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Nuclear smarts; Task force could boost research applications.

COLUMN: IN OUR OPINION

The University of Massachusetts trustees Thursday approved the creation of a Nuclear Science and Technology Task Force, a timely move given the vital role that nuclear research plays in medical and other high-tech applications, as well as the potential nuclear power has to help meet the nation's demand for power without greenhouse gas emissions.

The task force, consisting of four of the trustees and experts from the business and scientific communities, will analyze the economic benefits and environmental impact of nuclear science and technology. The task force will solicit advice from engineers, labor unions and power producers and will study how best to obtain federal grants and contracts.

It should go without saying that Massachusetts should not be directly involved in the construction, ownership and operation of a large-scale nuclear power generation facility. Most of the nation's 104 commercial reactors - including the 685-megawatt Pilgrim plant in Plymouth, the state's only commercial nuclear power plant - are owned and operated by private energy companies or consortiums that have the technical expertise to do the job and the financial wherewithal to cover the huge upfront costs for siting, licensing and constructing such facilities.

But building a power plant is neither the only possibility nor necessarily the most helpful move for the state. As a national leader in education, medicine and biotechnology, Massachusetts is well positioned to take advantage of potential economic spinoff opportunities from an anticipated increase in demand for nuclear research and power.

Although often overlooked by the public, the state is home to three small research reactors, at UMass Lowell, MIT and WPI, which are vital to those schools' academic programs and play a role in the broader scientific community. The reactor at UMass Lowell has been nationally recognized for its work in neutral and charged particle research. MIT's reactor is one of just six in the world involved in an experimental boron cancer therapy.

The task force, which was first suggested by UMass board member Richard Lawton, may not lead to a single megawatt of new power production, but could promote advances in the fields of radiological safety and reactor operations, medical diagnostics, materials testing and nanotechnology. Its creation is a smart move.
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Title Annotation:EDITORIAL
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jun 16, 2008
Words:367
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