Feedback on David Brower and Nuclear Power Safety

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ILLUSTRATION: FOTOLIA/3D_KOT
Nuclear power safety remains as controversial today as in the early 1970s. 

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 BrookhavenReport , “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.