Agree? Disagree? Join our nuclear discussion here and send FRONTLINE your
reactions...or send a question, comment or rebuttal to FRONTLINE's
producer Jon Palfreman or, to the program's correspondent Richard Rhodes.
Send your question and read their responses here online.......
I agree with the premise of your show. Americans have not been educated as to
nuclear power and how to use it.
The same type of comments were made with electricity when it was first
discovered. The difference is that there is no substitute for electricity.
Whereas, there are other alternatives to nuclear power.
As pointed out in your show, the US concept of throwing away Plutonium as a
waste when it has tremendous usable energy is ludicrous. Why not ship our used
fuel rods to France so they could reprocess them for their own use? There is value
in the used fuel rods, not waste.
We need more shows like yours. How else will Americans learn what they are
missing and what the rest of the World is doing?
Thanks for a job well done.
Boerne, TX 78006
I watched your program on nuclear energy on San Francisco's KQED last
night, and would like to respond to your invitation to comment.
I agree with the basic thread of the program as presented, that our fear
of nuclear energy is largely irrational. We have, however, made several
serious mistakes in this country, only one of which your program covered.
That we have decided not to reprocess fuel, and recover the plutonium
generated in the process, is not an irrevocable one, as it will be possible
to recover it in the future if the decision were made to do so. The major
mistake in developing power reactors in this country is using the reactor
design developed for military use, the pressurized light water reactor, and
scaling it up for commercial use. There are other designs that are
inherently more stable and safer than this design, especially the gas
cooled and the Canadian Deuterium designs.
If the nuclear power industry is ever to be restored in this country, we
need to address the problems of safe reactor design and disposal of waste
products. Waste should be disposed of by reprocessing and vitrification of
fission products which will make them safe for long term repository
storage. The design we develop must not only be inherently safe, but able
to use plutonium as a fuel, as that is the only way we are really going to
be able to dispose of the TONS of plutonium produced for weapons and now
Probably it will be necessary to make the reprocessing plant for
separating plutonium from fission products integral with future power
plants, and the process should never be able to make bomb grade material.
We must also address the problem of reliable transport of fission products.
I am not sure that I trust either the railroads or the highways of this
country for such transport, at least in the way they are maintained today.
So the problems as I see them, are: 1) Improved and safer reactor
design. 2) Reprocessing that cannot produce bomb grade material. 3)
Improved transportation and storage of fission products. 4) An open,
frank and truthful policy that addresses people's fears, both real and
irrational. At least, you have begun to address number four.
Robert H. Irwin
Berkeley, CA 94708
Usually, FRONTLINE shows are usually blamed for either bias or lacking
in quality research. But your show on Nuclear Power was absolutely
Unfortunately, I wish that FRONTLINE had devoted more time into
covering the topic of nuclear waste disposal and recycling of
plutonium. Also it would have been interesting for Frontline to have
looked into the transportation of plutonium from France to Japan for
Nevertheless, GREAT JOB!
Javier M. Arroyo, Esq.
FRONTLINE's piece was excellent. The Anti-nuclear activists have had a monopoly on
the media's attention until this story aired. Rational discussion is an anathema to
their cause. They depend on an emotional knee-jerk reaction from the public. This
is why FRONTLINE's program is so offensive to them. It Rationally discusses the
benefits of nuclear power and points out that the risks are minimal.
What I can't figure out is why environmentalists are so opposed to nuclear power,
they should be it's biggest supporters. Nuclear power produces 0 lbs. of CO2, NO,
O3, or sulfur a year. Did you hear that? 0 lbs! The waste can be reprocessed
safely back into fuel or deposited in a salt mine were it won't bother anyone ever
(if people keep their nose out of it). If they don't like nuclear power what do
they like? Coal? Hydro? Natural gas? Coal and natural gas emit huge amounts of
greenhouse gases, coal contributes to acid rain, and environmentalists are always
regretting that the Hoover dam was ever built.
What a friend the nuclear industry has at PBS. Of course, since GE owns
NBC, they're not talking about the issues, so we rely on our "objective"
sources of information: Frontline. Well, shame on you FRONTLINE. The
"Nuclear Reaction" documentary was in fact not a documentary at all.
When PBS airs this type of piece, it is placing a stamp of approval on
propaganda for the nuclear industry. How do I conclude that it was
1) there was a conspicuous lack of credible scientific representation for
the view that nuclear waste and the nuclear industry poses real and
immanent danger to the population. Of course there are scientists with
equal stature to those shown in this piece that reject these
propositions, but the documentary maker has appeared on the airwaves in
Los Angeles saying that these scientists are advocates, therefore unable
to be presented in an objective documentary. HOGWASH. All of the
"scientists" shown in the piece are obviously advocates for the nuclear
2) there was a despicable lack of any and all references to the cost of
nuclear plants. No dollar amount was mentioned at all. The economics
and politics of the issue were omitted entirely.
3) the obvious connection between the Department of Energy, the
Department of Defense and the nuclear industry was not even hinted at.
There is abundant evidence that a culture of deceit has permeated these
agencies when it comes to protecting the environment. One needs look no
further than Rocky Flats. I refer you to the Los Angeles Times Magazine
article detailing the grand jury findings in this case.
I can assure you that, insofar as my support for public television is
concerned, programs such as this only reinforce the supposition that your
corporate underwriters have swept away your conscience. You are not well
served by this type of whitewash of an import public policy issue. Of
course there is much more to be said: the discrediting of Dupont, the
discrediting of polls in France that say French aren't concerned, but I
will leave that to others. Frontline and PBS are to be held accountable
for their actions, which in this case are tantamount to serving up the
worst kind of corporate propaganda in a thinly veiled attempt to affect
the opinions of the populace. Know full well that there are many out
here in TV land that see through your guise. Take a moment to think of
the future generations of children who will suffer and die from Leukemia
because you let this travesty gain a mouthpiece on you network. You are
to be soundly condemned, and, in the strongest of terms, I say PBS and
Frontline have failed in their mandate to protect the interests of the
American public and therefore owe us a rebuttal on the air from credible
I wish to commend you wholeheartedly for your recent Frontline documentary on
nuclear power and nuclear radiation. I have studied nuclear power and radiation
for over two decades as a geologist and as an interested layman. I agree that
radiation, while not generally good for you, is a major part of our natural
environment. Nuclear power, including power generation, reprocessing, mining, and
disposal, handled properly, increase radiation dosage to the public by minuscule
amounts. Water-moderated reactors cannot fail like the Soviet graphite-moderated
reactors can. I do grant the nuclear power critics that nuclear energy is very
expensive, which as you pointed out is due to the haphazard way it has been
accomplished in this country. One of the biggest problems has been continuous
redesign of plants during construction. As any building contractor knows, that is
the fastest way to run fabulously over budget. Anyway, your Frontline documentary
was excellent; nearly flawless in fact. I hope it is distributed.
The most important fact that Rhodes pointed out in the program is that we have
plenty of energy in the U. S. for the near future. Because of that, we have had
the luxury of time in which to experiment with alternatives, let the first
generation of nuclear power plants grow and die out, and endlessly debate about
small theoretical risks while ignoring large real benefits. When the time is
right, we in the U. S. will gladly build and love our nuclear power plants too,
because we will love anything that allows us to continue in our convenient,
energy-intensive lifestyle. Let's hope that when that time comes we will take
advantage of what we learned the first time around and not repeat too many of our
Absolutely an outstanding program, it took 50 years to get an accurate
balanced viewpoint on television. Many thanks to the producer-writer for
covering not only the US. but also France and Russia. Canada and Great
Britain also have successful programs. The latest information (too late for
inclusion in your program) is that slight doses of radiation can be shown
statistically to increase longevity. I think it's too late for the US. in
this generation. Charlatans will continue to tout fanciful solar and wind
alternatives while ignoring the future impact of fossil fuel electric
generation. (No mention was made of the impact of security regulations on the
economics of nuclear power - about 1/3 of the personnel are security guards
at a typical plant.) Burning natural gas for power generation is stupid, it
will raise the future price of home heating as supplies grow scarcer. Oil is
too valuable a resource for transportation and synthetics to use for power
generation. Moreover, it puts vanadium pentoxide in the air which catalyzes
the conversion of sulfur dioxide to the trioxide, the precursor of sulfuric
acid. Meanwhile, the gift to man of an unlimited power supply with the
attendant improvement in world wide living conditions will be ignored in this
country. Thanks again for a terrific program.
I really enjoyed your program on nuclear energy!!! I was surprised by several
1. I had previously underestimated the level of ignorance that still exists
regarding exposure to radiation from nuclear power plants.
2. I did not realize that there is a relatively high level of public mistrust that
exists towards engineers and scientists in nuclear power generation (this bothers
me because I am an engineer in the field, and I know how much time, energy, and
effort goes into public safety issues).
Also, it was obvious to me that Mr. Nader really has not bothered to educate himself
sufficiently if he thinks that wind mills can replace nuclear power plants. I
generally respect (and even agree with some of) Mr. Nader's positions. However, the
critical thinker will realize that he is way off base on this one.
As a nuclear trained naval officer who has worked around power reactors for over
25 years, I was impressed to finally see a rational discussion of both the risks
and benefits of nuclear power. I thought the problems that the industry faces were
perfectly captured by the lady near TMI who opposed nuclear power because its low
levels of radiation were "man made", but expressed no concern about much higher
levels from radon in her home because it was "natural"!!
As long as such ignorance goes unchallenged by the media, the anti-nuclear
"establishment" who makes their living from opposing this technology will be able
to continue to use fear and doomsaying as substitutes for facts in their efforts to
kill what is a well run and closely regulated industry - and one that may very well
be essential to our children being able to maintain a high standard of living in
Bravo. Thanks for having the courage to air "Nuclear Reaction" on Frontline
last night. This program presented a relatively dispassionate, technically
accurate history of nuclear power in the United States. It was refreshing to
see both sides of the nuclear power controversy explored thoroughly. The
viewer was left to reach his or her own conclusions, based on accurate
information. What a concept.
This program was a credit to your commitment to fairness. However, I'm sure
you will be deluged this morning with angry protests.
It may be too late to resuscitate the nuclear power industry in the US.
However, "Nuclear Reaction" will help the public to understand how we got
where we are. I thought the program presented some interesting insights into
how otherwise-reasonable people can be terrified of something they admittedly
know nothing about.
This e-mail expresses my own views, and does not necessarily reflect the views
of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company.
I would like to commend PBS for showing the film "Nuclear Reactions" last
night, even in the face of substantial objections from anti-nuclear
groups. As a member of the American Nuclear Society and one of its local
sections, I had received information earlier about this show and some of
the extremely negative comments you were getting from groups such as the
Critical Mass Energy Project. I wanted to wait and see the program for
myself before I commented on it. I was pleased with what I considered a
balanced approach to this subject. As one who is involved in trying to
educate the public, and especially school children, using factual and
scientific information concerning nuclear power and other beneficial uses
of nuclear science, I have also run across some stiff opposition. I
have even had science teachers tell me they weren't interested in learning
how nuclear power plants work, and certainly wouldn't be teaching their
students anything about it. This attitude only perpetuates fear,
based on lack of knowledge, and makes it less likely that our future
energy choices will be a good balance of nuclear, fossil, solar, wind, or
any other options that make sense and are economically viable. I plan to
send for some copies of "Nuclear Reactions" and make them available to
teachers in our area who are interested in starting a very interesting
dialog in their classrooms.
Many in the anti-nuclear community would likely consider me to be a
"pro-nuclear zealot", since I have a doctorate degree in nuclear
engineering. However, I am also a mother who is very concerned about the
quality of the environment (and education!) that I will be passing on to
my son and his children. Keep up the good work!
Karla R. Elam, Ph.D.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
I watched the April 22 Frontline program with great interest, as I am fairly
familiar with the radiation science issues covered. It was refreshing for once to
have the mass media actually put radiation exposure data in context, especially
with respect to Three Mile Island, and to explain that the Chernobyl disaster would
not occur in a Western reactor. It would have been interesting if Rhodes had noted
that the people who sued after Three Mile Island were tossed out of court last
year. The reason -- despite years of effort, they could not come up with a
qualified expert who could establish that the residents of the area were exposed to
radiation levels high enough to be considered a cause of cancer and other
Nevertheless, I am not surprised to see the shrill criticisms of program. It is
quite unfortunate, but it seems that nuclear power is second only to the issue of
abortion for the ability of people to say much, and to say it loudly, without ever
listening to what the other side may have to say. This is particularly a problem
with anti-nuclear groups.
Your show didn't explore the potential risks associated with uranium
mining. While I do believe that nuclear reactors are safe and
evironmentally friendly, the entire process must be assessed if risk
comparisons with other energy sources are to be made fairly.
Also, as a Canadian, I should point out that the CANDU reactor is much
safer than most American designs. I feel that the French had the right
idea in placing control over reactor construction and operation in the
hands of a single, accountable, administrative entity. In Canada, we've
done pretty much the same thing, with the extra step of designing the
best reactors in existance. Unfortunately, we've been terrible salesmen,
as few outside this country have heard of the CANDU, and sales of CANDU
reactors have been derailed by REALLY stupid business decisions.
Enjoyed your show.
The program was excellent,objective and informative! This program is a model of what
investigative journalism should be all about, but isn't, in the mainstream media.
You framed your report with facts, the "big picture", and reality, not runaway
reactions and feelings, or sobbing "victims". It is shocking what the American
media has cemented in the minds of the American public regarding the nuclear issue
(and many other issues, I'm sure).
"Nuclear Reaction" was a breath of fresh air and put the nuclear issue in a much
clearer perspective for me - I thank you for that. I am also contacting my local
PBS affilliate today and making a $100 contribution to support continued
programming of this high quality.
After spending nearly 20 years in the Navy's nuclear program, nuclear quality
assurance, and emergency preparedness for a major east coast utility, I found your
Nuclear Reaction program refreshing, honest, and enlightning.
The American nuclear power industry has got to be the perfect example of how, for
political reasons, and uneducated decision making, our government can regulate
something to death.
As far as Ralph Nader goes, I can't believe a man who is as intellegent as he
seems, and has done so much good, is so totally upside down on this issue. I guess
that's why they make plexiglass stomachs!
Thanks for allowing me to comment.
Enjoyed the program on the radioactive waste problem. I
believe we are turning into a nation that is over concerned
with safety. True things like nuclear waste, radon, asbestos
hydrocarbons, etc pose some risks, but so does driving cars,
transporting gasoline, flying, etc. More people are going to
die from the later group than the first group I believe.
The source of our being is the sun and it runs on nuclear
power. Some day our oil/coal will run out and I'' bet the
world will need the vast energy available in nuclear area.
When our standard of living begins to suffer due to
oil/coal/natural gas scarcity we will need to avail
ourselves of this huge potential. A way to use it safely
is possible and should be no more of a concern than we
now show for the use of automobiles.
I really enjoyed the Frontline episode entitled "Nuclear Reactions"
which aired on the PBS station in my area (WUOT Ch 2 Knoxville, TN viewing
area) last night at 9pm. I thought it intelligent and even-handed. And,
very discouraging - say what you will about the French - as far as
commercial nuclear power is concerned - they got this one right. The
trouble with the antinuclear movement is that they are as poorly informed
on the facts as they are passionate in their opposition to the technology.
Frankly, I think that the documentary should be mandatory viewing for any
community dealing with these issues.
Keep up the wonderful work!
Kudos for Richard Rhodes!
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
It was a relief to see a balanced story on nuclear power technology that put the
benefits, risks, perceived risks, and political issues in perspective. It is very
important that the American public be exposed to this perspective, because demand
for energy will not go away, fossil fuel energy reserves are finite, "renewable"
sources are limited, and nuclear energy has some very compelling long-term
advantages. I agree that what our government has forced the industry (including
the defense industry) to consider waste (Plutonium) is, in fact, a valuable natural
resource, as recognized by a number of other countries, including but not limited
to France. Thank you for presenting nuclear energy in a balanced but beneficial
light as part of your Earth Day programming.
Ann Arbor, MI
I felt the April 22 Frontline report on the US nuclear power
industry was a worthwhile effort to provide some balance and
little-known information related to this controversial subject.
I hope your viewers will check many of these facts themselves,
and form (perhaps revise) their own views as a result.
I agree with your final conclusion that nuclear electric
generation will probably not survive on an economic basis in
the near term in this country. However there is a large
potential economic impact looming in the "cleanup"
efforts at aging government nuclear sites. This should
be of concern to taxpayers, and a similarly balanced discussion
of some of the issues involved (e.g. the allowable level
of radiation when cleanup efforts are complete and the costs
to achieve them) might make an interesting future "FRONTLINE"
I did enjoy the program and it did, to some extent change my mind about the safe use
of nuclear power. The program did not address the wisdom of placing reactors in
earthquake active areas. I was particularly interested in using waste to recycle-I
think that the French are right on about that. I do believe that at the heart of
the opposition to nuclear energy lies in the nightmares that people of my
generation (I am 45) had growing up in the Cold War. It is illogical, of course,
but it IS real. I also do think that there is more than enough evidence to not
trust our government when it comes to assurances about technology. It is up to the
people who believe in this technology to present their case in a creditable way
which takes into account realistic fears of the American people-instead of simply
labeling us Luddites.
I thought that Nuclear Reactions was well done. It was not biased since it
presented both sides of the arguments. It did do a lot to expose the irrational
fear that most people have concerning things nuclear. For example, the word
"nuclear" was dropped from the procedure formerly known as Nuclear Magnetic
Resonance Imaging since people had a fear of the word "nuclear". Now it is called
As a society, we have to reassess the risks to which we are exposed (no pun
intended) to make sure that we are making the best decisions. We cannot afford to
allow illogical thinking to guide us for too much longer.
I am sure the anti-nuclear establishment will be bombarding you with comments about
how this was a one-sided piece. It was a fair review and was something that needed
to be done. Congratulations on a job well done.
Great show! Too bad that the anti-nukes at the first of the show are
right.. Nuclear power IS dead! Having been employed in the materials
engineering area of nuclear power for over 20 years (19+ years as a
contract engineering consultant at 15 different nuclear sites-only
recently as a utility employee) I lament the fact that this wonderful
power source which really should be too cheap to meter will not be a
part of our children's future. The Nadirists victory will ring, I'm
sure quite hollow in the not too distant future.
The demise of the industry cannot be totally blamed on the uneducated
populace however. The nuclear industry (and our regulatory agency, the
NRC) are just as much to blame as the activists. This industry was
managed and run by, shall I say (for lack of a better term) the
"technocrats" in the late 60's to late 70's. These were people with
engineering backgrounds, or if not, at least a good technical
understanding of the concepts and processes of nuclear power. Then, in
the post TMI era, conservatism (paranoia) began to overcome the industry
and the regulators driven in part by (like it or not), public opinion.
This was the beginning of the takeover from the technocrats by the (you
guessed it) bureaucrats! Paperwork increased tenfold, procedures were
developed for EVERY aspect of life at a nuclear plant and sound
engineering practice began to disappear, replaced by a "don't rock the
boat" attitude. Money was not a concern and staffing levels exploded at
all U.S. plants. People became focused very narrowly on just their tiny
little piece of the nuclear process and lost sight of the big picture.
And again, as the regulatory (and internal auditors) forced their
ultra-conservative mindset (opinions) down the throats of nuclear
management nationwide. Rather than dispute or challenge some of these
directions with a defensible engineering basis, we gladly accepted them
like a bunch of chirping baby birds in the nest waiting for the parents
regurgitation. There was some reasoning in management's acceptance of
these new directions and policies because conservatism costs money and
this allowed the management empires to flourish. Now we needed more
people to: write more procedures, perform more maintenance, cover more
security areas (security is a boondoggle in itself and would almost
warrant its own show as a comparison with the Europeans. Nadiristic fear
runs amok!), more inspectors, ad infinitum and of course, more managers.
This viscous cycle sounded the death knell for a potentially fantastic
Now that deregulation is looming ominously over the utility industry and
the river of money has become a mere trickle, the final nail has been
driven into the coffin. Advanced reactor designs that are simpler, more
passive ie: fewer pumps and motors (fail safe - gravity fed), with fewer
safety and support systems (but adequate safety margins and potentially
shorter build times) have been developed and in fact are being built in
How ironic that our U.S. companies have designed something with so many
potential benefits that will never be built here!
In defense of our remaining plants, they are now more professionally run
and with better training than ever before. A tangible benefit that came
from TMI is that nearly all U.S. plants now have on-site simulators
which can present plant operators with any scenario that could
potentially challenge reactor (and public) safety. These simulators are
exact mockups of their associated control rooms and have been an
extremely valuable tool in raising the competence (and confidence) of
nuclear operators. They would have warranted mention on your show, but
I guess you can only cover so much in 60 minutes. How about a series of
In closing, I'm reminded of a story I read in an automotive periodical
that demonstrates the mindset of this country. A Japanese automobile
company engineer was at a major auto show here in the U.S. where he was
challenged by one of the magazine writers as to why his name tag
indicated that he was the "Manager of Production" rather than his true
position of Chief Engineer? He stated that "Only in the United States
is a manager more highly regarded than an engineer. In Japan, managers
only exist to make sure that the engineers have pencils and the office
runs smoothly. I must wear the manager title here to get the respect
that my position warrants."
I also had an Indian (eastern) friend who told me that engineers are the
most highly regarded individuals there because they are the designers
and builders of society. They are more respected (and higher paid) than
doctors, lawyers and of course.... managers!
Pretty sad isn't it. Again, great show.
Chris H. Johnson
The following ideas struck me as incongruous or conspicuously missing
from the piece on nuclear energy which aired 22 April 1997: 1)
incongruous: Ralph Nader had just accurately characterized France as
"totalitarian" with respect to its nuclear industry and government
support being tantamount to an amalgam. This would suggest that
virtually no counter arguments to nuclear energy come from those two
sectors of French culture. The narrator then segued into a segment
which demonstrated that few French citizens are opposed to nuclear
energy, unlike Americans. He gives an explanation for their not being
opposed then leaves the suggestion through image and tone that Americans
are irrational because they are opposed. 2) Where were the interviews
with scientists opposed to nuclear energy? They are legion. Where, for
example, was Dr. Helen Caldicott, one of the West's leading opponents to
nuclear energy for more than fifteen years? This was grossly
neglectful. 3) Where were the opponents in France? They do exist.
Also, grossly neglectful. 4) Finally, the idea of what we define as
"modern" with respect to present and future energy needs was a key
philosophical issue missing and left undebated. One suggestion left
was: Someday all of the more traditional resources will run out, then
we will need nuclear energy. Ralph Nader was permitted to cite only
once such alternatives as solar, wind, etc. His opponents were quoted
in whole or in part a number of times. This verbal and image
"multiplier" effect might leave viewers with only one final thought:
that someday, by default, we must accept nuclear energy as a chief
source of power.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE LETTERS