In a press release carefully coordinated with mass internet mailings to all the old anti-technology political action groups, Nader’s well-funded Critical Mass organization tries to create the impression of “a growing coalition of national, international and grassroots groups” joined by “many scientists, experts and the public.” But there is nothing spontaneous or grass-rootsy about this well-orchestrated PR blitz to prevent plutonium and uranium from dismantled weapons being used to generate electricity for the public. Ironically, Nader’s position is silently applauded by the big oil and coal companies. This weapons material constitutes a unique energy resource, equivalent to $30 billion in oil. How can we call it a waste? If it were oil, we would be ready to sacrifice a generation of our ablest youth to keep it. But Nader and friends want us to destroy it. They regret that only the United States has opted to avoid using plutonium for peaceful purposes, which was an unfortunate decision by President Carter, made in the vain hope that other nations would follow us. Of course, they did not.
Pundits tell us that energy is our most precious asset; that we must conserve it and constrict all our goals and plans to meet a dwindling energy supply. We are told to recycle and reuse everything else, but this special asset we are to throw away. Here, in a unique historical situation, we suddenly find ourselves with a limitless, proven, completely non-polluting energy source. Nuclear power produces no air pollution, no global warming gases, no acid rain, and its solid wastes are so small in volume that they can be canned, accounted for, and responsibly stored – an impossibility with any other power source. Those who claim to speak for the environment should welcome any steps that reduce the environmental degradation resulting from all other forms of energy generation.
Thousands of people are dying of food poisoning (which could be prevented by irradiating the food in a process proven over 40 years); thousands more are dying of air pollution from coal-burning power plants; global warming from burning fuels threatens the whole race; water sources are drying up (with oceans needing only energy to make their water potable). These are real problems. How can anyone choose not to use plutonium, which has never killed anyone (except as a bomb at Nagasaki), to solve these problems? The surest way to keep it from terrorists is to buy it at the present bargain price being offered, and start consuming it in power plants.
Theodore Rockwell was Technical Director of Naval Reactors (U.S. Atomic Energy Commission), editor of The Reactor Shielding Design Manual, co-author of The Shippingport Pressurized Water Reactor, and of Arms Control Agreements: Designs for Verification, and author of The Rickover Effect: How One Man Made a Difference and Power to the People: The Many Faces of Nuclear Technology (in preparation).