Magazine | May 16, 2011, Issue


Atomic Detail

It was with great glee and anticipation that I opened the April 4 edition to read William Tucker’s article regarding the events at Fukushima Daiichi (“Overreaction”). However, my glee turned to sorrow toward the middle of the article. As an individual who has spent the last quarter century performing testing on welds at nuclear power plants, I found several errors in Mr. Tucker’s otherwise persuasive defense of nuclear power.

1. The “steel pressure vessel” (reactor pressure vessel) is not “cast from a single ingot.” Reactor pressure vessels are fabricated from multiple forgings that are welded together. In addition, they should never be considered “nearly invulnerable to cracks.” We have had a number of vessels with minor cracking, but fortunately the cracking was discovered and repaired with no harm to the general public or plant workers.

2. The event at Three Mile Island did, in fact, create enough heat to melt through the stainless steel (not chromium) cladding and affect the reactor vessel itself before the operators regained control by injecting highly borated water.

3. The torus is not designed to collect the molten core, but is a pressure-suppression chamber where steam is released into water to condense the steam during an accident. The torus also helps “scrub” some of the rather nasty radionuclides out of gases prior to their release into the atmosphere.

William A. Jensen

Manitowoc, Wis.

William Tucker replies: Mr. Jensen is correct on No. 1. On No. 2, the cladding is the zircalloy or steel coating on the fuel rods. It is my understanding that the steel vessel has a chromium lining, and that when the fuel at Three Mile Island (and later at Fukushima) melted to the bottom of the vessel, it was not hot enough to melt the chromium. On No. 3, I was confusing the torus with the core-catcher, which is another safety feature that lies below the pressure vessel.

Health-Insurance Equality Now!

Ramesh Ponnuru’s “Replacement Plan” (April 18) was excellent, but he is too timid about getting rid of the outrageous unfairness in the tax code that penalizes those who don’t have employer-based health insurance.

Today, Americans who buy their insurance in the individual market are taxed on their premiums, but those who buy insurance through their employers are not. This is a simple problem, and easy to fix: Allow individuals to deduct their health-insurance premiums. Congress will say that it would cost too much, but we should tell them fair is fair.

Group health insurance unnecessarily complicates health care and increases expenses. Individuals, not groups, are treated for medical conditions. Individuals relocate and change jobs frequently, and group health insurance does not move with them. Individuals who are expensive to insure do benefit from group rates, but they are best served by state-overseen substandard-risk pools funded by insurers.

We are a mobile society. Health insurance should not be tied to employment.

John F. Brinson

Chairman, Lehigh Valley Tax Limitation Committee

Allentown, Pa.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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