In its first decades, the Union of Concerned Scientists was best known for its work on nuclear issues, highlighted in 1979 when it issued an urgent warning on the notorious Three Mile Island power plant just two months before the facility suffered a crippling meltdown. Perhaps less well known is the flip side of the coin. Alongside the “no” of anti-nuclear advocacy, UCS has aggressively promoted the “yes” of helping to create an economic and policy framework that supports more sustainable forms of energy generation and national defense strategies.
Science and Public Resources
UCS began in 1968 as a statement from Massachusetts Institute of Technology by faculty and students concerned about the way that financial and intellectual resources were being allocated to solve national defense and energy problems, among others. On national defense, UCS spearheaded efforts against the “Star Wars” proposal of the 1980’s and the lesser known but equally ill-considered “bunker-busting” Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator proposal of the 2000’s. On energy, in addition to a focus on nuclear safety, UCS advocated for action on climate change, highlighted by its involvement in drafting the Kyoto Protocol and regulatory frameworks for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in California and the Northeast.
Finding Alternative Solutions
An “anti” advocacy is hollow if no alternative is at hand, and UCS has worked to ensure that available alternatives are used and new alternatives are developed. One outstanding example is UCS’s first report, which raised questions about the “Safeguard” antiballistic missile proposal of the 1960’s. It lead to the ABM Treaty of 1972, signed by the U.S. and Russia, and it helped to establish a strategy of treaties and alliances as realistic alternatives to pumping inordinate public resources into a nuclear arms race. Similarly, by the 1980’s, UCS was assessing alternatives to nuclear power and fossil fuels while developing new methodologies for assessing clean energy potential in the U.S.
Written by Tina Casey. Follow Tina on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.