More on Nuclear Energy
To the Editor:
Samuel McCracken’s candid, balanced, yet passionate discussion of nuclear energy in “The War Against the Atom” [September 1977] is an intelligent and refreshing contribution to public debate which has hitherto been notable chiefly for pseudo-scientific analysis and religious conviction. Certainly, the letters from readers in response to Mr. McCracken’s article [December 1977] strikingly reveal how strident, irrational, and unbalanced many of the nuclear critics are. . . .
As a non-scientist attempting to learn about the hazards and benefits of nuclear energy, I have had occasion to read publications from both anti- and pro-nuclear forces. The average reader, if he is not infatuated by the litany of the adversary culture, cannot help but be impressed by the differences in approach. The proponents of nuclear energy generally present their argument in clear terms and follow scientific methodology; they consider all the evidence, both for and against claims of safety, cost-effectiveness of nuclear power as against other energy sources, problems of storage and disposal of nuclear waste, and the hazards of terrorism. The opponents of nuclear energy generally resort to different methods. Rather than formulating their theories clearly so as to expose them as unambiguously as possible to refutation, they prefer first to reformulate them continually, thereby evading refutation, and second, to move from one theory to another as quickly as the evidence mounts overwhelmingly against them. The pseudo-scientist betrays himself instantly by his unwillingness to risk scientific verification. . . .
Mr. McCracken has performed a valuable service, not only with his original article, but by taking the time to answer letters from his critics point by point. Anyone interested in this issue, upon which the prosperity and perhaps even the survival of our open competitive society depends, should read this debate. Whatever estimates about future energy needs one may prefer, one should not overlook the high stake our citizens (and those of the world) have in the continuous availability of reasonably priced, secure, and plentiful energy, and safe and efficient handling of nuclear material.
Leonard J. Theberge
National Legal Center for the Public Interest
Washington, D. C.
To the Editor:
“The War Against the Atom” by Samuel McCracken is indeed impressive, both in its clarity and in its perceptive analysis of the misinformation that has been generated by opponents of nuclear power.
T. A. Murphy
Chairman, General Motors Corporation
To the Editor:
. . . Despite the technical brilliance of Samuel McCracken’s argument, he is not going to talk some of us out of the notion that the final objection to nuclear development springs from holistic, or generally human, grounds (or “moral” grounds, as the National Council of Churches . . . says). It is on this terrain that we are concerned with the health, spiritual and physical, of society. . . .
It is insufficient to count, as Mr. McCracken does, the number of dead in coal mining, or, for that matter, in patriotic wars, as opposed to the statistics of putative nuclear disaster. It is easier to risk dying in some ways than in others. When interviewed, the miners say much the same thing and often show a stubborn attachment to the mining way of life despite the loss of loved ones in accidents. One has to be wary of bourgeois glibness here, to be sure, and I am not for a moment suggesting that society should relax its efforts to improve mine safety. But what I am saying is that a humane realism implies something other than the hideous and spiritually murderous, perhaps totally murderous, perfectionism of the immature minds which create scientific Utopias, and, in the name of a lazy and improvident pragmatism, playing up to the adolescent gadget-lover in most of us, foist their substitutes for living on the disoriented masses of our time. . . .
Unlike the National Council of Churches, Mr. McCracken is not bothered by the split in the scientific community over nuclear peril. He finds all the true expertise on one side, his. This is clearly a gross exaggeration, but worse, it indicates another imaginative dereliction. If only two or three competent scientists told me that my house was located over a dangerous accumulation of explosive gas, even though dozens said the opposite, I would move.
. . . We are going to have to steer dangerously between the Scylla of energy shortage, which will put us in a tricky position vis-à-vis the dehumanized Communist technical juggernaut, and the Charybdis of runaway scientific monstrosity in our own country. We have no good choice but to go down that health-seeking middle path. We must gradually phase out the clearly excessive aspects of nuclear development, as we have wisely begun to do with plutonium breeders, and proceed with other kinds of energy development on various fronts. . . .
Robert Greer Cohn
To the Editor:
In Samuel McCracken’s article one finds pro-nuclear arguments about reactor safety and efficiency, waste disposal, weapons proliferation, etc. which are difficult to judge properly if one is not oneself an expert on the fission process. . . . But on those matters Mr. McCracken discusses which I understand reasonably well—alternative energy sources and the . . . Clamshell Alliance—I can say that he hardly builds a reputation for accuracy. . . .
One of the strongest arguments against nuclear power is that it is useful only in thermal electrical plants, which inherently waste two-thirds of any energy used as fuel, unless waste-heat utilization is built into the system, as it usually is not. But the sensible hope, promoted by Amory Lovins and others with very impressive scientific training, to cut down on all forms of electricity use in order to escape this waste, is conveniently avoided by Mr. McCracken. So are the dangers and wastes associated with long-distance energy transmission from large centralized sources, now a cause of massive resistance by farmers in Minnesota and the Dakotas.
The crucial issue of centralized control of energy—virtually assured in a nuclear-dominated system—vs. individualized, democratic control, is treated by Mr. McCracken only very briefly and peripherally, when he mentions supposedly “prohibitively expensive” small-scale solar electric generation. . . .
Also, Mr. McCracken does not discuss the important matter of nuclear energy being non-renewable. Unwittingly, perhaps, he informs us that even a “breeder” is not an inexhaustible source of energy, so that nuclear power can only be a stopgap measure over the long haul, even though it may carry us farther into the future than coal.
Mr. McCracken also avoids the issue of employment. Many proponents of nuclear power argue that jobs will be lost if nuclear power plants are not built, but the other side has effectively countered this argument by showing that many more jobs will result from alternative technologies, including conservation measures.
The arguments of nuclear critics which Mr. McCracken chooses to try to refute are not always handled thoroughly, either. For instance, while blaming anti-nuclear forces for adding to delays and cost increases of nuclear plants, Mr. McCracken fails to note that even without these obstructive tactics, the costs of nuclear energy would have risen faster than costs of any competing energy source in recent years. It is still argued that nuclear power is cheaper than coal power, but this claim is usually made while ignoring various ancillary costs such as those of waste disposal. In any case, the construction alone of a nuclear plant is now much more costly than that of a coal plant.
In still other cases, Mr. McCracken bypasses or downplays arguments by anti-nuclear interests with more evident interest in exercising his skills at sarcasm and verbal put-downs than in arriving at the truth. Accusing Ralph Nader and John Abbots of “sleazy evasion” in not mentioning that coal production leads to more deaths per unit of energy produced than does uranium production, he manages to evade . . . the very cogent point—which he himself has just mentioned—that we cannot now know how many cancers from uranium and plutonium use will show up in future years.
Mr. McCracken leans on known nuclear advocate Roger Revelle and a “blue-ribbon” panel . . . to tell us how burning too much coal can raise the world’s temperature “11 degrees.” Is this fahrenheit or centigrade? It does make quite a difference. In either case, the figure he cites differs from that of more objective and cautious analyses of the CO2 warming problem by Wallace Broecker and others, who have specialized more intently in this area than have Revelle and his panel.
In dealing with coal-fired electricity, Mr. McCracken aims his most vicious slander at the anti-nuclear forces, accusing them of “calm willingness to sacrifice the lives of coal miners.” In reality, the vast bulk of anti-nuclear activists argue against fossil fuels as sound alternatives to nuclear power. . . .
Mr. McCracken is unable to place faith in solar, wind, or other clean and renewable alternatives because his basic approach seems limited to the tangible here and now. He finds them “too expensive to contemplate,” mainly because he finds such difficulty in contemplating what still is only potential. For the “foreseeable” future he offers only coal and nuclear power, but this is Mr. McCracken’s prediction, not that of numerous better-trained energy specialists who know that many forms of solar energy are now commercially feasible, and still more alternatives would be if only the present energy establishment had not applied pressure on government agencies and on ratepayers to discourage their development and use. At the same MIT on which Mr. McCracken leans for pro-nuclear arguments, for instance, a research project on alcohol as a motor-car fuel lost its funding with the help of pressure from the oil industry. . . .
Besides misrepresenting what the Clamshell Alliance thinks about coal and other alternative energy sources, Mr. McCracken presents a very distorted image of the actions of those involved in the Clamshell Alliance. He calls them “anti-democratic” because they opposed a nuclear plant that had the sanction of law. Thus he ignores not only the essential meaning of minority civil disobedience, and its respected place in American tradition at least since the time of Henry David Thoreau (not to mention the time of the American Revolution itself), but also the fact that New Hampshire citizens near Seabrook consistently voted against the plant in local polls and referenda. Their wishes were ignored by state officials placed in power with the help of an outspokenly biased newspaper editor, William Loeb, for whom they also had no chance to vote. . . .
Like those who accused anti-Vietnam war demonstrators of violence, ignoring the far greater violence they sought to stop, Mr. McCracken finds danger only in vocal and active mass movements, not in the calmer, relatively hidden workings of bureaucrats and politicians with far more power and often less sensitivity to the needs of the people. . . . It is remarkable, in view of the great disparity in finances and influence which has caused the failure of anti-nuclear referenda in several elections, that so many good arguments against nuclear power have been generated and publicized. It only goes to show that even in the pseudo-elitist distortion of a true democratic system such as we labor in today, the voice of the people can occasionally count for something.
John E. Chappell, Jr.
San Luis Obispo, California
To the Editor:
In his generally well-researched article, Samuel McCracken has made one extremely serious error. He indicates that plutonium (Pu) from power reactors cannot be used to make bombs, since the presence of Pu-240 in the plutonium can “cause a bomb to explode prematurely and fizzle. The original discovery of Pu-240 very nearly ended the Manhattan Project.” Since Mr. McCracken is defending a plutonium economy, one in which huge amounts of plutonium will be extracted from power-reactor wastes and used to fuel other power reactors, his argument (at least as far as the dangers of terrorism are concerned) stands or falls on his claim. Unfortunately, his claim is false. The AEC demonstrated this when it exploded a bomb made from power-reactor plutonium.
Incidentally, all reactors, not just power reactors, produce Pu-240 along with Pu-239. But it is produced at a slower rate. So if substantially uncontaminated Pu-239 is wanted (for a more efficient bomb), all the operator needs to do is remove the fuel rods sooner than the three years typical of power-reactor operation.
Another point: Mr. McCracken thinks that only a nation-state can build a bomb. Yet the theory and practice of bomb building have been repeatedly described publicly. An amount of plutonium in excess of the “critical mass” has to be assembled swiftly enough so that the ensuing spontaneous explosion will not blow it apart before a vast amount of energy has been released. The simplest way to do this is using the barrel of a surplus artillery piece. Twenty pounds of plutonium is divided in half and one of the parts machined to replace the projectile. The other half is also machined, then arranged in a suitable container at the muzzle so that when the piece is fired, the two halves come together rapidly. There are more efficient methods, but the one described is sufficient to do away with a small city.
Finally, Mr. McCracken claims that plutonium will not inevitably be stolen by terrorists and used to make bombs. It is difficult to know on what he bases this faith. In the full-fledged plutonium economy he wants, there will be tons of plutonium being transported from reprocessing plants to fuel-rod plants to power plants in thousands of shipments. Experience teaches us that valuable goods like gold, diamonds, and heroin have frequently been stolen despite all safeguards. What then can we predict of a material, the possession of twenty pounds of which could enable an entire city to be held for billions of dollars of ransom? Or which to a terrorist could mean the power, for example, to have every prisoner in the country turned loose? . . .
Woodside, New York
To the Editor:
I read Samuel McCracken’s article with considerable satisfaction, and I would like to add some comments on the general problem of U.S. energy policy. . . .
A realistic appraisal of the administration’s energy policy . . . strongly suggests that its conservation measures are not likely to have any substantial effect on the inexorable expansion of U.S. dependence on Arab oil.
The effective way to lessen this dependence—a way that does not inhibit the economy or require belt-tightening by the citizenry, either voluntarily or involuntarily—is to increase, not decrease, domestic energy sources.
The policy of the federal government (which should be supported, incidentally, by anyone who is simultaneously interested in the fortunes of the U.S. and of Israel), is to accomplish this by vigorous expansion of the use of both coal and nuclear energy.
The quality of the President’s advocacy of nuclear power has changed since the days of his election campaign, when it was to be employed as a “last resort.” He has come to support expanded use of nuclear energy for the same reason every Congress and every President have since the last term of President Roosevelt: when in a position to study the alternatives, they come down strongly on the side of nuclear power. This is not a trivial point. The principle established is simply that the record of twenty years of nuclear-power generation and its anticipated performance in the foreseeable future are more acceptable than those of the alternatives.
Unfortunately, nuclear power cannot do the job alone. Too much momentum has been lost in the last three or four years. Coal power—somewhat cheaper and quicker to build, but more expensive to operate in most industrial areas—must share the burden, despite its environmental problems.
Furthermore, given the great research-and-development resources in this country, it would be foolish not to pursue the development of alternative energy sources such as solar and fusion. But one should not think . . . that these potential alternatives, with their yet-to-be-disclosed difficulties, can quickly substitute for the already developed technologies. I cite the following interview in Energy Daily (September 14, 1977) with Michael Noland, deputy director of the newly created Solar Energy Research Institute in Golden, Colorado . . .:
“It’s probably heresy to say it, but we can and should be very satisfied as a nation if solar is providing 7 to 10 per cent of our total energy needs by the beginning of the 21st century,” says Noland, a solar advocate who considers himself an optimist about its chances of becoming commercially viable. And even if the prediction that 7 to 10 per cent of the nation’s energy will come from solar by the year 2000 proves true, Noland says, solar development “probably won’t displace a single nuclear plant or coal-fired plant.” Instead, he says, solar development is more likely “to keep our standard of living better than if it did not exist” while nuclear power and coal provide the bulk of the nation’s energy supply.
Thus, those who would advocate the abandonment of nuclear power for promises of “free” energy from the sun are, in the first place, making the same mistake as those early nuclear-power enthusiasts who said that electricity generated with atomic energy would be too cheap to meter, and, in the second place, playing right into the hands of the Arabs. . . .
H. L. Vener
Samuel McCracken writes:
Robert Greer Cohn’s first objection seems to be that the facts do not matter—he says nuclear power is spinach, and he says the hell with it. This must be what he means by “holistic” objections.
His next objection appears to be that “humane realism” holds that it is better that hundreds of miners die in mining accidents than that a handful of non-miners die from radiation-induced cancer. Considering the comparative underdevelopment of coal mining in Palo Alto, this is no doubt a gratifying position for Mr. Cohn, his friends, and relations. His condescension to coal miners, who he appears to believe really like being crushed in pit disasters, is reminiscent of those antebellum Americans who were convinced that blacks enjoyed being slaves. At any rate, if one is killed by a falling coal seam, or by black-lung disease, or by respiratory ailments caused by airborne pollutants, the effect is “totally murderous.”
Apparently Mr. Cohn has not noticed the largely bogus nature of the “split in the scientific community over nuclear peril.” If Mr. Cohn wishes to dispute my claim that the majority of the scientists opposing nuclear power are not nuclear physicists or nuclear engineers or health physicists, the majority of whom support it, he should offer evidence. It will not do to assert blandly that I am wrong.
As a matter of fact, if two or three entomologists told me that my house was located over a dangerous accumulation of explosives, and twenty or thirty nuclear physicists and radiation physicians told me that not only was there no danger at my site, but the only alternative sites were very dangerous, I should be inclined to stay where I was.
I gather from Mr. Cohn’s letter that he thinks scientific types are dangerous to our society, and that it is up to humanists like him to save it. As a humanist myself, I understand the temptation to think this way, but it is a dangerous habit. Mr. Cohn’s indignation over nuclear power is sustainable only if my technical argument—itself the work of a humanist who is not willing to leave the question in the hands of the scientists—is false. His humanist position cannot validly exist in isolation from the technical and scientific facts, which are properly grist for the mills of the humanists, not alternatives to them.
The argument that nuclear power is useful only in thermal plants is equally cogent against coal, oil, and natural gas. And the argument that thermal power is inefficient is equally cogent against solar power. John E. Chappell, Jr.’s indignation in this regard is highly selective.
If Mr. Chappell wishes simply to declare Amory Lovins right about “soft” energy processes, there is not much I can do about it. But I should point out that proposals for major reductions in our use of electricity are not proposals for new energy sources; they are proposals for a substantial reduction in our standard of living. In a free society, such reductions would be tolerable, if at all, only if the alleged dangers of nuclear power were actual. But they are not.
The lurid allegations now sometimes made about long-distance electrical transmission are, of course, irrelevant to the source of power at the generator. A solar-fired plant would present the same problems. And it must be understood that there is no way the Northeast could derive its electrical needs from solar power except by long-distance transmission from areas with adequate sunlight and the space to collect it.
One cannot evade a non-issue, which is what the centralization of energy is. Energy producers have always been under extensive governmental control and no doubt always will be. The regulatory process has sufficient scope even for a controller of Mr. Chappell’s tastes, if he would remember that it is itself democratically controlled. It is a measure of Mr. Chappell’s intellectual confusion that in this passage he criticizes my doubts about the economic viability of central solar generation while ignoring my judgment that a considerable measure of decentralized solar power is likely to prove practicable.
Of course nuclear energy is nonrenewable. Indeed, so is every other form of energy, including, in the long run, solar. What counts is the short run. The existing U-238 enrichment tails would run a breeder-based industry for centuries. If, after these centuries, a superior form of energy conversion were not developed, the remaining unmined uranium and thorium would suffice for thousands of years more.
I do not myself think that the employment issue is especially important. I would not adopt any energy source simply because of the jobs it might create. As between two more or less equally satisfactory energy sources, it would probably make sense to go with the more heavily labor-intensive. But there is at present no other source as satisfactory as nuclear.
When Mr. Chappell says that even without obstructionist tactics, the price of nuclear energy would have risen faster than that of any competing energy source, one wonders whether he has ever heard of OPEC. The cost of fuel oil has quadrupled in the last few years, and because the fuel cost of oil-fired electricity is the major component in its total cost, such increases in the cost of oil are very heavily reflected in electricity costs. In nuclear plants, by contrast, the fuel cost is a small proportion of the total cost, and electricity from nuclear plants is much less sensitive to fuel-cost increases. The fact is that in 1975, the average kilowatt from oil cost 3.36 cents; from coal, 1.75 cents; and from uranium, 1.23 cents. These figures, pace Mr. Chappell, include the cost of waste disposal.
When Mr. Chappell says that the “construction alone” of nuclear plants is more costly than that of coal plants, he ignores the fact that the fuel cost of nuclear plants is so much lower than that of coal plants as to balance, and more than balance, the higher capital costs.
When Mr. Chappell accuses me of “evading” the issue of cancers caused by uranium and plutonium use, he shows that he cannot have read me very carefully. I dealt with this subject at length, although not, presumably, to his satisfaction, since I maintained explicitly that there would be many fewer cancers per kilowatt from nuclear power than from fossil fuels. In the area under discussion, the deaths of miners, we have enough experience with uranium mining to make reasonable estimates of the death rate from cancer, which is very much lower per kilowatt than the death rate from coal mining.
If Roger Revelle were opposed to nuclear power, Mr. Chappell would no doubt call him an internationally distinguished oceanographer. Since he is not, “known nuclear advocate” will suffice to label him. The 11 degree figure quoted is fahrenheit—the centigrade equivalent would be approximately 6 degrees. It is a measure of Mr. Chappell’s ignorance that he thinks a temperature rise of as little as 11 degrees fahrenheit would not be a very serious problem. I am myself an agnostic on the question of the “greenhouse” effect, and merely cited it to show the easy way in which nuclear critics sweep all contradictory evidence under the rug, just as Mr. Chappell tries to do here.
I hardly know what to make of Mr. Chappell’s claim that the majority of anti-nuclear activists argue against fossil fuels. When was the last time the Clamshell Alliance occupied a coal mine or tried to shut down a coal-fired generating plant? The plain fact is that such activists concentrate all their force against nuclear power, leaving the clear impression that coal power is an acceptable replacement for nuclear power. It is also a plain fact that when environmentalists discuss coal, it is almost always to oppose strip-mining—which kills comparatively few miners—and to support the very much more dangerous practice of shaft mining.
In any event, it would not matter if the Clamshell Alliance issued daily manifestoes against coal. The Alliance’s activities are aimed against the only practicable alternative to coal. Let us imagine that in the next five years they succeed in their professed goal of preventing the completion of the Sea-brook plant, and it is eventually replaced with an equivalent coal-fired unit. (If it is to be replaced by anything, it will have to be fossil-fueled; not even the most enthusiastic sun-bugs predict 1250-mega-watt solar plants in the near term.) That coal-fired plant, routinely operated over a thirty-year life, would kill at least a thousand and perhaps three thousand people who would not have been killed by a nuclear plant similarly operated. Those deaths would be the responsibility of all those who took part in the decision to replace a nuclear plant with a coal-fired one, but surely very heavy blame would rest with the ignorant and irresponsible activists who initiated the process.
When Mr. Chappell says that I do not place “faith” in solar, wind, or other energy technologies, he has found the mot juste. It does indeed require faith rather than reason to believe that any of these—or all of them collectively—can ever replace fossil or nuclear thermal plants. Mr. Chappell, it should be noted, fails to name a single solar form out of many that he alleges to be commercially feasible now, or any of the energy specialists alleged to know all about them and more.
Behind Mr. Chappell’s allegation about MIT lies a grain of truth: one proposal for experimentation with methanol as an automobile fuel did not receive funding. What Mr. Chappell does not note is that the proposed investigator was not in energy studies, but was pursuing his hobby. Moreover, MIT has a number of research projects in the use of methanol for cars—some of them, indeed, funded by the automobile and petroleum industries.
If Mr. Chappell were a better reader, he would see that I did not call the anti-nuclear direct-action movement “anti-democratic” merely because it opposes a plant sanctioned by law. There is nothing anti-democratic about opposing the decisions of government, and the right to do so is clearly one of the essentials of democracy. I used the term because the movement explicitly claims the right to close down reactors by force merely because it wants to, and attempts to exercise this “right” in defiance of lawful majority decisions. A claim by a minority to tyrannize over a majority is about as anti-democratic as one can get.
It is wearisome to have to rehearse at this late date the essentials of civil disobedience and its undoubted place in American life. But the prevailing vulgarization of political dialogue, continued from the past decade by such as Mr. Chappell, makes it necessary. To begin with, the revolutionists of 1776 did not engage in civil disobedience: they levied war against what they regarded—rightly—as illegitimate authority. Those who were civilly disobedient along with Martin Luther King, Jr., were testing laws they believed—rightly—to be unconstitutional. However, the activists of the Clamshell Alliance simply maintain that they know better than the majority what is good for them, and openly maintain that they will use force to compel the majority to accept their superior view. If this is not elitism, I do not know what is.
It is true that the people of the town of Seabrook voted narrowly against the construction of a nuclear plant there. I wonder whether Mr. Chappell would support construction of the plant had the vote gone the other way. This is not a hypothetical issue: the people of Plymouth, Massachusetts, after some years of experience with the Pilgrim I plant, voted heavily in favor of constructing Pilgrim II. As it happens, there is no New Hampshire law giving the veto on nuclear plants to local residents. Were there such a law, and had it been held constitutional, and had the people of Seabrook then voted against a nuclear plant, that would have been, for me, the end of the matter. If, under a similar law, the people of Plymouth were to vote for a nuclear plant, somehow I doubt it would end the matter for Mr. Chappell.
Finally, Mr. Chappell displays a contempt, common among nuclear critics, for the intelligence of ordinary people. When anti-nuclear referenda fail, he tells us, it is not because the people have judged the arguments and found them wanting. That, of course, is unthinkable. Rather, the poor slobs have been persuaded to falsehood by high-powered advertising. No doubt if Mr. Chappell and his associates had been given an adequate budget, the poor slobs could have been brought around the other way. Considering the almost uniform anti-nuclear bias of the media, it is laughable to think of the anti-nuclear activists as underdogs. Mr. Chappell should try to calculate the dollar value of just one anti-nuclear documentary on PBS. But in any case, he demonstrates deeply cynical views about the capacity of the people to judge, which perhaps reflect a shallow belief in, and commitment to, democracy.
Albert Sanders is in error in saying that I indicated that plutonium from power reactors cannot be made into bombs. I clearly stated my view that it is difficult to make bombs from reactor plutonium—i.e., I conceded it to be possible. Mr. Sanders is also in error in saying that the AEC exploded a “bomb” made from reactor-grade plutonium. The press release called what was exploded a “device,” a term normally used to denote something not practicable as a bomb, possibly because its yield is very small, possibly because it is too large, or too complicated. The fact is that the government still classifies every important fact about this device except the fact that it exploded. We cannot judge its significance in the context of terrorism until the government is more forthcoming.
If an operator of a power reactor under international observation wishes to produce bomb-grade plutonium in it, he will have considerable explaining to do with regard to its abnormal consumption of uranium fuel.
If Mr. Sanders’s handy recipe for a homemade plutonium bomb is really valid, it is surprising that so few nations have nuclear weapons. What is far from clear is that such a bomb can be built from plutonium rich in Pu-240—that is, the only plutonium even theoretically available to terrorists from the nuclear-power industry.
Finally, if we are to have breeder reactors, I certainly advocate very careful control of plutonium. For example, there is no reason why fuel reprocessing and fuel-rod fabrication cannot be carried on at the same site, obviating one of the shipments that bothers Mr. Sanders. Further, there is no reason why fuel rods need to be delivered to plants more often than once a year, and no reason why the same convoy cannot service a number of plants. The number of shipments a year can be minimized and the protection to shipments maximized. We are, after all, presently in the habit of shipping completed nuclear bombs around the country. The techniques used to guard them are obviously classified, but they are also obviously effective. In a plutonium economy, we could benefit from these techniques.
As I have already suggested, the sorts of threats evoked by Mr. Sanders do not require terrorists in possession of effective nuclear bombs. They merely require a public belief in the existence of such terrorists. Whether or not the anti-nuclear movement feeds this belief I will leave it to Mr. Sanders to judge.
I can only say “amen” to H. L. Vener, and add the caution that coal remains a necessary evil. It will, in the short term, be vital for taking up whatever slack cannot be taken up by nuclear energy. A sound energy policy will allow us to increase our use of coal as little as possible. But the environmentalists have already made sure that we will use more coal than is safe.