Editor’s Comments

Editor’s Comments

Among the great science-based issues currently pressing upon American society, automotive efficiency, safety, and pollution, climate, energy, environment, nuclear power, and scientific secrecy are certainly at the forefront. We hope that the necessary public discussion of these issues will be informed by input from the professional physicist members of the Forum on Physics and Society. It is the task of this newsletter to help keep these members up-to-date on the science and policy matters necessary for them to be major productive components of the public debate.

In this October, 2001 issue of Physics and Society, Richard Benedick — the American diplomat largely responsible for the successful negotiations attempting to deal with the diminishing of the Ozone Layer — recounts his experiences with these negotiations and tries to draw useful lessons for future climate negotiations. Steven Smith helps to fill in the background with a discussion of "climate forcing".

The physicist Amory Lovins tries to use purely economic arguments to show that the expected revival of nuclear power is just a chimera. (I’m always suspicious of "impossibility" arguments which depend upon price rather than the laws of physics; price seems so open to seemingly arbitrary change.) Given the present sad state of the nuclear power industry, much hope rests upon the next generation of nuclear reactors. Edwin Lyman describes and discusses the safety of a major new reactor concept - the "pebble bed" reactor. Another concern, when considering nuclear power, is the proliferation of nuclear weapons; this is discussed by William Sailor. Any discussion of nuclear power hinges upon the effects of low-level radiation upon the public health. John Cameron provides a new perspective on this question.

Nuclear power must fit into the overall energy picture, which is sketched, for this issue, by Albert Bartlett. Aviva Brecher, our former chair, looks at the impact of our chosen mode of transportation — the car — upon the core of our civilization, our cities. Finally, Irving Lerch again raises the issue of the impact of governmental secrecy and security concerns upon the health of the science that is so necessary for the health of our general society.

We expect to continue our discussions of these vital issues in the next issue — the January Elections issue — with expected articles on automobile safety and efficiency as well as further examinations of the proposed next-generation nuclear reactor. The Editors are always open for new material for this journal. We strongly urge readers to submit relevant articles, commentaries, letters, and reviews —preferably via e-mail. Certainly the events of Sept. 11 should reinforce the view that we must all work together, as citizens and as physicists, to meet the international and domestic challenges ahead.