Helen Caldicott has gotten her facts mixed up and relies on invalid assumptions in her commentary (“Our Friend the Atom?” July 2006). A better estimate of the amount of greenhouse gases associated with the nuclear fuel cycle is less than one-hundredth of that relative to plants using fossil fuel to produce the same amount of electricity, in contrast to the one-third she conjectures. Utilization of other alternative energy sources also are accompanied by the release of significant amounts of greenhouse gases—from the aluminum, steel, and plastics used for their construction materials.
Even as Caldicott discusses the medical effects of radioactive noble gas emissions, she misstates that these isotopes are gamma emitters instead of the less hazardous beta emissions. Radiation from nuclear power plants is a concern of hers, but data around Minnesota nuclear power plants show nothing above background. She neglects to also state that a coal plant emits more radiation into the environment through the fly ash than any normally operating nuclear power plant. Nuclear power generation has not resulted in any reported deaths in this country and several reputable studies have not shown any health effects. Energy policy needs to be debated, but it should be based upon facts, not conjectures.
Wayne C. Wolsey
St. Paul, Minnesota