When Dr. Carol S. Marcus, in "Radioactive Waste Has to Be in Ward Valley" (Commentary, March 7), discussed what she termed two indisputable realities, she left out a couple additional indisputable factors that should have been included. First, there's the fact that "temporary" means exactly that, short-time-interval storage facilities before establishing something more permanent. Second, there is the fact that the only reason medical and biotechnical nuclear waste might have a disposal problem is because that material is being tied together with the nuclear power industry's waste. Once the picayune quantities of biotechnical/medical radioactive waste are dealt with by themselves, there is then no disposal problem for that material.
The radioactive waste from academia, medical facilities and the biotechnology industry is fundamentally different than that from nuclear power sources, the exact opposite of what Marcus said. It is that fact that fundamentally makes for the present vociferous Ward Valley controversy. Who from the general public would deny that the "permanent" disposal of nuclear power plant waste in open, unlined trenches a short distance from a major water supply for Los Angeles is blatantly a gross error? Our grandchildren's grandchildren will be forced to deal with this problem if we proceed, Marcus' and the nuclear power industry's opinions notwithstanding.
SHELDON C. PLOTKIN Ph.D., PE, Consulting Engineer and Member of the Executive Board of the Southern California Federation of Scientists, Los Angeles
Marcus states that there is "fundamentally" no difference between between low-level waste produced by nuclear reactors and that produced by medical and biotechnology sources.
Actually, low-level radioactive waste from reactors is far more hazardous and long-lived than wastes from the medical industry. As reported by the U.S. Department of Energy, the total number of curies of low-level radioactive waste shipped for disposal from nuclear reactors in the six-year period 1986-1991 was 2,470,938. (A curie is a measure of levels of radioactivity and a more significant way of determining potential hazard than the volume of material shipped.) For these same years, 117 curies were shipped from medical institutions and 2,830 curies shipped from academic institutions.
Soon nuclear reactors are going to start being decommissioned. In California, Humboldt Bay, San Onofre 1 and Rancho Seco--are shut down and waiting to be cut up and carted somewhere. The radionuclides present in the contaminated metal of the shut-down reactors will be hazardous for more than 100,000 years.
Unfortunately, no one can assure us that the Ward Valley site will be safe for these unimaginable eons of time.
MINARD HAMILTON, Research Associate, Radioactive Waste Management Associates, New York