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LETTERS TO THE EDITORS

Rocking Heavy Metal

To the Editors:

In his article, "Heavy-Metal Nuclear Power" (November-December), Eric Loewen claims that metal-cooled reactors produce power and burn up radioactive waste at the same time. However, he refers only to transuranic nuclear waste. Radioactive fission products must be considered in any scheme to produce power safely. The scientific community must fully disclose both benefits and shortcomings of various energy alternatives.

Walter John
Walnut Creek, California

Dr. Loewen responds:

Walter John is correct that other radioactive fission products will be generated, but with half-lives on the order of 30 years. This means that in about 10 half-lives, or 300 years, it is gone. That is a manageable waste stream. Can humans make something strong enough to contain the waste for 300 years underground? Yes. For example, the Great Wall of China and the pyramids have lasted longer above ground.  Drawbacks can be identified in all energy sources. Heavy metals in coal ash have no half-life. MTBE in fuels does not degrade. CO2 emitted into the air has a 200-year half-life in the carbon cycle.  The drawbacks of nuclear energy have been identified and are manageable.

 

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