Originally created 02/24/02

Russian urges labs to back push for nuke power

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - U.S. and Russian nuclear scientists hope by June to submit a formal appeal to the presidents of both nations asking them to collaboratively jump-start nuclear power.

An informal agreement to produce a joint Russian-American report on nuclear power to the two presidents followed the appeal late last week of prominent Russian physicist Evgeny Pavlovich Velikhov to his counterparts at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque.

In a formal address, Velikhov specifically asked his Sandia colleagues to help prepare a joint report within two months for President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin stressing the urgency of revitalizing nuclear power research and development.

One of three U.S. nuclear weapons labs, Sandia has played a major research role in nuclear energy, particularly in the realm of safety and testing.

President of the prestigious Kurchatov Institute in Moscow, Velikhov said, "Nuclear energy has a very important role to stabilize things (economically) in Russia."

Soon, he said, it will be crucial as well to the economy and security of the United States and could play a central role in enhancing global security and environmental integrity.

In addition to references to energy insecurity fueling global conflict, Velikhov said that human health and the threat of global warming - both at risk because of traditional fossil fuels - should motivate the two nations to lead a resurgence of nuclear power that he noted does not pollute the atmosphere.

Critics of nuclear power argue that radioactive waste is a big problem with nuclear energy.

Sandia President C. Paul Robinson pledged his labs' support in the endeavor, saying his scientists hold similar views and concerns about the long-term energy supply for the United States and the world.

Robinson in recent years has stressed that U.S. national security is fundamentally linked to the country's energy, environmental and economic security.

Saying Sandia's own studies show there are national security, economic, environmental and geopolitical reasons supporting a resumption of nuclear energy development, Robinson said: "The time is ripe for that (a binational research effort)."

While Sandia also has been a world leader in developing green energy alternatives, like solar and wind power, many scientists there believe that these sources remain immature and incapable of supplying the vast, growing and unlimited demand for instant energy at the flick of a switch.

Sandia Vice President Joan Woodard, however, warned that scientists have a major task in convincing a fearful public that nuclear energy is safe and can be made even safer.

Velikhov agreed but said the first hurdle is convincing government leaders, noting his scientists already are making strides in the Russian Duma, or congress.

He suggested Americans should have a much easier task because the problem in Russia, since the Chernobyl nuclear reactor incident, "is five orders of magnitude" worse than here.

"We must have a very comprehensive program of public education," he said.

Velikhov warned that the task must be undertaken soon because both countries are rapidly losing their nuclear expertise, as nuclear physicists and engineers age and die.