Union of Concerned Scientists Pushes Fuel Efficiency at Expense of Auto Safety (with additional commentary about nuclear plants and terrorism), by Christopher Burger

BACKGROUND: The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released a report on February 2, 2002 claiming that our nuclear power plants are vulnerable to terrorist attack and saying that increasing domestic oil production won’t lessen our dependence on foreign oil. It contends that the most secure way to protect the U.S. economy from oil price shocks is to increase fuel efficiency.

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: Nuclear physicists point out that our nuclear power plants are quite resistant to terrorist attacks.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: The UCS is trying to frighten Americans about nuclear power. Nuclear reactor vessels are surrounded by a containment vessel, and each are made of several feet of concrete and steel. Even if a large airliner crashed directly into the reactor, which would require incredibly precise targeting by the pilot, the reactor vessel is unlikely to be breached. And while fuel efficiency is desirable, corporate average fuel economy standards imposed to promote fuel efficiency indirectly have killed Americans by forcing manufacturers to produce lighter, less crashworthy vehicles.

DISCUSSION: A study written by physicists Gerald Marsh and George Stanford for The National Center for Public Policy Research, National Policy Analysis #374: “Terrorism and Nuclear Power: What are the Risks?” shows that nuclear power plants are well protected against a variety of potential threats posed by terrorists. The paper is available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/NPA374.html. Marsh and Stanford show how nuclear power plants are protected against threats including, but not limited to, car bombings, airplane crashes and small-arms assaults.

Fuel efficiency standards, known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, or CAFE, were mandated by law in 1975. A 2002 study by the National Academy of Sciences shows that if cars had weighed the same in 1993 as they did in 1976, an estimated 2,000 deaths would have been avoided in that year alone. In addition, that lower car weight in 1993 was responsible for 13,000 to 26,000 incapacitating injuries and 97,000 to 195,000 total injuries. The report goes on to say that “any increase in CAFE could produce additional road casualties.” The NAS study is available at http://books.nap.edu/books/0309076013/html/index.html.

A copy of the report by the Union of Concerned Scientists is available at http://www.ucsusa.org/publications/EnergySecurity.pdf.



The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from individuals, less than four percent from foundations and less than two percent from corporations. It receives over 350,000 individual contributions a year from over 60,000 active recent contributors.