Published Thursday, November 4, 1999, in the San Jose Mercury News


Nuclear power's record good overall


THE industrial accident at the Tokaimura uranium processing plant in Japan on Sept. 30 left three people in critical condition. It was serious; and tragically, one or two men may yet die. But to be realistic, it was a relatively minor accident in terms of consequences to human life.

Several people in the plant were exposed to radiation doses in the range that plant workers are allowed to receive in a year. Sixty or more people in the neighborhood received radiation doses comparable to that of a couple of airplane flights.

The accident at Tokaimura created a deluge of scary news articles. Such stories did not follow the more serious accidents over the past two years in the coal, oil and gas industries. For example: May 16, 1999, 65 were killed and 75 were injured in a Pakistan gasoline fire; Oct. 17, 1998, more than 700 were killed in a Nigerian pipeline explosion; and on May 15, 1998, 120 were killed in a Cameroon oil train fire.

Why were the anti-nuclear doomsayers not enjoining the public to cease the use of fossil fuels? Where was Paul Josephson, a visiting professor at Wellesley who, after Tokaimura, wrote a scary article about the ``nuclear enterprise'' (Opinion, Oct. 12) in Japan and Russia, with overtones regarding the nuclear power system in the rest of the world?

Scientists and engineers in the Japanese nuclear power industry are typically very safety conscious and diligent in following certified procedures provided by their management. We expect Japan will adhere to the highest safety standards for design and operation of their nuclear power systems.

The fact is that, after 35 years of operation supplying over 15 percent of the world's electrical power, not a single person has been killed or injured by a nuclear accident in power reactors or fuel fabrication plants designed, built and operated with Western standards. The Tokaimura accident as well as other accidents where life was lost did not occur in the commercial nuclear power industry under its standards and regulations. One may note that the Russians, after Chernobyl, are accepting Western standards.

To maintain health and the standard of living that we are accustomed to in the developed countries, and that the developing countries aspire to have, the world needs more energy. If it is provided by fossil fuels, we will most likely continue to see deaths from mining, transporting and burning those fuels. In view of possible massive deaths from global warming and future international hostilities over shortages of fossil fuels, nuclear energy will clearly be vital to the future welfare of every country.

To be properly informed on energy, the public needs perspective with accurate information instead of exaggerations and scare tactics.