- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 7, 2002

Nuclear reactor fuels debate

We will need new nuclear plants in the United States to meet growing electricity demand and to minimize the burning of fossil fuels that produce pollution and greenhouse gases.
The announcement that AECL Technologies has a new low-cost and efficient reactor is therefore important ("New reactor could make nuclear power as economical as gas," Business, June 25). Although gas-cooled reactor concepts are currently in vogue, we should welcome any new design that promises to compete with fossil fuels.
While the Union of Concerned Scientists aptly named because they can find concerns about anything may criticize the concept, ultimately it will be the market that decides.

BRUCE R. BOLLER
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Virginia Military Institute
Lexington, Va.Your recent article on the ecnomics of a new nuclear reactor design being proposed by a Canadian government-owned corporation read like a promotion for the nuclear power industry ("New reactor could make nuclear power as economical as gas," Business, June 25).
Since no proposed next-generation reactor has been commercialized in the United States, it is impossible to gauge the validity of a manufacturer's claims of economic performance. The only objective criteria available is the validity of past cost projections. The nuclear power industry is notoriously bad at predicting construction costs and lead times for proposed nuclear power plants. Of the 75 nuclear power plants under construction during the period 1966 to 1977, all exceeded original estimates of construction cost and lead time. The end result was a cost overrun of $120 billion.
Even if the wildly optimistic economic projections now being circulated by reactor vendors held true, it is unlikely that nuclear plants would be attractive investments in deregulated power markets. Nuclear units would still be twice as capital intensive as natural gas-fired power plants and take longer to construct, presenting significant economic disadvantages for independent power producers, which are focused on bringing power plants online as quickly and cheaply as possible.
Lenders would likely require significant risk premiums for power projects relying on untested reactor designs, raising capital costs further.
From a societal standpoint, building new reactors is undoubtedly costly. Recent events have shed light on the threat of nuclear terrorism and this threat will persist. The proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain will exceed its capacity if all existing reactors operate through their expected lifetimes, necessitating the siting and construction of a second repository.
These hidden costs are conveniently ignored by proponents of new nuclear reactors.

CHRISTOPHER SHERRY
Research Director
Safe Energy Communication Council
Washington

ABA, judicial group defend themselves

The article "ABA accused in plot against nominee" (Nation, July 1) gives readers the entirely erroneous impression that Community Rights Counsel (CRC) has raised concerns about judicial junkets in order to assail President Bush's judicial nominations.
The truth is that CRC has been urging judicial ethics reform to curtail these junkets since 1998. The problem with these trips has by now been documented overwhelmingly. Former judges, members of Congress, legal ethics experts and editorial boards across the country have all raised concerns about judicial seminars that are hosted at resorts, paid for by special interests that advance a particular perspective on contentious legal issues.
CRC's nonpartisan work on judicial ethics has been hailed across the political spectrum and equally affects judges appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents. As Rep. Howard Coble, North Carolina Republican, put it: "Every group needs watchdogs. I would classify you as a watchdog and that is a compliment. I never believed the federal judiciary ought to be fed with a preferential spoon while the rest of us are fed more rigidly."
Third Circuit Appeals Court nominee Judge D. Brooks Smith's frequent trip-taking did become an issue during his confirmation hearings, but primarily because Judge Smith took the position that no inquiry whatsoever was required into the sources of funding of seminars that are co-sponsored by a university. This position is flatly contradicted by existing ethical guidance on these trips and was roundly condemned by senators and ethics experts.
The Washington Times does its readers a disservice by portraying an issue of judicial ethics in partisan political terms. Regardless of political philosophy, we all should be able to agree that interested parties should not be permitted to fund and thus shape the continuing legal education received by our nation's judges.

DOUG KENDALL
Executive director
Community Rights Counsel
Washington
Claims made in your article "ABA accused in plot against nominee" (Nation, Monday) are untrue and completely misrepresent the facts.
Simply by picking up the phone and calling, the reporter would have found out that:
Rather than being engaged in a plot against Judge D. Brooks Smith, the American Bar Association unanimously gave him its highest rating, "well qualified," to be a federal appeals court judge.
Despite the claims of conspiring to rush an opinion by May 1, in fact, to date no opinion has been issued by the ABA on this matter, and I have stated publicly that no opinion, if indeed there is one to be issued, is imminent.
There has been no substantive contact by members of this committee with interest groups as claimed by your reporter.
Indeed, the committee began its discussions on whether to issue an opinion regarding the ethical considerations faced by state and federal judges who are considering attending a privately funded, expense-paid educational seminar in 2000. Judge Smith was nominated in 2001. If the committee were engaged in some supposed conspiracy, it would have to have been clairvoyant.
The "evidence" for this nonexistent conspiracy is an "anonymous" source. If your reporter had simply asked, she would have been given public information, which clearly negates the claims. I would have expected The Washington Times to check the facts thoroughly and not engage in tabloid journalism.

ROBERT E. HIRSHON
President
American Bar Association
Washington

Publius wouldn't be pleased

Despite the clamor to nominate President Bush's judicial appointees, which has become especially loud after the anti-Pledge of Allegiance ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, choosing judges must be a careful procedure.
In "The Federalist," three of our most prominent Founding Fathers penned some vague, but erudite instructions: Jurists must have both the requisite integrity and an uncommon portion of fortitude to nobly execute their duty. Whether or not these qualifications are sufficiently distilled in a candidate remains the discretion of the president and the Senate.
But the latter of these has of late been dragging its collective feet on the corpus of nominees sent to committee from the Oval Office. That members of the political left should be weary of Mr. Bush's selections is nothing new. Their actions are not alarming. Veritably, it is their right and duty to either reject all, some or none of the candidates whom they feel fall beneath the necessary threshold of integrity and experience.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, however, has bottlenecked the constitutionally mandated confirmation process and thereby inflicted a backlog of cases upon the federal docket. . Currently, 86 vacancies on the federal court desperately need to be filled. The void certainly should not be filled casually, for the harm could be potentially irreparable. The stalling tactic by committee members and senatorial leadership has to stop, however.
If the president's nominations are unacceptable, let the entire Senate vote them down. At least allow the candidates to be rejected so that more acceptable replacements can be found.
By doing so, the new candidates may be more ideologically moderate and I would hope more acceptable to the Senate and the nation.

GEOFFREY MCGOVERN
Falls Church

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