Magazine

Christine Whitman's Nuclear Option


Bravo for Christine Todd Whitman's "The case for nuclear power" (Ideas: Outside Shot, Sept. 17). The timing couldn't be better. It is critical that the country develop alternatives to coal, oil, and natural gas; these fossil fuels are only going to get shorter in supply and much more costly. Other sources of power must be developed. Nuclear power is well understood, and if the shackles to this technology are removed, manufacturers of reactors and nuclear power plant components will sharpen their design skills and lower the costs even further.

I will pay serious attention to any Presidential candidate with the guts to press for the nuclear power option. I think this, and alternative energy in general, is perhaps the most important issue in the upcoming election. Here's hoping that some of our politicians are listening to Whitman.

Chris Markle

Pleasanton, Calif.

With all respect to former EPA Administrator Christine "I never said Ground Zero was safe" Whitman, we are not all "addicted to electricity," living in an "always on" world. Some of us take simple steps to conserve power??rom changing lightbulbs to being "sometimes off." And if more of us did, we could save far more energy than Whitman's nuclear power could ever produce. As California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has recognized, our future power needs will be met by conservation, solar energy, and other alternatives to coal and oil??ot by splitting the atom.

Nuclear power has proven far too expensive to build and far too risky to run to save the planet??specially in this post-September 11 age when nuclear plants are sitting ducks. As Rachel Carson put it more than four decades ago: "We are challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves."

Al Meyerhoff

Studio City, Calif.

Whitman says: "Despite its controversial reputation, nuclear is efficient and reliable." Yet since 1950 there have been 20 nuclear accidents. One was major (on Mar. 28, 1979, at the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor) and one catastrophic (on Apr. 26, 1986, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant). How can we say a major nuclear accident will not happen again?

Here's the reality: Accidents occur because humans make errors. Those errors can be hidden at the design, maintenance, management, operation, and even the regulation level. In addition, there are conditions that increase the likelihood of human error such as fatigue, stress, attention and memory overload. The risk of another catastrophic nuclear accident exists. While the risk is low, the consequences could be disastrous.

You have to ask yourself: On what do you want to bet your future?

Fran??ois Aubin

CEO, Cognitive Group Inc.

Montreal

Whitman left out a key point while making her case for nuclear power. She should have made clear that electricity-producing uranium has a life of 30 or so years. After which, the spent and still radioactive uranium would have to be stored in a stable environment for about 250 million years. Should anything upset that stability, the earth's climate would have to contend with nuclear pollution for a long time.

Greg Habib

Burbank, Calif.

Whitman, speaking as a lobbyist for the nuclear energy industry, fails to make the case for nuclear energy. On the contrary, her article is rife with error and absent of hard facts. Among other things, nuclear energy is not efficient when one considers the tremendous amount of waste heat dumped into nearby waterways to keep the reactor cool while upsetting the ecological balance of the aquatic environment. Nuclear energy is not clean or we wouldn't have to pay $500 million annually just to keep the controversial Yucca Mountain (Nev.) waste dump site available. Tell the people of Chernobyl that nuclear reactors don't produce any air pollutants.

Whitman holds over our heads the possible failure of power grids and our need to build more nukes to keep them up. This is one good reason to lessen our dependence on the power grid by building more localized, renewable energy facilities and thus decentralize the system and become less vulnerable.

She says nuclear energy provides cost stability with uranium prices comprising "just 26% of production costs." She fails to tell us that most uranium sources are in politically unstable regions, part of a long and terrorist-vulnerable supply chain, and that domestic nuclear facilities are the doorway to nuclear weapons production.

Furthermore, why build centralized targets that terrorists would love to attack when we can build decentralized, renewable facilities whose sources have not 26% but 0% production costs?

BusinessWeek should invite people from the nuclear and fossil fuel industry to give us some hard numbers for construction costs, in both dollars and time, production costs, and the long-term environmental and health costs. In addition, readers should know more about the effect of each form of energy production on our balance-of-trade payments, domestic job creation, strength of the dollar, and the cost of maintaining a long-term global security force to protect energy supplies. Only then will businesspeople be able to make informed decisions.

Daniel W. Lake

Litchfield, Conn.

Congratulations on "If these walls could talk" (Up Front, Sept. 17), exposing the effect of flippers on the real estate market and credit implosion. Flipping is and was endemic in Silicon Valley, with an estimated 37% of the real estate sales attributed to speculation. This exacerbated the housing price escalation, hurting the serious home buyer. Also, the interest-only and low initial mortgage costs benefited the flipper as much if not more than the homeowner.

Flipping did improve the housing stock, but much of the work was cosmetic and some done under the radar without permits. Warranty problems are difficult to resolve with flippers. The book Find It, Fix It, Flip It! by Michael Corbett, Penguin Press, 2006, has done much to expand the flipping market.

Those flippers who are rushing to complete their remodeling in a rapidly declining market could be in trouble. The last real estate bubble bust in the 1990s left quite a few people sleeping under bridges.

Robert J. Hoffman

Redwood City, Calif.

As a designer pursuing an MBA, I have a different perspective from the statement "designers wouldn't be designers if they had MBAs" ("Sure, you can draw. Can you manage?" Up Front, Sept. 17). Design is a discipline, and design solutions should be relevant, addressing factors such as revenue goals, the competitive environment, brand and business strategy, and buyer behavior. Integrating the needs of both client and consumer into a design that is interesting, cost and use appropriate, and innovative is what design should strive for, and what businesses should demand of their designers. If such factors aren't considered, the result isn't design. It's art, and the business isn't a client but a patron.

The formal introduction of right brain to left brain, be it via creative exercises in business school, business classes in design school, or even designers seeking MBAs, should be encouraged, not dismissed. When both sides of the brain operate in tandem, it increases the power of creative solutions. You don't need to be a designer to see how that adds up.

Vicki K??ng

San Rafael, Calif.


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