? _ RL34645 - The Manhattan Project, Apollo Program, and Federal Energy Technology R&D Programs: A comparitive Analysis
4-Feb-2009; Deborah D. Stine; 12 p.

Abstract: Some policymakers have concluded that the energy challenges facing the United States are so critical that a concentrated investment in energy research and development (R&D) should be undertaken. The Manhattan project, which produced the atomic bomb, and the Apollo program, which landed American men on the moon, have been cited as examples of the success such R&D investments can yield. Investment in federal energy technology R&D programs of the 1970s, in response to two energy crises, have generally been viewed as less successful than the earlier two efforts. This report compares and contrasts the three initiatives.

In 2008 dollars, the cumulative cost of the Manhattan project over 5 fiscal years was approximately $22 billion; of the Apollo program over 14 fiscal years, approximately $98 billion; of post-oil shock energy R&D efforts over 35 fiscal years, $118 billion. A measure of the nation’s commitments to the programs is their relative shares of the federal outlays during the years of peak funding: for the Manhattan program, the peak year funding was 1% of federal outlays; for the Apollo program, 2.2%; and for energy technology R&D programs, 0.5%. Another measure of the commitment is their relative shares of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) during the peak years of funding: for the Manhattan project and the Apollo program, the peak year funding reached 0.4% of GDP, and for the energy technology R&D programs, 0.1%.

Besides funding, several criteria might be used to compare these three initiatives including perception of the program or threat, goal clarity, and the customer of the technology being developed. By these criteria, while the Manhattan project and the Apollo program may provide some useful analogies for thinking about an energy technology R&D initiative, there are fundamental differences between the forces that drove these historical R&D success stories and the forces driving energy technology R&D today. Critical differences include (1) the ability to transform the program or threat into a concrete goal, and (2) the use to which the technology would be put. On the issue of goal setting, for the Manhattan project, the response to the threat of enemy development of a nuclear bomb was the goal to construct a bomb; for the Apollo program, the threat of Soviet space dominance was translated into a specific goal of landing on the moon. For energy, the response to the problems of insecure oil sources and high prices has resulted in multiple, sometimes conflicting, goals. Regarding use, both the Manhattan project and the Apollo program goals pointed to technologies primarily for governmental use with little concern about their environmental impact; for energy, in contrast, the hoped-for outcome depends on commercial viability and mitigation of environmental impacts from energy use.

Although the Manhattan project and the Apollo program may provide some useful analogies for funding, these differences may limit their utility regarding energy policy. Rather, energy technology R&D has been driven by at least three not always commensurate goals—resource and technological diversity, commercial viability, and environmental protection—which were not goals of the historical programs. [read report]

Topics: Energy, Science & Technology

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