It is not hard to see that the United States will need new base-load power plants started in the next five years. If funds were committed now for a prototype gas-cooled reactor, it would still be 2005 before the first utility order of a standardized module would be possible. And that is for operation by 2010. The nation cannot wait that long.
I do not know if the nation will need more weapons material. But if we do, using a weapons production reactor as a prototype seems backwards. If it is needed, logic says to build a proven design for that purpose. If gas-cooled reactors have potential for civilian power, somehow Congress must be convinced to appropriate $1 billion for a prototype. But an essential national security requirement does not seem to be the place for a safety test program.
ROBERT M. LUNDBERG, Los Altos