Kudos for ‘Back Talk’

Brooklyn, N.Y.


Kudos for ‘Back Talk’

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Kudos on the excellent interview with John Turturro [May 19], one of the most interesting and thoughtful actors in film and theater today. “Back Talk” is a terrific addition to the back of the magazine.


Cool Hand Nuke

Colorado Springs

Christian Parenti’s “What Nuclear Renaissance?” [May 12] was interesting and important. A quibble: what happens inside nuclear power plants is not an attempt “to reproduce the process that occurs inside the sun.” On earth we do fission; on the sun they do fusion.


Rochester, N.Y.

Christian Parenti deems nuclear power dangerously complicated, expensive and linked to weapons. Facts: no life has been lost in US commercial nuclear power operations, whose main emissions are water vapor. At Three Mile Island design safeguards contained the damaged reactor core. Because of that incident, Western plants are operated in fail-safe modes that cannot be bypassed. A Chernobyl-type accident has always been technically impossible with Western plants.

Contrary to Parenti’s implications, US nuclear power output has doubled over the past fifteen years, providing a reliable electricity baseload at competitive prices and with a stellar safety record. Independent US and European scientific associations therefore expect that nuclear power will enjoy increased importance in the future energy mix of the industrialized world. Reflecting similar activities by our global economic competitors, several new nuclear reactors were ordered in 2007 for Texas at about 
$2 billion each, the cost of an oil platform and a fraction of Parenti’s claim.

Spent nuclear fuel presents difficult “waste” issues only as long as the United States foolishly rejects recycling, demonstrated successfully by France. Applying modern and proliferation-safe nuclear technologies, fuel rods stored at US reactor sites could generate electricity for a few thousand years at present rates, economically and with a minimum carbon footprint. Parenti’s fear of high technology seems deplorably backward.


Parenti Replies

Chongqing, China

Thank you to readers who politely pointed out my mistake. I meant to write “a process akin to that which happens in the sun” but conflated the two processes.

As for the knee-jerk nuke huggers like Mr. Schröder: your cause is lost; getting angry won’t help. We don’t properly track cancer clusters around nukes, so death rates are hard to prove; one of the few studies that tried to monitor such deaths after TMI found an increase in the number of lymphatic and blood cancer deaths among those exposed. Doubling of energy from nukes? That is not what the government stats say, though they do note an increase. What caused that? If Schröder had read my whole piece he would have learned about the dangerous insanity of “uprating” old nukes and extending their licenses. Schröder’s ultimate fantasy is that several nuke plants in Texas are about to be built for $2 billion each. It was an NRC commissioner (among others) who told me the lowest cost of a new plant was likely to be $10-$12 billion. Go to Hanford, Washington, to see the horrors of “recycling” nuclear waste. Getting more fuel from spent fuel does not render the mess inert. Finally, Schröder tips his hand with his lame “afraid of high tech.” Tsk, tsk. These nuke huggers are fools. If nukes are so great, go ahead, dump your savings into nuclear energy stocks. The smarter money follows T. Boone Pickens, who is going long-term into wind and solar.


April Fools in Ojai

Ventura, Calif.

In trivial but telling support of Daniel Lazare’s assertion that “all faiths are fundamentally intolerant” [“Letters,” April 14]: many years ago my friends and I were threatened by followers of the peace-loving, nonviolent J. Krishnamurti for posting some satirical fliers. They announced a free public debate between I. Mistimurki, author of Think for Yourself–My Way and Lint-Free Omphaloskepsis: A Guidebook for the Navel Observatory, versus Benny “Cosmic” Rays, founder of The World Institute of Half-assed-ology* in Ojai, California. The Krishnamurti Foundation had made the mistake of scheduling Krishnamurti’s talks in Ojai to begin April 1, 1978–April Fool’s Day–an opportunity too good for any self-respecting nontheist satirist to pass up.

According to his wine steward, the owner of a local cafe, an avid Krishnamurti supporter, and a few of his cronies tried to inveigle two busboys to “find out who wrote this and beat the crap out of them.” Richard Dawkins is right: all religion is potentially dangerous.


*A play on “Avasthology”–whatever that is. The World Institute of Avasthology changed its name to World University in Ojai within a week of our posting of the fliers.

Mind Your Aitches and Tees

In Eric Alterman’s most recent “Liberal Media” column, a fact-checker misread her capital H as a double lowercase t, causing the misspelling of Politico‘s Jim VandeHei’s name. She has been sent to remedial penmanship class.

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