Convincing the public of the need for nuclear power is the most difficult task the nuclear industry faces, a former presidential chief of staff said Monday.
"We simply must guard against the possibility that we might lose it," said Howard Baker Jr., President Reagan's chief of staff from 1987 to 1988 and a three-term Tennessee senator, during the eighth annual Edward Teller Lecture at Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta.
"The real challenge is to convince America and the world that nuclear power is not only desirable, but essential if we are ever to realize the promise of a clean environment," Mr. Baker said to a ballroom filled with nearly 400 people.
The lecture is held by Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, a grassroots nuclear lobbying group based in Augusta. The event is named for Edward Teller, regarded as the father of the hydrogen bomb.
During Monday's lecture, Mr. Baker also alluded to the need to reduce the threat of nuclear war. He praised Savannah River Site for its role in ridding the nation of surplus nuclear materials.
"We have to figure out how we're going to survive in the nuclear age," he said. "The one thing that differentiates us from generations before is that we have the undoubted ability to incinerate ourselves."
In 1966, Mr. Baker became the first Republican popularly elected to the U.S. Senate from Tennessee. He now practices law in his hometown of Huntsville, Tenn., and continues to serve on the boards of several corporations and think tanks.
He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 1984. He also won the 1982 Jefferson Award, given to an elected or appointed official for public service.
Before Mr. Baker's speech, SRS microbiologist Carl Fliermans was named Distinguished Scientist of the Year for 1999. The award, given by the nuclear lobbying group, honors a site scientist each year for contributions to his field.
Dr. Fliermans, who has worked at the site since 1974, was instrumental in discovering the bacterium responsible for Legionnaire's disease. The pneumonia-like disease affects about 25,000 people in the United States each year.
He now is researching microscopic organisms that, by responding to the presence of TNT, can detect land mines. The technique is being tested in Mozambique, in southeast Africa.
Dr. Fliermans did not attend the lecture because of illness. At a press conference held before the event, he called the award "a tremendous honor" but said he shared any credit with his peers.
"All scientists stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before, and we're no different," he said. "I find great satisfaction in looking at a large number of problems and contributing to the solutions to those problems, and knowing that other people will take it far deeper than I have."
Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409.
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