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Angry about Heifer
I was very disappointed to see the article about Heifer International [Summer 2005 EIJ], a well-intentioned group that provides animals to impoverished people. The problem is that what these people really need are tools and education on how to grow organic fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. These are the foods that will keep them healthy. In addition, the animals are not treated humanely. Their web site and brochures feature photos of people hugging and holding animals. They don’t show them slitting their throats. They don’t show the animals writhing in pain. Shame on you for supporting this organization.
Warren Jones
San Francisco, California

That article included the passage “Heifer International has its critics, of course. Some of its livestock is intended for meat production, which does not endear the organization to those categorically opposed to eating animals. However, the draft power the animals contribute, and the dairy and eggs, fuel and fertilizer they produce are also important components of Heifer programs.…Responding to such charges a few years ago, Heifer’s Communications Director Anna Bedford pointed out that the organization often works in areas unsuitable for cropland, like the high Andes or the Tibetan Plateau, where raising enough plants to sustain human life is not feasible. But llamas, yaks, and camels do well in such environments, and provide milk, draft power, and manure for fuel. ‘Without them, traditional cultures could not survive,’ Bedford said.” —ed.

No, nukes!
As a nuclear engineer I was concerned with the attempts to explain some of the technical workings of the nuclear reactor [Summer 2005 EIJ]. While all the terms were present, they were thrown together in a sort of haphazard manner that is close enough to the truth to sound technically correct while remaining far enough from what actually happens to show a lack of understanding of the issue being discussed. These errors range from minor (the control rods in Fermi’s CP-1 reactor were made of cadmium, which absorbs neutrons, not of graphite, which slows them down) to fundamental conceptual errors (U-235 does not decay during a chain reaction, it fissions). It does make one wonder when the technical details are presented in error if the writer has really researched the more interpretive side of the story or has merely capitulated to a preconceived notion of the issue.

Much of the article focused on nuclear waste. I will not present a detailed analysis of how human beings can safely isolate any dangerous constituents of the used nuclear fuel. Such a discussion can and does fill textbooks. I merely wish to point out that nature herself has provided us with an experiment that shows that safe storage is possible.

Two billion years ago several large, natural fission reactions occurred in Oklo, Gabon, Africa. By definition these sites were exposed to copious amounts of water (the postulated transport mechanism for any disposal facility) yet to this day analysis shows migration of the long-lived and thus potentially dangerous isotopes was negligible! Nuclear waste disposal is not an insurmountable technical problem.

In the 43 years of nuclear power in Canada our reactors have displaced over 1 billion tons of greenhouse and acid gases. Our 17 operating reactors are continuing this at a rate of 6 million tons a month. That’s a lot of clean air and that sounds good to me!
Andrew L. Daley
Toronto, Canada

We appreciate the correction with regard to the control rods in Fermi’s reactor. However, many physicists define fission as a mode of decay. Using the term “decay” to describe fission is less specific than we could have been, but it’s by no means a “fundamental conceptual error.”

As for the Gabon site, any comparisons between that site and Yucca Mountain are hard to take seriously. The Gabon site is as close to a geologically “dead” location as exists on Earth: The radioactive material there has moved only about 12 feet relative to surrounding rock in the last 1.7 billion years. Contrariwise, Nevada is extremely geologically active, with parts of the terrain moving as fast as four inches a year due to tectonic forces. —ed.

I find it interesting that your organization is looking at minority rights and Third World development issues. Sometimes all people believe is important about the environment is keeping trees healthy and dolphins swimming in the oceans when the truth of the matter is that there are people out there that need our help, as well. People need work in their habitats to keep them from destroying their natural resources and I think that it’s grand that you are able to look into assisting these Third World nations that so desperately need our attention.

Again I would like to commend you for your work with the environment and I wish for you to keep up the good work for all our sakes. Thank you.
Matthew A. Hunt
Fair Haven, Vermont


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