Clinch clunked

The US Senate wisely ended federal funding for the Clinch River Breeder Reactor. It had become a political clunker. Nevertheless, the United States, probably in the next century, may need breeders. An ongoing research and development program is needed to keep that energy option open.

The nuclear industry must ensure that no company or utility scrimps on quality and safety, including the quality of financing. The Clinch River project sagged under the nuclear industry's reputation. With the default on bonds by the Washington Public Power System, Clinch River managers asked Congress to underwrite their own bonds. Congress has now said no.

Nunzio J. Palladino, chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has frankly said what ''can cloud the nuclear future . . . is the ability of the nuclear industry . . . to make sure that all entities involved do the high quality job expected of them.''

The industry is being called upon to meet a standard of excellence it so far has failed to recognize. Unless the nuclear industry takes hard action to curb engineering and operational flaws, projects like Clinch River will run into political trouble - whatever their technical merits.

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