Matt Bivens's "Nuclear Power &Terrorism" [web only, Oct. 24] makes an interesting point about how hard nuclear power plants are to defend against terrorists, and uses this as an argument to shut them all down. I think that is rather a simplistic and sweeping solution to a very complicated problem. One could make a very good argument that manufacturing plants using powerful industrial chemicals (similar to the Bhopal plant), oil supertankers traversing the oceans (as well as refineries), gas-powered power plants, and even major dams pose a great threat to the surrounding environment and the people living nearby if, say, a truck bomb was driven into one. Major portions of our infrastructure are vulnerable to terrorism. I hope you're not proposing to dump it all overboard.
So, Matt Bivens poses the either/or of needing to either prepare to "shoot down civilian aircraft that stray too close" to nuclear power plants or "just shut the nuclear plants down."
I don't know where Bivens lives or works, but I see your offices are in New York which gets 28 percent of its electricity from nuclear plants. If Bivens or you live in New Jersey, the figure there is 57 percent. So, if we can't tolerate the perceived risks of suicidal airplanes, I wonder what substitute generation source does he suggest for those states?
We certainly have a right to insist that the NRC provide reasonable assurance that each nuclear plant, active or shut down, is prepared to withstand foreseeable threats. Until those academics in the National Laboratories convince the public that there is indeed a national energy efficiency program that could "unfold with most citizens never even noticing," we will have to make do with the nuclear energy.
BRIAN O'CONNELL, PE
Director, Nuclear Waste Program Office
National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners
W. Lafayette, In.
The article by Matt Bivens on "Nuclear Power &Terrorism" is given to (admittedly topical) hysterics that one expects to find in the tabloid press, not your esteemed journal of opinion.
Nuclear power quietly, efficiently, safely and economically provides not only 20 percent of the country's electricity but an environmentally sound option for addressing global warming and possibly shifting to a hydrogen-based economy.
As a technical person and concerned citizen, I would like to reassure The Nation's readers: Nuclear power plants are extraordinarily at risk of being the target of demonization by ignorant, if not opportunist, fear peddlers; they are not a vulnerable target for terrorists.