Future Benefits of Funding Nuclear Research

The editorial "Keep Funds for Nuclear Research," April 1, highlights the dilemma of budget cutting with respect to high payoff technologies. While nuclear power research should not be exempt from budget cuts, it is disappointing that President Clinton would single it out as an example of a program no longer needed.

Nuclear power is a vital contributor to our energy supply, second only to coal in producing electricity.

In addition, commercial United States nuclear technology exports brought in more than $1.7 billion in 1992. The nuclear industry has realized the importance of research and has shared in its cost. It is seen in today's "First-of-a-Kind Engineering" program, which is a joint effort between the industry and the Department of Energy. Each provides $100 million to support the development of evolutionary nuclear designs.

The federal government has the responsibility to help the industry bring along the next generation of nuclear plants, as well as to make the long-term investments that industry is unable to do. In the necessary budget trimming, we should remember the substantial payback we have gotten from nuclear power and not cut so deeply as to lose its future benefits. Kent F. Hansen,,Cambridge, Mass. Professor of Nuclear Engineering Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Regarding the front-page article "Russian Nuclear Accident: A Sign of Things to Come?," April 9: The Russian nuclear-weapons reprocessing plant accident appears to not threaten lives or the environment. Yet it underscores the urgency for aid to the Soviet republics to improve and, in some cases, shut down defense and commercial facilities.

Although some aid has already begun to flow to the East, it must be substantially larger, including funds and direct grants of equipment. The nuclear defense facilities need to be shut down, and the only way to do that is to provide Russia with real incentives - including support so that displaced nuclear defense workers can get jobs in the civilian nuclear power industry. It is either help the East or risk losing this important industry to public reaction or to an accident. Theodore M. Besmann, Oak Ridge, Tenn. Research Group Leader Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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