- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 29, 2000

Coverdell's Peace Corps contributions

Sen. Paul Coverdell, who died last week, served as the director of the Peace Corps under President Bush. For members of his team at the Peace Corps, I submit this letter about Paul and his legacy there.

Paul was a man of peace and a peaceful man. His leadership was built on a strong vision with a commitment to detail, on firm decision making coupled with an ability to listen broadly, and on hard work with time for individual humor. He knew history well and so could build the future with confidence.

He created a World-Wise Schools program. Connecting volunteers to schoolchildren in classrooms in every state, the program has provided tens of thousands with an exposure to the Peace Corps, volunteerism and the world. Paul also developed a nationwide Peace Corps Fellows program, under which returning Peace Corps volunteers teach at the secondary level.

Under Paul's leadership, Peace Corps volunteers for the first time served in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. In all, the Peace Corps entered 25 new counties the largest expansion since it was founded.

Paul moved quietly, but purposely and steadily. He left behind a Peace Corps transformed. Today's Peace Corps manifests his vision for the future.

JOHN K. SCALES

Washington

John K. Scales is formerly Peace Corps general counsel. This letter was submitted for Lee Raudonis, Carroll Bouchard, Jon Keeton, Jerry Leach, Bob Martin, Jody Olsen and Pamla Prochnow.

Prize incentives not the answer to finding cures

Walter Williams, in his column "Finding remedies" (Commentary, July 21), believes that highly educated adults need prize incentives to motivate their research toward finding vaccines for malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS. I have confidence that the thousands of doctors and scientists at the National Institutes of Health, the nation's public universities and other government-funded research institutions are well aware of and greatly motivated by the fact that their research could save the lives of millions.

What Mr. Williams lacks is an understanding of the scientific process, which would illustrate the absurdity of offering prizes for researchers.

First, research is a highly detailed process that cannot and should not be rushed. The complicated, microscopic nature of biology makes it extremely difficult for experiments to produce desired results the first few times around, much less even the 20th time. Researchers understand this and are unlikely to quicken the pace of their research for the sake of a prize.

Secondly, awarding a prize would be unfair. Research is an interdependent process. The mechanisms of AIDS, for example, are so complex and detailed that it is not possible for one lab to produce all the results needed to create an HIV vaccine. The vaccine surely would be a result of many labs, many researchers and many years spent tackling the problem.

Overall, prizes would be an appeal to the child in the researcher. As mature adults, researchers should not, and most likely do not, need external motivations to accomplishing tasks for which they should have moral incentives to complete in the first place.

KAVITA JUNEJA

Sugar Land, Texas

Responses to 'Clash at Yucca Mountain'

S. Fred Singer, in his column "Clash at Yucca Mountain" (July 19), spends a great deal of ink discussing the nuclear-power debate in the context of radiation standards, and he attacks the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for proposing conservative standards for Yucca Mountain. However, in his philosophical musings, he misses the real point. These standards are developed to provide protection to the public for very long periods of time, and because of the great uncertainties in predicting geologic and hydrologic performance over 100,000 to 1 million years at sites such as Yucca Mountain, the standards should be very conservative. In the arid West, where aquifers, in many instances, are the only source of water for drinking, irrigation and stock watering, it is critical that these sources be protected from contamination.

One doesn't have look far to recognize that federal agencies, especially the Department of Energy, have an abysmal record in predicting the migration of radionuclides in the soil and ground water surrounding the sites where nuclear activities have taken place. The same General Accounting Office that Mr. Singer cites also has documented that of the 127 facilities the Department of Energy (DOE) has managed over the years, 124 have failed to prevent radioactive materials from contaminating the environment. This is costing the taxpayers more than $400 billion to clean up. Many sites can never be cleaned up. So, focusing on the short-term costs that implementing a conservative standard would create misses the real goal: long-term protection of the public.

At the Yucca Mountain site, aquifers directly below and downhill from the proposed repository are being used for drinking water and irrigation. So those such as Sen. Frank H. Murkowski and the nuclear industry who imply or attempt to give the impression that scrapping a ground-water protection standard for Yucca Mountain is permissible because nobody lives there or uses the water not only are wrong, but are setting the stage for another massive cleanup project if Yucca Mountain goes forward.

According to the latest DOE performance models at Yucca Mountain, more than 95 percent of the total system performance is allocated to the metal containers holding the waste because the physical conditions at the site are so poor, and DOE needs to rely on the aquifer to "dilute and disperse" the waste to make doses low enough to meet proposed standards. Makes you think about who is behind scrapping a proposed ground-water standard for Yucca Mountain, doesn't it?

Finally, it is revealing to note that the EPA-proposed Yucca Mountain standard, which has created the uproar over which agency should set the standards, how conservative should they be and whether they should contain a ground-water protection provision, is the same standard that is in place for the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in New Mexico, a repository for transuranic or intermediate waste. This standard wasn't an issue when it was put in place for WIPP because the view was that the WIPP site could meet that standard. It is only an issue now for the Yucca Mountain site because it has become apparent to all that the site would fail under the proposed EPA standard.

Would this be an issue if Virginia, for example, were singled out as the only state where the provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act did not apply? Are we more interested in protecting the interests of the nuclear power industry or the public that will be directly affected? What are the real purposes of radiation-protection standards, and whom are they designed to protect? One only has to watch the debate and outcome of congressional activities to find out whose interest is being protected.

ROBERT R. LOUX

Executive director

State of Nevada's Agency for Nuclear Projects

Carson City, Nev.

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In an ideal world, we could easily store spent nuclear fuel at nuclear power-plant sites and wait 50 years for the issue of its eventual disposition to be resolved, but not in this world. Though S. Fred Singer's arguments make a lot of sense, he does not take into account the vast irrationality about nuclear fuel that pervades our society.

Leaving the spent fuel at the various nuclear plants means that most of the plants will have to petition local and state governments for approval to build additional storage facilities and to store the fuel in them. The utilities also must pay for these facilities, while at the same time paying the federal government to develop Yucca Mountain. In the mid-1990s, Northern States Power Co., a Minnesota utility, even had to promise to build wind generators in order to get permission to store more fuel on the site.

Regardless of whether the Yucca Mountain repository is sealed up eventually or left open to allow the fuel to be retrieved, that facility is the only politically feasible option for dealing with spent nuclear fuel. Keeping this fuel at the plants invites political turmoil that could bludgeon nuclear power plant owners into a premature shutdown of these vital sources of electricity.

W. REED JOHNSON

Lancaster, Va.

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