LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Many Factors Prevail

In DecommissioningThe article, "Nuclear Power's Missing Link," (JofC Oct. 16,) is misleading in that it equates the decommissioning of the Chernobyl plant to the decommissioning of U.S. power plants. The article also implies that both the technology and the financing method are unknown.

The question of decommissioning has been studied both in this country and internationally for several years. The International Atomic Energy Agency published a review of decommissioning technology and costs in 1979. Several studies have been done by National Laboratories such as the Pacific Northwest Laboratory of the Battelle Memorial Institute. Other studies have been done by the utilities that operate nuclear power plants. The results of these studies have been reported to their Public Utility Commissions.

All of these studies have concluded that:

There are three methods for decommissioning reactors.

There is experience in using these methods.

That the cost of decommissioning is and will be about $0.001 a kilowatt hour of electricity produced.

Since 1960 more than 65 nuclear reactors have been decommissioned. In addition many fuel fab rication facilities have been decommissioned, including plutonium handling plants.

Methods to be used for decommissioning depend on considerations of economics and radiation exposure. Entombment, which is being used for the Chernobyl plant, is one possibility but is not being seriously considered in this country. The other two methods both involve complete removal of all of the plant but differ in the time of demolition. Immediate demolition is more expensive, both in terms of dollars and radiation exposure. Consequently, most utilities will opt for delayed decommissioning. They will remove the fuel, close the plant for 30 to 50 years while the radiation levels decay and then dismantle the plant.

One of the problems faced by utilities in the past was the way the Internal Revenue Service treated the money that was being held in escrow. A recent ruling by the IRS (July 1986) encourages utilities to set aside money for decommissioning by providing tax advantages. Previously, money put into decommissioning funds were a tax liability.

From this, you can see that decommissioning is neither a mystery nor a missing link.

Robert E. Olson Energy Information Consultant Monroeville, Pa.

Decommissioning

Disputed

The editorial on decommissioning nuclear power plants, "Nuclear Power's Missing Link," (JofC Oct. 16) by Congressman Fernand J. St Germain, gives some misleading impressions.

Decommissioning is hardly an exotic concept. Most of the work involves mundane demolition techniques. Even the decontamination process involves the relatively straightforward application of procedures in use for decades. The cost issue also is bogus. As a percentage of total revenues - about 1 percent - over the life of the plant, the cost of decommissioning truly is trivial.

What distinguishes the nuclear industry is not that the plants will eventually require decommissioning, but that the industry has considered its practical, economic, and environmental aspects well in advance of the need. The thousands of offshore oil platforms, for example, ultimately will need to be dismantled. This is a costly and dangerous task for which, according to the National Academy of Sciences, no provisions have been made. Indeed, the total cost of their decommissioning could well exceed that for all existing nuclear plants.

Theordore M. Besmann, Ph.D. Oak Ridge National Laboratory Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Customs Automation

Only in Virginia

In your most recent article, 'Customs Touts Automation (JofC Oct. 17), on the Automated Commercial System of the United States Customs Service, it was implied that many ports are operational and transmitting manifest information to the Customs computer in Franconia, Va. This is the latest in a number of articles stating that certain port service centers are interfacing operationally with ACS.

In fact, only the Virginia Port Authority has an operational center designated by Customs. This service center, named Neptune, began transmitting manifests the first week in September with Customs. Commissioner William von Raab christened Neptune "the first of its type in the nation."

J. Robert Bray Executive Director Virginia Port Authority Norfolk, Va.

Insurance Situation

In Florida Explained

Your editorial, "Industry Bites Consumer," JOC Oct. 24, overlooks the true situation in Florida. Many of the tort reform provisions of the new state law, including the $450,000 cap on non-economic damages, expire on July 1, 1990, less than four years away. A plaintiff's attorney would be foolish to file a major personal injury suit before July 2, 1990.

In addition, the trial bar is challenging the constitutionality of the tort reform provisions in the bill. If they prevail, there is no tort reform. How can you reasonably expect any company to predict future losses based on ''what ifs".

Actuaries use available statistics and other data to predict future loss. They are not fortune tellers. Do you suggest they ignore the uncertainty of current Florida law to arrive at figures that are more acceptable to a Ralph Nader?

Your editorial also overlooks the fact that in states that have passed meaningful tort reform, insurance companies have acted in a positive manner. In California, more than 20 companies have re-entered the municipal liability market because of the passage of Proposition 51. In Washington, Colorado and Connecticut, insurers have either reduced premiums or have dropped plans for premium increases because of tort reform.

When Florida passes meaningful tort reform, I believe you will see companies reacting in a reasonable and business-like manner, just as they have done in other states.

John B. Crosby Senior Vice President and General Counsel National Association of Independent Insurers Des Plaines, Ill.

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