Letters to the Editor: Getting rid of cesium over ‘dirty bomb’ fears would be a massive overreaction

Cesium-137 exposure
A Seattle hazmat team responds to a radioactive leak on May 2.
(KOMO News)

To the editor: An investigation by the L.A. Times suggests federal regulators should stop the licensing of irradiation systems using the isotope cesium-137 due to fears over its use by terrorists to make disruptive “dirty” bombs.

Irradiation is used globally to sterilize blood, medical supplies and food. Blood irradiation has been lifesaving for more than 50 years to tens of thousands of patients with compromised immune systems, including neonates. More than half a million tons of food each year are prevented from early spoilage by irradiation.

Although there are other sources of radiation, cesium and other radioisotopes are used because they provide society with a valuable service at the lowest cost. This benefits the lowest-income segments of society most.

Increased regulation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will not stop terrorists from using dirty bombs, just like its excessive regulations that crippled the U.S. nuclear power industry have done nothing to prevent the spread of nuclear technology globally, but have made the U.S. non-competitive with China and Russia.


Eric McFarland, Santa Barbara

The writer is a professor of chemical engineering at UC Santa Barbara.


To the editor: It is both enlightening and alarming to learn what small amounts of cesium-137 could do to our cities.

What is more terrifying is to compare a few teaspoons from a medical irradiator with the 1,773 tons (not pounds, and not teaspoons) of nuclear waste now sitting on the beach at the decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in temporary canisters destined to stay there for the indefinite future.

About 40% of the radiation that could be generated from this nuclear waste is the same cesium-137. Physicists have calculated that each of the 123 canisters at San Onofre could release more cesium-137 than 1,000 Hiroshima bombs.

Yes, let’s get rid of our medical irradiators, but let’s also focus on the No. 1 threat in California: the nuclear waste at San Onofre.

Roger Johnson, San Clemente