Antinuclear arguments in the aftermath of Chernobyl

Final Warning - the Legacy of Chernobyl, by Dr. Robert Peter Gale and Thomas Hauser. New York: Warner Books Inc. 230 pp. $18.95. ROBERT PETER GALE is the authority on bone marrow transplants who, with the assistance of Dr. Armand Hammer, made several trips to the radiation treatment center in Moscow after the Chernobyl accident. He advised the Soviet specialists on organization and analysis of the data, and the team assisted in bone-marrow transplant operations. Thomas Hauser is a successful writer.

``Final Warning'' is actually two books stuck together. One is Dr. Gale's Moscow/Chernobyl memoirs. The other consists of a collection of various arguments that have been used against nuclear power over the past couple of decades.

The two books do not really have all that much to do with each other. The diary fills the central portion of this volume; the beginning and ending sections use Chernobyl to link them to the diary. But the arguments against nuclear power have all been heard before. They have been cut and pasted from standard articles of the antinuclear groups. They have little or nothing to do with Chernobyl, and none are original with Gale and Hauser, who say, ``Neither of us - the authors of this book - has special expertise in nuclear matters. One of us is a medical doctor, the other is an attorney and author. However, we've done our best to educate ourselves on the issues involved.''

Gale calls for people to ``get involved'' to stop nuclear power. While admitting little expertise, he urges people to take his advice on this complex and highly political subject. There seems to be a double standard here. Gale went to Moscow to provide his expertise to help the victims. He was accepted there because of his credentials and experience. But neither he nor the Soviets would have been expected to take advice from a nonmedical person who was trying to lobby politically against bone-marrow transplants!

About the International Atomic Energy Agency's conference in Vienna Aug. 25 to 29, 1986, Gale reports, ``The Soviets were remarkably thorough and candid. Gross operating errors at Chernobyl were acknowledged, as were a lesser number of design flaws.''

In fact, the RBMK (water-cooled, graphite-moderated) design has serious inherent unstable characteristics. Many Soviet technical papers deal with the modifications and controls that have been built into the RBMK to overcome these problems. At Chernobyl, the operators made errors that allowed basic instabilities to occur, and thus they lost control of the reactor. But the design itself is totally different from American plants and could not have been licensed here.

A nuclear accident anywhere can affect us all. But to jump from that basic fact to the implication that potential light-water reactor accidents would be like Chernobyl is false and deliberately misleading.

Gale and Hauser conclude: ``We're heartened by the knowledge that this book will be translated and read in nations around the world. We urge all people to make the same demands of their leaders that we make of ours. ... Halt the nuclear peril. ... Anyone who `doesn't know' simply doesn't want to know.''

If one does want to know, there are plenty of both readable and credible books on the subject, and plenty of informed, honest scientists and engineers who want desperately for the public to understand. The facts are not that complicated. But ``knowing'' what is said in the ``second book'' of Gale and Hauser does not provide much education.

Dr. A. David Rossin was assistant secretary of energy for nuclear energy (1986-87) and director of the Nuclear Safety Analysis Center at the Electric Power Research Institute from 1981 to 1986. He is now a consultant in Los Altos Hills, Calif.

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