Converting Nuclear Weapons Into Energy

In the opinion-page article ``Reinvent Federal Energy Policy, Too,'' Jan. 5, the author makes a case for ``dramatically shifting federal research dollars away from polluting sources of energy such as nuclear power, coal, and oil toward energy efficiency and [unnamed] clean, renewable sources.'' Unfortunately, it comes across in the context of a conflict of ``us'' (public interest, environmental groups) versus ``them'' (public utility, energy industry, business groups) that has become outdated.

The foremost environmental problem is how to reduce the world's huge nuclear stockpile to manageable proportions. Recently the United States agreed to assist the former Soviet Union in destroying its weapons by buying the contained uranium and plutonium for use as fuel in nuclear power plants. Since the US has in place an enormous stockpile of depleted uranium, a by-product of the enrichment process, it has a unique capability to dilute weapons material to reactor fuel.

The foremost cause of air pollution in the US is the use of fossil fuels in motor vehicles. The solution has long been recognized to be the development of a practical electric vehicle that would greatly reduce air pollution, our dependence on foreign oil, and (as the author points out) our balance-of-payments problem. The development of an efficient, low-cost commuter car and trades vehicle should be a priority.

For over 30 years, the 100 operating nuclear plants in the US have demonstrated safety and reliability. Since nuclear plants have negligible emissions, they do not contribute to global warming, acid rain, or other pollution problems normally exacerbated by fossil plants. Smaller, safer, standard plant designs have been proposed for the future. Here is another area where we should have high priority research.

A reexamination of priorities by all parties is needed, followed by serious dialogue and debate in the congressional arena. Ray Hinds Jr., Man-of-War Cay, Bahamas

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