Knowing Princeton’s historic contributions to early nuclear-energy technology, I’m sad that nuclear commentary from Princeton is now generally from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Frank von Hippel’s response to the question of safety at Fukushima (A Moment With, April 27) is typical:
“These reactors were not designed for inherent safety. These are the descendants of submarine propulsion reactors, where safety has been an add-on ... I think this technology could be safe. But I don’t think that the people running these plants, and the people regulating them, are producing that result.”
Over a period of two human generations (50-plus years), our nuclear navy has driven 526 nuclear-reactor cores 150 million miles without a single radiological incident. The commercial nuclear-power program based on that technology has safely and reliably generated 20 percent of America’s electricity. Half of that electricity is fueled by uranium taken from converted Russian missile warheads. No one has been killed by radiation from either our naval or our commercial nuclear programs. I believe the same is true of the Japanese program, including Fukushima. How would von Hippel improve on that record?
He mentions the Soviet Chernobyl reactor, “the one big accident we’ve had so far.” That’s irrelevant. No one is planning to build more Chernobyls. But von Hippel’s statement that this reactor meltdown “shortened the lives of about 10,000 people by cancer” is false — a shuffling of A-bomb data improperly applied to Chernobyl. As the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, WHO, and Red Cross reports have been demonstrating for 25 years, the actual number of cancer cases was not increased by the accident.
Editor’s note: Rockwell’s six decades of involvement in nuclear power include work as technical director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. The U.S. Department of Energy recently made his 1956 Reactor Shielding Design Manual available free to the public on its website.