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Gilinsky and 'Power Struggle'

February 22, 1987

There are serious oversights in your review of "Power Struggle: The Hundred-Year War Over Electricity" (The Book Review, Dec. 28). The most serious is your failure to note that the reviewer, former Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner Victor Gilinsky, is a consultant for electric utility companies. The Times should have informed readers of this in its biographical line on Gilinsky, whose review serves to protect the companies he represents.

Gilinsky claims the "true subject" of the book is nuclear power. In fact, the book examines a historical struggle between public and private interests--politics that have shaped the industry and its technology and continue to shape it today. Nuclear power is treated as part of this struggle as it arises in chronological order.

Gilinsky praises private power companies for making the American living standard the envy of the world after World War I, but he does not acknowledge that they also stifled and stalled development of rural electric systems for more than a decade, exorbitantly inflated their rates to consumers, and helped fuel the speculation surrounding the stock trade-offs being made in the industry's development--and the politics that determine who absorbed the risks in those trade-offs.

He also appears to believe that the industry's history ends in 1940 and that there is no connection or understandable evolution to the chain of events occurring today. He dismisses the potential for a resurgence of nuclear power in the United States as "silly predictions of nuclear boosters." Those he must include in this category are President Reagan, Vice President Bush, Energy Secretary Herrington, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Lando Zech, a significant portion of Congress, the majority of those in the financial community, and nearly all of the utility industry. He must also disregard the $350 million in federal money being allocated each year for further nuclear power research and development, $20 million allocated by the utilities in a common program for a new "safe" reactor design, $20 million being spent each year by the industry's Committee for Energy Awareness for magazine and television advertising that claims nuclear and coal are America's only reliable future energy sources, and common plans that have been formulated by the industry and the Department of Energy calling for a new reactor design to be ready for commercialization by 1990.

He must also ignore legislation submitted to Congress to streamline the licensing and approval process for future reactors, the predictions of brownouts and blackouts if new reactors aren't built, and the rise in oil imports from the Middle East (expected to reach 40% of U.S. supplies by the mid-1990s). It is this final prospect of uncertain oil supplies that could push a reluctant American public to accept the risks of nuclear power. Gilinsky is either trying to dampen controversy on this topic to protect his interests, or he's naive.

Finally, he labels our analysis of the public versus private ownership question "simple-minded." What he doesn't like is that we point to it as fundamental to the issue of who decides the future course of the industry, including risks that communities will face. As proof of our "simple-minded" approach, Gilinsky claims we did not adequately confront public sector failures such as the Washington Public Power Supply System default in 1983.

Gilinsky evidently overlooked the seven-page description of the collapse of the WPPSS that begins the book. Subsequent parts of the book describe the capture of the public systems in regional power pools dominated by the major private companies, how Tennessee Valley Authority ultimately joined forces with Commonwealth Edison of Chicago in the ill-fated Clinch River Breeder reactor, and how public power authorities in New York and Minnesota have forced reluctant residents to accept extra-high voltage transmission lines now believed to carry health risks.

The evolution and future direction of the utility industry demand careful examination and responsible debate. Publication of Gilinsky's review damages his credibility and that of The Book Review as well.



Co-authors of "Power Struggle" (Harper & Row)

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