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SHOULD N-POWER HAVE A FUTURE? PROPONENTS, FOES REOPEN DEBATE

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Opinions may not have changed much over the weekend, but participants in a symposium on the future of nuclear power at least laid the groundwork for what could be another look at the beleaguered fission industry.

The two-day symposium, sponsored by Robert Redford's Institute of Research Management, brought together more than 40 nuclear power advocates and opponents to discuss the question: "Should Nuclear Power in the United States be Revitalized?" Stewart Udall, former Secretary of the Interior, and Howard Allen, chairman of the board of Southern California Edison Co., chaired the symposium.The gathering followed an Institute of Resource Management symposium in August on the dangers of global warming. Scientists believe that global warming, if not checked, eventually could lead to environmental and economic disasters.

That fact was central to discussions Saturday and Sunday on whether nuclear power should make a comeback. Evidence indicates that "greenhouse gases" generated by ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels are precipitating global warming.

While symposium participants like Bertram Wolfe, vice president of nuclear services for General Electric, argued that nuclear power is the answer to lessening fossil-fuel burning, others said revitalization of nuclear power would not be in the best interest of the nation or world.

Nuclear power, once a promising alternative energy source, fell upon hard times for several reasons, including the 1979 Three Mile Island accident, rapid escalation of construction costs, fallout from economic and engineering miscalculations, lack of plant standardization and the 1986 meltdown at the Soviet Union's Chernobyl plant.

"It (nuclear power) has been a disaster economically, technically, environmentally, socially and politically," said Russell W. Peterson, president emeritus of the National Audubon Society. Even if an accident-free, economically feasible plant could be developed, he said in a position paper presented Sunday, nuclear power still would face two serious obstacles: disposal of radioactive waste and creation of dangerous amounts of weapons-grade plutonium.

But Charles Luce, negotiator and special counsel with Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., said nuclear power should not be so easily discounted. He said revitalization of nuclear power is essential for environmental protection, conservation of oil and natural gas and continued diversification of energy resources.