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Happiness Is Printing By t ? UTURA _ _J P.O. BOX 3485 AUSTIN, TEXAS -t L.. r Newspapers Magazines Political Specialists Signs and Placards Bumperstrips Office Supplies 100% Union Shop PRESS Phone 512/442 7836 1714 SOUTH CONGRESS each in Newton Counties 60 miles northeast of Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange. Not one of the facilities has received a serious challenge. The deadline for petitions to intervene on the Aliens Creek plant is already past, and no one intervened. We are simply blundering ahead without any serious debate on the ramifications of a Faustian pact with nuclear power. I could talk about the adequacy of safety precautions at nuclear plants, the consequences of a major accident, the possibility of sabotage or theft at a plant or the Atomic Energy Commission’s penchant for concealing critical facts about nuclear energy. But I’m going to concetrate on the most profound issue in an arsenal of nuclear problems the problem of waste. Nuclear waste is perhaps the cruelest legacy this century will leave the world. The most deadly product of the nuclear fusion process is plutonium, which is made by neutron bombardment of uranium. The 15 isotopes produced have masses ranging from 232 to 246 and half-lives \(the amount of time it takes for half of the isotope to years. The half-life of plutonium is most commonly considered to be 24,000 years. Plutonium causes cancer. The inhalation of a millionth of a gram the size of a grain of pollen appears to be sufficient to cause lung cancer. According to Daniel F. Ford, a former Harvard economist who is now working full time on nuclear power plant safety, “A pound of plutonium can cause nine billion cases of lung cancer.” By the year 2,000 the nuclear industry is expected to be producing 88 tons of plutonium a year. This stuff, this incredibly treacherous man-made substance is going to have to be extracted from the nuclear plants and then sent off to be reprocessed for further use or stored somewhere for the lifetimes of a few civilizations. Industry spokesmen concede that one of the most vulnerable points in the nuclear fuel cycle is when the reactor fuel is sent to a reprocessing plant. Here the valuable, lethal plutonium is extracted and concentrated. Six kilograms, an amount the size of a grapefruit, could cause a nuclear explosion. The AEC projects that within 50 years there will be 100 railway cars daily loaded with used reactor fuel on their way to or from reprocessing plants. “What might happen if a shipping cask carrying high-level waste were involved in a severe truck or train accident?” the AEC asks in a chipper little booklet called “Everything you always wanted to know about . Shipping High-level Nuclear Wastes.” “The damage to the cask would be limited generally to superficial damage bending or crushing of cooling fins, warping of attachments, scorching of paint, jamming of bolts and closures so they cannot be easily opened, and loss of any external cooling mechanisms. The cask might have to be repaired before being put back into routine service. However, it could be transported to their destination without repair in most cases.” Now that our minds are at rest about that possibility, let’s think about where to store these sturdy casks. Fact is that the AEC has yet to find a permanent resting place for nuclear wastes. Judging from the trouble the Navy is having trying to find a home for harmless old Project Sanguine, I would guess that any community that is designated as a nuclear Forest Lawn is going to start yelling like a tiger cat. THE AEC had to abandon plans to bury its garbage in abandoned salt mines in Kansas because of the discovery of underground water tables there. It has since been decided that the casks should be stored above ground, anyway. The National Reactor Testing Station is storing some of our nuclear leftovers on an 88 acre plot in Idaho right now, but the state wants them moved. The AEC has promised to find a final resting spot for the material in another state before 1980. Back when the National Reactor Testing Station was opened in 1951, radioactive wastes were simply sealed in steel barrels or boxes and buried. Now some of them have to be exhumed. “Since some of the barrels weren’t supposed to last more than 20 years, we presume they’ve lost their integrity now,” the director of waste management at the testing station recently told an AP reporter. To date the AEC has reported at least 15 leaks of lethal meterial, totaling about 550,000 gallons since 1958. In January of this year, Dr. Harry Kendall of MIT told members of the congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy that the AEC was not conducting adequate studies on how to contain radioactive waste. In response, according to The Washington Post, “Committee members pointed out that commercial nuclear plants produce a very small amount of waste and therefore no permanent facilities will be needed to store it for several years.” Rep. Craig Hosmer to expect man to invent everything at once.” Hosmer said he thought the temporary waste storage facilities would be good for a hundred years. “Don’t you think scientists will be’ able to find a ‘permanent solution by then?” he asked Kendall. This addled faith in technology was expressed by a member of Atomic Energy, the committee that is supposed to be overseeing our nuclear policy. We might as well let kindergarten children do the job. When Allen V. Kneese did a benefit-cost analysis of fission energy for the A.E.C. he came to this conclusion: “If so unforgiving a technology as large-scale nuclear fission energy production is adopted, it will impose a burden of continuous monitoring and sophisticated management of dangerous material, essentially forever. The penalty for not bearing this burden may be unparalleled disaster. This irreversible burden would be imposed even if nuclear fission were to be used for only a few decades, a mere instant in the pertinent time scale . . . We know of no government whose life was more than an instant by comparison with the half-life of plutonium.” Kneese believes it is simply too great a risk for humankind. The risk, of course, is already being taken. Thirty-seven nuclear plants are currently generating electricity in this country and 54 more proposed reactors are under review by the AEC. In a few more years, the wastes from our producing reactors will have cooled enough to be transported. Then we’ll start finding out which communities are willing to begin the eternal vigil over this most deadly refuse. Do we want this stuff in Austin or Houston or Dallas or Glen Rose or Paducah? A little coal dust is a mere aggravation in comparison to the misery and disaster we could be willing to the future. K.N. IDialogue What’s the point? Perhaps I missed the point of your recent article. concerning thermonuclear fusion research at UT’s Center for Plasma Physics. It seems to indict both the private electric power industry for underwriting this research, and the university for accepting funding by private industry. As this is a complete turnabout of the usual criticism of my industry e.g. Cf. . . . electric utilities haven’t spent enough money on new forms of energy” I believe your article bears inspection. You point out that funding of the project by members of TAERF began in 1957. If I’m not mistaken, in those days indeed, until two years ago it was May 10, 1 974 15