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New man for nuclear safety

The reorganization of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will give the next commission chairman far more power in overseeing the development of nuclear power and ensuring public safety than was previously the case. He will have a singularly strong voice in policymaking and in implementing the five- member regulatory body's directives concerning safety, location, and construction of future power plants and all other key aspects of the nuclear industry. The President's selection of a new chairman is a critically important one for the country, and Mr. Carter appears to have made a wise choice in nominating Albert Carnesale to fill the post.

Mr. Carnesale will likely have little difficulty winning Senate confirmation. He would bring to the chairmanship a broad technical and academic background -- his experience as a nuclear engineer, a professor of public policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, a nuclear weapons expert and participant in the SALT I negotiations, an environmental researcher, and more recently a nuclear consultant for the White House.

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But just as important for rendering judgments in the highly emotional and controversial nuclear field, he is described by his associatees as a "moderate" capable of seeing all sides of the complex issues involved in the nuclear power debate and of being ablt to bring opposing sides together. His reported knack for simplifying complex issues for the layman will make him well suited for expanding public understanding of government policies as they relate to nuclear power.

It will be reassuring to a nation torn by doubts about the reliability and safety of nuclear power following Three Mile Island to know that Mr. Carnesale recognizes the need to give top priority to the "safety and health of the public."

The chairman's first task along this line will be the total restructuring of the NRC (called for the Kemeny special presidential commission after the Three Mile Island accident). Over the long term, he faces the more difficult job of restoring public confidence in nuclear power and proving that, whatever role nuclear power will have in the nation's future energy mix, the nuclear power plants will be safe -- and have more effective government oversight than in the past.

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