]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]      AN ECOLOGICAL NIGHTMARE       [[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[ 
                           By Ol' Doc O
     It was a dream come true. An energy source that provided electri-
city night and day, summer or winter. And yet it was renewable, gene-
rated only small amounts of electricity, and caused no thermal pollu-
tion or smoke. The "small is beautiful" crowd was ecstatic. But most 
support came from the farmers, for this technique could eliminate the 
grain glut and drive up farm prices. Even the State Department was 
pleased because it did away with the problems of selling grain to the 
Russians while asking the rest of the world to cut off trade. Now, 
with no grain to export, we could set an example for the Europeans and 
practice what we preached. 
     Congress naturally was pleased to have so many problems solved at 
one time, and made grain available at low cost. A scare came when Se-
nator Proxmire nominated the project for his Golden Fleece award, on 
the grounds that everybody knew that mice preferred cheese. But a com-
promise was reached with the mouse diet specified to be "grain with 
not less than 50% cheese or milk solids, 75% of which must come from 
the State of Wisconsin." With this agreement, the first demonstration 
plant was built posthaste. The power plant, called the Mega-Mouse-
Mini-Watt Power Plant (M3WP2) was quickly named "Mouse Power" by the 
WASHINGTON POST. Supporters on the Hill called it the "Many Mouse," 
which led to some detractors, mostly in the defunct nuclear industry, 
referring to it as the "Mickey Mouse" Project.
     Things started well. The demonstration plant was quickly built. 
The turbine was a conventional generator of 1/2 megawatt rating, and 
the treadmill was an old giant Ferris wheel modified so that the 
million mice (one Mega-Mouse) needed to turn it could run all at once 
-- a giant treadmill which turned the generator and lit the lights. 
Surely it was the cheapest government project on record. The Ferris 
wheel had been confiscated by the IRS, the generator was from Japan, 
and all of the mice were obtained from medical research projects that 
had been terminated due to budget cuts. The grain, of course, was 
surplus, as was the cheese, which came in five-pound blocks from 
various government storage sites.
     Though tests of this high-technology operation were successful, 
and some power was generated, protests were raised immediately by the 
Humane Society. They agreed with the concept, but felt that three 
shifts would be mandatory if the plant were to operate 24 hours per 
day. The M3WP2 Corporation resisted on the grounds that it would 
triple fuel costs, making it no longer competitive with other renew-
able sources, but Congress was delighted. With three times as much 
grain and cheese requirements, they could now justify increased subsi-
dies to farmers to "keep the electricity flowing and the economy 
     The EPA got into the act. The disposal of tons of mouse manure 
was clearly a new problem which required an environmental impact 
study. The environmentalists wanted to put it back on land. "Complete 
the cycle" was their rallying cry. But there were no reliable data on 
the impact of mouse manure on the underground water supply. One house 
owner several blocks from the plant got lots of publicity on TV by 
showing mouse droppings in a glass of well water. And although EPA 
scientists determined they were not from the Mouse Power Project, the 
damage had been done.
     Another sticky point was the smell. Although the downwind ef-
fluent from the plant did not obscure vision, it certainly had a 
distinctive odor that most found unpleasant. EPA certified that the 
air downwind passed all Clean Air Standards, as amended, and did not 
pose a threat to human health. But they did admit that they could not 
promise that the mercaptans (which they determined caused the bad 
odor) would not cause lung cancer some 30 years hence.
     However, it was the labor unions who dealt this advanced techno-
logy a death blow, by insisting on 15-minute rest breaks for the mice 
every hour. Engineers at the M3WP2 Corporation calculated that to 
maintain the continuous source of electricity their license called 
for, would require a doubling of the mice. So what started out as a 
legitimate one-megamouse 1/2-megawatt project had now grown into a 
featherbedding six-megamouse make-work project. With electricity rates 
up to 25 cents per kilowatt-hour, and still rising fast, M3WP2 Corpo-
ration filed for bankruptcy.
     It was just as well. Two days later OSHA ruled that pregnant mice 
could not be forced to work after the first trimester.

                              *    *   *

["Ol' Doc O" is the pseudonym of a scientist of international renown, 
now living in the Washington suburban area. The piece above first 
appeared in the COUNTRY EXPRESS of October 21, 1982.]

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