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Monday, January 17, 2000

Nuclear power offers
important advantages

Bullet The issue: The world faces a need for vastly increased supplies of energy in coming decades.
Bullet Our view: Nuclear energy offers important advantages over other sources and should be developed as such.

NUCLEAR energy got another black eye when Japan experienced its worst nuclear accident last September at a fuel processing plant. But the cost in lives and property was small and Japan continues to plan expansion of its nuclear-power industry.

Indeed, nuclear may be a significantly larger power source in the near future as the world grapples with dramatically increased demand for energy. Writing in the journal Foreign Affairs, Richard Rhodes and Denis Beller -- Beller is a nuclear engineer and staff member at the Los Alamos National Laboratory -- make a persuasive case for expanded use of nuclear power.

The alternative to nuclear power, they warn, is catastrophic damage to the environment resulting from the expanded use of fossil fuels and alternative energy sources.

The danger from nuclear power, Rhodes and Beller contend, is minimal compared to that posed by burning coal, which produces air pollution estimated to cause 15,000 premature deaths annually in the United States alone.

Petroleum is the most important source of energy today, used primarily for transportation. The authors contend that further reductions in air pollution generated by transportation can come only from abandoning petroleum and developing nonpolluting power systems for cars and trucks.

Moreover, petroleum use involves tanker spills and other environmental costs.

The authors dismiss alternative or renewable sources of energy as prohibitively expensive in terms of capital investment and damaging to the environment.

For example, photovoltaic cells used for solar energy generation are large semiconductors. Highly toxic waste metals and solvents are produced in their manufacture. They say a 1,000-megawatt solar electric plant would generate 6,850 metric tons of hazardous waste from metal-processing alone over a 30-year life span.

Natural gas, Rhodes and Beller say, has many virtues as a fuel, but its supply is limited, it's expensive compared to coal or uranium, and it pollutes the air. Fires and explosions are significant risks associated with its use.

Nuclear energy accidents have been few and their costs generally slight. The worst nuclear disaster, at Chernobyl in Ukraine, killed 31 people and caused several thousands of cases of thyroid cancer.

Still, the authors say, the numbers are "remarkably low" compared to major accidents in other industries. And the Chernobyl plant could never have been licensed to operate in the West because it lacked a containment structure. Newer plants are much safer.

DISPOSAL of nuclear waste has been a bugaboo of the industry, but Rhodes and Beller say projects in France, Sweden and Japan demonstrate that it is not an engineering problem. They say the small volume of nuclear high-level waste and the fact that it is not released into the environment make the problem manageable by sequestering it behind multiple barriers.

The authors assert that nuclear power is "environmentally safe, practical and affordable. It is not the problem -- it is one of the best solutions."

The advantages of nuclear power over other sources of energy make it likely that it will be used far more widely in the coming decades than it is at present.

Kamehameha Schools
trustee compensation

Bullet The issue: Probate Judge Kevin Chang has ruled that the chairman of the Kamehameha Schools earn no more than $120,000 annually and the other four trustees about $90,000.
Bullet Our view: The compensation seems realistic in view of the importance of the estate to the Hawaiian people.

PROBATE Judge Kevin Chang's ruling that the chairman of the Kamehameha Schools earn no more than $120,000 annually and the four other trustees $90,500 settles on figures that lie between the roughly $1 million the former trustees were receiving before their ouster and the zero that the Attorney General's Office recommended.

It also seems realistic in view of the huge size of the estate and the importance of its mission to the Hawaiian community and the people of Hawaii.

Although the trustees are now restricted to a policy-making role and will no longer be involved in the day-to-day administration of the estate -- to be left to the newly appointed chief executive officer and his staff -- compensation commensurate with their responsibilities should be provided.

Judge Chang remarked that "the annual compensation should not be the foremost reason" for serving as a trustee.

At the same time, to expect trustees to serve without suitable compensation may result in reducing the quality of applicants.

The amounts approved by the judge were the recommendations of a special court-appointed panel. Benjamin Matsubara, the estate's master, said he believes the committee came up with reasonable compensation for the trustees although its own consultant had recommended lower figures.

THE judge also approved a spending plan calling for the estate to spend between 2.5 percent and 6 percent of its assets each year on its educational programs. This is significant in view of the criticism incurred by the former trustees for failing to spend enough of the estate's income on education, which is its sole mission.

With these decisions, the judge has set essential parameters for the future operation of this important institution.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

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A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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