MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXVI No. 2
November / December 2013
Preserve MIT's Campus Through Long-Range Planning: Support Establishment
of a Campus Planning Committee
Vote for New FNL Board Members
MIT's Responsibility to Provide Additional Affordable Housing for Grad Students, Postdoctoral Fellows, and Staff
The Status of MIT's Postdoctoral Researchers
Proposal to Establish a Campus Planning Committee
EECS Undergraduates: SuperUROP, EECSCon, and USAGE
Three Suggestions
Should MIT Create A School of Education?: A Response
Doctoral Education Outcomes and Impact
The Alumni Class Funds Seeks Proposals
for Teaching and Education Enhancement
The MIT Giving Tree
An MIT School of Education . . . and More
UROP Student Participation
By Graduating Class
Campus Research Expenditures
By Major Sponsor
Printable Version

Three Suggestions

Ernst G. Frankel

There Is No More Need For Nuclear Power Plants In The USA

Recent developments and difficulties in sealing the damaged nuclear reactors in Fukushima, Japan and studies of the long-term effects of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster should convince us to revise our nuclear power strategy and shut down the remaining power reactors for good. There is little economic reason for keeping nuclear power reactors such as the small 50-year-old plant in Plymouth, Massachusetts operating. We have plenty of cheap, relatively clean natural gas and other energy sources.

Recent reports on the long-term effects of radioactivity as well as increasingly frequent natural disasters and terrorist attacks make such power plants unnecessary threats to safety, without compensatory economic benefits.

For example, a major leak at the Plymouth nuclear power plant would likely isolate or make Cape Cod inaccessible if not, in part, uninhabitable. We need to take heed of the Fukushima example, where the owner, Tokyo Electric, resisted for years drastic but necessary actions which would have permanently sealed the damaged reactor under hundreds of tons of concrete, in an attempt by the owners to save their investment by continuing to add cooling water, without adequate facilities for its storage after irradiation. The result has been a huge flood of radioactive waste water into the surrounding load and coastal waters.

We should learn from this experience and finally safely shut down these 50-year-old obsolete nuclear power plants – and stop gambling with our safety.

The Problem and Challenges of Population Growth

The world’s population is expected to reach seven billion by 2020 and top off at nine billion by 2050, and then start to decline. With an increasing number of the world’s population above 65 years of age and life expectancy likely to increase to over 70 worldwide, an adjustment in the retirement age will be essential. The retirement age will need to be increased by at least one year every two or three years from now until 2050, and then reviewed again.

This trend is also affected by the consistently rising age at which people start full-time work. In many Western countries it has risen from 19.2 years to over 22 years, as the percentage of college attendees has risen to over 84% in the U.S. and over 50% in most developed countries.

As a result, the percentage of the population in full-time employment is declining and the underage and retired population is rapidly increasing. We urgently need a new paradigm of working life as the current system is unsustainable.

While the length of the working life in most countries is remaining the same or is reducing, as more people spend another four years in higher education, the retirement age has remained nearly constant. As a result, the ratio of working years to retirement years, which for so long had been 4/5, has now declined to 3/4 or by 20-25%. This is barely sustainable as the ratio continues to decline and there will be fewer and fewer workers to support the rapidly growing numbers of retirees, children, and students.

As a result, contributions to Social Security and other entitlement programs are expected to fall into the red requiring changes in relative (contribution to payment) terms, making these programs increasingly unsustainable. We may need a complete change in our social contracts. Apart from changes to the retirement age, we may have to tie social contracts to fiscal as well as demographic and social realities. Unless we develop a plan to achieve this, we will suffer both economic problems and a loss of our social contracts. Educational institutions may have to lead the way so that our politicians have the moral support needed to accomplish this.

Building Codes to Reduce Fire, Storm, and Tornado Damage

The storm disaster in Moore, Oklahoma that caused large loss of life, property damage, and general devastation so soon after the Sandy storm devastation of New Jersey and New York, again shows the lack of effectiveness of U.S. building codes and construction methods.  Most single-family houses are built from lumber, using 2x4 studs and plywood.  Such construction is labor intensive and material is cheap; yet it results in building homes easily damaged by wind, fire, or break-ins.

Surveying the damage after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and more recently Sandy in New Jersey and New York, it was found that buildings made of concrete and even concrete blocks withstood wind and weather much more effectively.  Such buildings are obviously also more fire and burglar resistant.  U.S. building codes and material choices should be reviewed to assure safer and more resilient housing.  While material costs may be a bit higher, insurance and maintenance cost savings will easily make up the difference.

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