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An article by Jon Elliston, "Access Denied," [Dec. 12] posted on The Independent Web site, describes the recent recall of a government publication from federal depository libraries by the Government Printing Office (GPO). It does not carry any statements by the GPO, leading us to wonder whether your reporter contacted anyone here about this matter. If we were, we would have provided this information:

I am enclosing for your information a statement of the GPO's written policy on document withdrawals that was circulated to all federal depository libraries in November. I hope you will note that when the USGS was questioned by a depository librarian about the need for destruction of the Source-Water Assessment CD-ROM, a statement from the USGS "reconfirmed the validity of the original written instruction from USGS to GPO to destroy the report."

In partnership with federal depository libraries, the GPO has been the government's agent for ensuring public access to government information for more than a century. It is a responsibility that we take very seriously. We distribute millions of printed federal documents to the libraries and through other channels, and we make millions more available online. However, we are also entrusted by law with stewardship of the publications placed in the libraries on behalf of their issuing agencies. Where recalls are concerned, our procedures are set up to ensure that the agencies understand exactly what they are doing when they ask us to recall a document from depository libraries.

We're sure your readers will want to know that, to date, we have only acted on one order to withdraw a title from public access. Should there be one, any future order will be handled in accordance with established procedures and applicable federal law.

Insufficient response
Carolina Power & Light Company's reply to The Independent's very specific questions about safety procedures and waste handling at the company's nuclear power plants was, not surprisingly, filled with soothing generalities [Back Talk, Dec. 19]. The plants are designed to be as safe as possible; these matters have been exhaustively studied and approved by the government; we have additional safety procedures to back up our regular procedures; and blah, blah.

In late November, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to renew the Price-Anderson Act, which limits the financial liability of nuclear power companies. The Republican-controlled House passed this corporate protection bill in a procedure allowing no debate, no amendments, and no roll-call vote. The Senate will take up the measure in the next session.

I'm no admirer of the insurance industry, but one thing the industry does quite well is gauging risk. Price-Anderson, first passed in 1957 and regularly renewed since, is needed by the nuclear industry because insurance companies were--and are--unwilling to fully insure nuclear plants. Since insurance companies also cannot recover accident costs by suing nuclear power companies whose liability is limited by Price-Anderson, your property insurance policy and mine exclude damage caused by nuclear accidents. In the event of a major accident, renewal of Price-Anderson will continue to force us to pay out of our own pockets for our property damage, falling radioactive property values, and medical costs (including radiation-induced cancers which may not appear until years later). As taxpayers, we'll also pay for state and federal accident cleanup expenses. In other words, nuclear power remains a technology which could not survive if left to the free market its "conservative" protectors otherwise claim to venerate. It needs a legal shield from the public because the public's fears of nuclear plants and nuclear waste are fully justified.

Does CP&L expect a nuclear accident? I'm sure it does not. Does CP&L exercise caution in the operation of its nuclear plants? I'm sure it does. But all of human history testifies that any imaginable (or unimaginable) accident or act of malice will eventually happen (a few months ago, who would have thought that commercial airliners could be used as guided missiles?)--and nuclear power is not a technology forgiving of human or technological error, let alone terrorism.

Ask CP&L if the company is lobbying against the renewal of Price-Anderson. Ask if CP&L is willing to assume full accident liability without government protection. Ask if it's willing to post a bond to cover all actual costs of any future accident. Ask how much it's doing to convert to environmentally benign ways of generating power. I suspect the answers to these questions would be "no," "no," "no," and "not much." And that should tell us something about the level of confidence we can have in our safety.

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