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Nuclear power won't replace oil

Regarding the opinion-page article ``US Needs Fresh Approach to Nuclear Energy,'' Jan. 31. I am not disputing the author's argument for the need to develop safer nuclear power technology. I do, however, disagree with the way he presents his information.

He refers to the United States' lack of nuclear development in the same context as our reliance on foreign oil. He infers that development of nuclear power will ``offset the consumption and emissions of millions of barrels of imported oil and billions of cubic feet of natural gas.'' This simply is not true. Energy obtained from nuclear fission is used to produce electricity. Oil and gas do account for a large portion of total US energy demand, but they provide less than 10 percent of electricity. The bulk of oil is consumed by the transportation sector. Increased use of nuclear power will do very little to offset US reliance on foreign oil.

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The author also suggests that an ``incredible opportunity'' lies in the ``hundreds of tons of uranium and plutonium'' in nuclear weapons that are becoming ``surplus'' as they are dismantled. Unless I am unaware of some further technological developments, this also is incorrect. The majority of uranium occurs in the earth as 238-uranium, which is not fissionable. Therefore, it must be enriched with 235-uranium, which is fissionable. Fuel for power production is only enriched to about 3 to 4 percent 235-uranium, whereas fuel for nuclear weapons requires over 90 percent enrichment of 235-uranium. This level of enrichment causes instantaneous and total fission, which cannot be sustained in a nuclear reactor. Leslie Cockburn, Oxford, Ohio

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