeles, CA October 10, 2023, where it won the Grand Jury Award for feature documentary. SOS was directed by Heddle, Brangan and Morgan Peterson, who also served as editor.