Accidents Will Happen

THE PRESIDENT'S COMMISSION on the accident at Three Mile Island reached some baffling conclusions last week. The commission indicted the entire nuclear industry for equipment design faults, poorly trained plant operators, and inadequate emergency procedures and said an accident like the one last spring in Harrisburg, Pa., was "eventually inevitable."

Despite that frightening condemnation, the panel failed to take the logical next step--recommending a moratorium on construction of new nuclear plants. It did, however, point to the need for such a ban, concluding that even if President Carter, Congress, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the nuclear industry adopt all of its recommendations, there is still "no guarantee that there will be no serious future nuclear accidents."

That conclusion underscores what critics of nuclear energy have been saying for years: even with redundant safety precautions and extensive regulations, the inherent risks of nuclear power plants far outweigh their usefulness--even in an energy-starved nation.

The panel said its findings alone are not conclusive enough to suggest that nuclear power is "too dangerous to permit it to continue and expand as a form of power generation." Perhaps. But combined with the problems of nuclear waste disposal, the possibility that nuclear material used in a plant could reach the wrong hands and the as yet unknown dangers of low-level radiation leaks, the commission's findings emphasize the need to abandon nuclear power as a future energy source.

Because the nation's 72 nuclear reactors now supply 13 per cent of the United States' electrical energy, we cannot abruptly shut them down without substantial power shortages. However, in light of the panel's conclusions, advocates of nuclear energy should begin looking to other alternatives for solutions to the present energy crisis.


The president's commission displayed cowardice in failing to propose a halt to nuclear plant constructions. But Carter and Congress--which is now considering construction ban legislation--still can act bravely on the panel's disturbing conclusions.