OPEN LETTER TO "FRONTLINE"
FROM NCI PRESIDENT PAUL LEVENTHAL
We appreciate your featuring Nuclear Control Institute as the lead site on your list of best nuclear sites on the Web, but we are dismayed by how few of the facts and concerns presented on our site were reflected in your "Nuclear Reaction" program of April 22.
Surely, an industry determined to use atom-bomb material as a "peaceful" fuel should give the public (and Frontline) pause. Plutonium, which is produced by the ton in commercial plants but can be used by the pound to make atomic bombs, is cause for concern by pro-nukes and anti-nukes alike. (All the more so, because nuclear power plants can continue to be run on low-enriched uranium that is unsuitable for bombs).
By the mid-1970s, it became clear that there would be enough uranium in the world to meet the foreseeable requirements of the nuclear power industry. That's when the U.S. government began to shut down the plutonium industry at home and to seek its shutdown in other countries. Had the nuclear industry cooperated, it might today be an industry worthy of public acceptance and support. Instead, it strongly opposed the non-proliferation policies of Presidents Ford and Carter and encouraged foreign governments to resist. The result is the dangerous situation we face today in the world:
- giant government-owned plutonium industries in Britain, France and Japan forcing electrical utility companies to use a highly dangerous and expensive fuel they no longer want or need;
- a U.S. nuclear industry now leaping at the opportunity to introduce surplus weapons plutonium as fuel in commercial nuclear power plants, and siding with plutonium zealots in Europe, Japan and Russia to leverage the Clinton Administration to abandon its anti-plutonium policy;
- other nuclear-industrial countries, like South Korea, Taiwan and China, now wanting to follow Japan into the plutonium business rather than risk being without plutonium and face the long-term military implications of Japan accumulating a superpower-size stockpile of civilian plutonium;
- would-be nuclear weapon states like Iran, Iraq and Libya---all members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty---having rights under the treaty to gain equal access to "legitimate" civilian plutonium technology;
- terrorists making, with several kilograms of stolen plutonium, the crudest of atomic bombs---one capable of fissioning enough plutonium to level several blocks of a city and dispersing enough of the unfissioned plutonium to expose millions of people to its toxic effects and to render the city uninhabitable for years.
Is this the kind of world we want to live in? And all because of a nuclear power industry incapable of giving up its original plutonium dream?
It is too bad that producer Jon Palfreman and correspondent Richard Rhodes were not prepared to explore the plutonium problem and other urgent nuclear-power questions seriously. The propaganda piece they produced on behalf of a discredited industry is not worthy of Frontline's distinguished record of investigative journalism. On our Website to which you have directed your viewers, we have put up our point-by-point rebuttal of the major points made in Frontline's "Nuclear Reaction" report, as well as the transcript of a debate on plutonium I had with Richard Rhodes on National Public Radio's "Talk of the Nation" in 1994.
I hope, in fairness, you will make this letter available to your viewers both on the air and on your Website, so that they have a place to turn for the other side of the story.
Paul L. Leventhal
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