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Cambridge-Based Scientists Predict Nuclear Related Deaths

By Susan K. Brown

A group of Cambridge-based scientists forecast in a report released Thursday that if the U.S. follows a large nuclear power program, the country could expect over 14,000 accident-induced deaths related to nuclear plants before the year 2000.

The report on nuclear safety authored by members of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) asserts that the Rasmussen Report, released in 1975 by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), contains substantially understated assessments of the safety of atomic power.

"One could expect one or two or three major nuclear accidents between now and the end of the century," Henry W. Kendall, an MIT professor of Physics who headed the UCS project, said yesterday.

Overstatement

But Douglas W. Cooper, assistant professor of Environmental Physics in the Faculty of Public Health, who served as a consultant to NRC, said yesterday, "Subsequent analysis of the Rasmussen Report showed that it would, if anything, overstate the results of a nuclear accident."

Cooper added, "One example would be meteorology, where they had to take one out of the 20 worst possible weather situations rather than the average of weather conditions for the report."

The UCS study concludes that saboteurs, properly prepared, could cause a melt down of the core of a nuclear reactor, which would result in a large release of radioactivity.

Gone With the Wind

"They can furthermore choose a reactor which is near a large city and a day when the wind is blowing towards the city," the report said.

The UCS report also said "there may be a 1 per cent chance of a major accident that would kill nearly 100,000 persons. Most of the victims would die of cancers caused by exposure to damaging levels of nuclear radiation."

The report recommends that the U.S. reassess its nuclear power program and the safety standards of operating nuclear plants in light of the possibility of a major nuclear accident.

The study said that as many as 1000 power plants could be operating by the year 2000, "placing virtually the entire population in close proximity to one or more of these facilities."

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