Feedback on David Brower and Nuclear Power Safety

Readers offer widely divergent opinions on an interview with David Brower and Brower's negative views concerning nuclear power safety.

| November/December 1973

  • nuclear panic button - Fotolia
    Nuclear power safety remains as controversial today as in the early 1970s. 

  • nuclear panic button - Fotolia

Your David Brower interview reminded me how terrific that guy is. I was lucky enough to be at the alternate energy conference in Cape May, New Jersey, where the interview was conducted. Brower is the one who made the day for most of us there...not overlooking the genius of Buckminster Fuller. The debate between Brower and U.S. Senator Mike Gravel over the Alaskan pipeline was won hands down by Brower. Senator Gravel is the leader of anti-nuclear energy thought in Congress, but he's lost a lot of his admirers through his pro-pipeline stand.  

MOTHER EARTH NEWS' readers should follow Brower's advice about involvement. It did work on the SST. The Earth is too beautiful a place to give up trying to save it. Brower is an inspiration for those, such as myself, who are directly involved in saving it by profession. (I am currently County Planning Director of St. Lawrence County, New York, and formerly held the same position in Cape May, New Jersey.) Follow this man . . . he offers many answers that are unquestionable, and many more questions that are unanswerable.

The conference itself, and the Sun People who staged it, may be worth some additional coverage by MOTHER EARTH NEWS . . . especially a gal named Ruth Fisher, organizer of the Sun People and a hell of a lot of woman. She combines a wealth of alternate living ideas into her own unique lifestyle and a dedication to changing other people's views into environmentally sane ones through a diversity of eco-tactics...such as the energy conference.

Richard Grover
Winthrop, New York

Mr. Morneau's following comments cover both our interview with David Brower and his Friends of the Earth Foundation advertisement in same issue. - MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

David Brower's warning about the dangers of nuclear reactors was interesting, but grossly exaggerated. The interview depressed me because people who are unfamiliar with nuclear energy can easily be prejudiced against this power source simply because they do not know all the facts about nuclear power safety or because they've been given false information.

I would like to counter a few points made by Mr. Brower. I mention now that what I say does not include everything that could be said about the situation. I will only speak of those things that I feel most competent to speak about.

Mr. Brower says, "Man-made nuclear reactors are not so well engineered as the sun, and none has been so thoroughly tested." This statement is ridiculous. First of all, the sun produces its energy through nuclear fusion...a much more energetic means than the nuclear fission used in nuclear power reactors. Nuclear fusion and nuclear fission are completely different means of producing energy. Secondly, many billions of dollars have been spent in the study and development of nuclear power engineering. To speak of the sun as being more "thoroughly tested" is equally ridiculous, unless he is including sunbathing as some form of scientific test.

The Brookhaven Report , "Theoretical Possibilities and Consequences of Major Accidents in Large Nuclear Power Plants", was published in 1957. In the 16 years since then, the Atomic Energy Commission's safety requirements have become much more stringent.

Mr. Brower claims that if the maximum credible accident actually occurred and the emergency core cooling system failed, the radiation released to exposed populations could be lethal up to 100 miles away. First of all, we must assume that the accident will occur. . . an extremely unlikely event Secondly, we must assume that the emergency cooling system fails. . . an even more unlikely event. When the AEC appraises the effectiveness of a particular safety system, they always assume that the system can fail. Therefore, they require that additional safety systems be built, so, if the first system fails, the other systems will be able to handle the emergency completely on their own. This is true of the emergency core cooling system, which is not just one system, but—usually—three. . . each capable of effectively cooling the core by itself. The probability of all three systems failing simultaneously is extremely low.

Mr. Brower mentioned several other points, all of which—I think—are exaggerated to the point of foolishness. I suggest that Mr. Brower (and anyone else interested) write to the AEC or any nuclear plant and ask them how these "accidents" are prevented. I have no doubt that the explanations given will destroy anyone's fears on the dangers of nuclear power production.

Finally, nuclear physicists, nuclear engineers and radiation health physicists, after having thoroughly studied nuclear engineering and radiation, continue to work 40 hours each week in what Mr. Brower would consider extremely dangerous situations. If anyone understands the hazards involved in these fields, I'm sure it's these men and women. Yet they continue on their jobs in complete safety. When I fly on a commercial jetliner, I trust the pilot in his ability to get me to my destination safety. I assume he knows more about flying than I do. I can only hope that Mr. Brower and people with similar viewpoints will realize their mistake in not trusting people who are certainly much more knowledgeable on the subject.

Richard A. Morneau
Lawrence, Mass.

Richard, we've run your letter...but we most certainly cannot endorse it in any way. We do have some firsthand knowledge of people who are now dying of cancer directly caused by their work in some of those "safe" labs you hold up as such a shining example for us all. As a matter of fact, we've been told that one of these individuals was all set to tell his story to the world when the AEC informed him that—if he did so—it would take some rather cruel action that we won't specify here. I only hope to God the story isn't true.

Sorry, but I have to disagree with you on all your other points too. If anything, I'd say that Dave Brower (and remember, he started out loving nuclear energy before he had carefully examined both the good and bad that it offers) has understated the real and potential dangers of both fission and fusion. The "experts" who continue to shove this power source down our throats simply scare the hell out of me. - JS.

I must agree with Dave Brower—even though I'm an electrical engineer (or, as I refer to myself, a renegade engineer)—that nuclear power at present is impractical. The Price-Anderson Act absolves the companies of economic responsibility for accidents. I seriously doubt that—with all economic pressures giving nuclear power advocates a strong incentive to cut corners in order for their plants to become financially competitive with conventional power generation—we're going to see much care put into accident prevention. Right now, no atomic power plant that I've heard of has delivered up to expectations. Maintenance in an area where no man can go is slow and costly.

Fusion could be the answer, but I do have reservations there, too. My personal hunch is that nothing will solve our problems without a radical change in our society. I'm not overly optimistic.

Rick Brooks
Fremont, Ind.  

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