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Divided Responses to Integral Nuclear Reactors

The article ``Nuclear Enters a New Era,'' March 6, underscores the fact that nuclear power can provide a needed domestic power source while safeguarding the environment. Given its fuel-recycling features, the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) certainly has enough merit to stand on its own. So it really isn't necessary to contrive a case against proven water-cooled reactor technology. In more than a quarter century the safety environmental record of light-water reactor technology has been nothing short of remarkable.

IFRs could become an efficient source of electricity in the 21st century, but we can't wait that long to find substitutes for imported oil while meeting the growing demand for electricity. We need a new generation of advanced water-cooled reactors.

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John S. Brtis, Wildwood, Ill.

Anytime I see a promise of inherent, built-in safety ``needing no human or mechanical intervention,'' warning flags go up, with bells and buzzers sounding alarms! In 1966, there was a nuclear accident at the Fermi No. 1 liquid-metal-cooled reactor just outside of Detroit. That there was no horrendous catastrophe was due to the reactor operating at a very low rate of power, not to any ``passively safe'' design. Even the most mechanical mistake, breakdown, or failure, regardless of the technology, can eventually be traced back to humans. There are risks inherent in all technologies. That any technocrat should present his particular bailiwick as being ``perfect'' is as inherently dangerous as the technology he is peddling.

Phyllis Robbins, Waterville, Canada

This new concept - integrating a fast reactor with electrochemical fuel reprocessing, has many obvious advantages, and detailed studies should proceed immediately on the various novel design elements, as the nuclear energy industry badly needs a fundamental change in course. The IFR technology is said to be a ``passively safe'' reactor design. Some reactor design experts point out that the meaning of the word ``safe'' in this context is ambiguous at best. But having spent a number of years on the problems of handling and ``disposal'' of nuclear wastes, I am very much in favor of any fuel reprocessing procedure that eliminates the transuranic elements from the wastes by recycling them into the reactor to be fissioned. Not only does this recycling greatly extend the power pot ential of our limited resources or uranium ore, but it also greatly reduces the magnitude of the problem of nuclear waste, as spelled out in the article.

I object, however, to the claims made concerning the amount and hazard of the nuclear wastes generated. The elimination of the transuranic elements from the wastes will indeed greatly reduce the hazard, particularly after about 1,000 years. The article indicates that with the new technology, wastes will decay to harmless levels after about 200 years.

This claim is simply untrue. The products of fissioning of uranium (and recycled transuranics) are similar for all reactor designs. After 200 years two of the major fission products - strontium-90 and cesium-137 - will each have decayed radioactivity to a little under 1 percent of their original concentrations. But these are still highly dangerous amounts. And other biologically hazardous major fission products have much longer half-lives, and will be essentially unchanged after 200 years.

It is sad to see a new and very promising nuclear technology be saddled at the start with glowing but specious claims that will certainly provide good ammunition for opponents of nuclear energy. In the long run, such untenable claims can only delay adoption of a possible major new development.

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Edwin Roedder, Cambridge, Mass.,

Dept. of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard Univ.

GM wants competition, not protection The editorial ``Detroit's Pleas for Protection,'' Feb. 11, indicates that ``Detroit'' is urging trade protection against foreign imports.

I am not sure, in your lexicon, whether ``Detroit'' or the ``US auto industry'' includes General Motors, but, if it does, the editorial is inaccurate.

The editorial implies that GM supports the limiting of Japanese market share in the US. We do, but only by competition - certainly not by government mandate.

The editorial also gives ``Detroit'' some good advice - to turn out ``quality products at affordable prices.'' We have made important progress in doing just that.

Lewis I. Dale, Detroit, General Motors Corporation