Big Brother: Watching, Listening and…

Washington, D.C.

We enjoyed the excellent insights in your “The End of Privacy” issue [July 8/15]. But before packing up all our data for Big Brother, how about a little resistance? The Electronic Privacy Information Center has petitioned NSA director Keith Alexander for a public rule-making on the agency’s decision to do domestic surveillance. This is the kind of change in agency activity that triggers the public comment process required by the Administrative Procedure Act. We will be renewing our petition weekly. To sign on, go to or #NSApetition.

KHALIAH BARNES, counsel, Electronic Privacy Information Center

Mercer Island, Wash.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for Jonathan Schell’s unequivocal condemnation of  the government’s invasion of our privacy and its complete disregard for the Constitution [“The Surveillance Net,” July 8/15].


Roseland, N.J.

It is astonishing that Jonathan Schell would refer to Edward Snowden as a “courageous whistleblower.” Snowden deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  


Decatur, Ga.

With all due respect to Jonathan Schell, Edward Snowden is not to be celebrated unequivocally. The extent of Mr. Snowden’s attention-grabbing stunt is unknown, as the American public has no idea of what he gave/sold to whom, and what its implications may be in the longer term. The evidence, in part, that Snowden’s not smelling so hot lies in the fact that Vladimir Putin (for whom expressing disdain for the United States is a favorite pastime) compared the trouble caused by his presence in Russia to “shearing a piglet—there’s a lot of squealing and not much wool.” (Though in the end, Putin couldn’t resist another big opportunity to poke his finger in America’s eye.) Mr. Snowden may indeed be neither hero nor traitor, but he’s no Paul Revere.


Davis, Calif.

In Studs Terkel’s last work, P.S., he and the lyricist Yip Harburg are talking. Studs reminds Harburg of these lines he wrote:

The truth is so top secret,
It only stands to reason,
That anyone exposing it,
Is culpable of treason.


Nukes on Our Mind

Buffalo, N.Y.

I am an avid reader of The Nation and have great respect for Mark Hertsgaard and Terry Tempest Williams. So I was disappointed in the conversation “Can Nuclear Power Save the Planet?” [July 8/15]. Neither mentioned nuclear waste, the giant and unanswerable question of nuclear power, which will last for millions of years.


Bethlehem, Pa.

Can Nuclear Power Save the Planet?” The answer is a definite no. We need ways to reduce energy consumption—and quickly. One possible way: ration gasoline, as we did in World War II. Another possibility: reduce meat consumption. As much as 51 percent of our carbon-equivalent greenhouse gases results from the livestock industry and its support systems.


Bradenton, Fla.

The solution to climate change does involve the elimination of fossil fuel use, but it does not involve advocating a particular alternative. We need a revenue-neutral carbon tax to level the playing field for all forms of power not based on fossil fuel. They can then compete fairly for our use. If nuclear can compete with solar, wind, water, etc., it should be considered. Of course, it will simply lose that competition based on safety, cost and sustainability.



This is what I have feared: that people will reach for any solution to climate change. The amount of water used for nuclear power is overwhelming, and what to do with the waste is an unsolved issue. The best solution is solar panels. I just installed fourteen panels and am registered as a power plant. If the government and all Americans used solar panels, the cost would come down and they’d be as cheap as a furnace or air conditioner.



I found your odd dialogue lacking in exposure of the wrongheadedness of nuclear power. It is not an answer to global climate change. The few misfits who have embraced this awful technology are woefully lacking in credibility. The path is clear: a vast reduction in energy use through conservation.


Ararat, Va.

As an engineer/scientist I found your coverage of nuclear power, a most important energy source, discouraging. Most of us agree that we need to curtail the burning of fossil fuels. The six environmental groups I belong to are united in their opposition to nuclear power. But like it or not, solar and wind will never provide us with the electrical power our society demands. Nuclear power is a proven 24/7 energy source that provides 19 percent of our electricity and does not treat our sky as a sewer.


New York City

The authors missed a chance to discuss the greenest nuclear technology of all: molten salt reactors using thorium fuel, inherently more safe because they operate at atmospheric pressure and cannot melt down, and their fissile products have half-lives measured in decades, not centuries (see


Hertsgaard & Williams Reply

San Francisco

We’re glad our article provoked such spirited, wide-ranging and mostly thoughtful responses; encouraging a real discussion of the connections between climate change and nuclear power was one of the things we most hoped to achieve.

To those readers who think we endorsed nuclear power as a solution to climate change: please reread the article. We agree that issues like nuclear waste didn’t get the discussion they deserved, but we had limited space. We note that not one of the letter writers opposed to nuclear energy addressed the deadly question of coal. As our article made clear, nuclear power is a dangerous technology, no doubt—but coal is even deadlier. Coal pollution has killed many tens of thousands of people all over the world while also being the number-one cause of global warming. Ignoring that fact does nuclear opponents no credit.

The true path forward—again, as we stated—is to accelerate, here and around the world, the use of such clean alternatives as solar, wind, geothermal and, above all, energy efficiency. This would put many more people to work while slashing greenhouse gas emissions. And it would do so much more quickly, cheaply and safely than nuclear power or coal.