Offering compelling arguments for nuclear power, expert Pat Falciano asserts that it's a viable way to meet the country's increasing demand for electricity. Although he concedes that there is a negative impact to the environment, Falciano believes it's much less than the carbon footprint emitted by coal and oil-fueled sources.

A professional in the nuclear industry for nearly 40 years, Falciano is presently employed at the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant in Buchanan, N.Y. He recently offered to members of the Westport Y's Men an insider's view of a nuclear power plant facility's operations.

"We have to change the way we're doing things and, in my opinion, nuclear power is a major part of the solution," Falciano said.

During his introductory comments Thursday morning, Falciano noted that the United States needs to continue to develop `green' and alternative energy sources.

"Until we find a better method, we need to work with what we have," Falciano said. At the present time, wind and nuclear energy have the least damaging effects on the environment.

Using simple language, Falciano described the three major systems used to produce nuclear energy and emphasized that they would each have to break down simultaneously in order for radioactivity to be released.

"These machines produce a tremendous amount of energy but because of the processes, we have a lot of control," he noted.

In both his presentation and a question-and-answer period with the Y's Men, Falciano described the extensive safety and security measures taken by the nuclear plant.

Saying that many people are concerned about the building's vulnerability, Falciano noted that its structures were all "robust."

"The different between a nuclear power plant and a conventional fossil plant is the process we use to make the steam," Falciano said. "In fact, if all of the equipment inside were functioning properly, nothing would happen if you took away the outer building."

The Indian Point Power Plant is not only safe but it's also secure, he added. Y's Men member Arthur Ashman wondered about the likelihood of terrorist attacks made upon American nuclear power plants.

"There has never been a terrorist attack on any nuclear facility worldwide, and it would be almost impossible for them to release radioactivity," said Falciano. "It would have to go on for days, which is highly unlikely."

Responding to a concerned about a disaster occurring at a nuclear facility, Falciano repeatedly noted that many of the situations depicted in motion picture films or on television could not realistically occur in a modern nuclear power plants.

Throughout his tenure in the nuclear energy field, Falciano has encouraged people to visit nuclear power facilities to see for themselves how they operate. "No one really understands how a nuclear facility works," he noted. "There are many ways that radioactivity could be used and many are beneficial rather than destructive."

Another controversial issue surrounding nuclear energy is the high level radioactive waste generated.

"People assume that nuclear power plants produce a great amount of radioactive waste and they don't know what to do with it," Falciano said. "Not true. We know exactly what to do with it."

Unfortunately, for the past 12 years, the federal government has the options through legislation banning the commercial transportation of high level radioactive waste.

Falciano explained that the waste is initially stored in a pool which is 40 feet deep. Appearing exactly the same externally as it did before undergoing the nuclear fission process, the waste is now highly radioactive and dangerous. After five years or so, when it has sufficiently cooled off, it is put into a sealed container, welded shut and stored outside on a cement pad.

These are meant to be temporary storage sites, said Falciano. Through a reprocessing program, where the used fuel was made into new materials at low cost, the amount of high-level radioactive waste was reduced. However, reprocessing was halted when Pres. Jimmy Carter's administration enacted the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1983. This legislation mandated the use of a geologic repository, such as the proposed site at Yucca Mountain, Nev., to use for permanent disposal.

Plans have not been finalized because all necessary approvals for construction have been repeatedly delayed. "As a result, all nuclear power plants have been forced to store their own nuclear waste," Falciano said.

Falciano revealed that France produces 160 percent of its electricity using nuclear power -- which is more than enough to meet its own country's needs and to sell to other countries. "Their plants are exactly the same as ours and they use reprocessing. I think the world has a lot to learn from France," he said.

When asked about the continuous availability of uranium, Falciano answered that the United States presently has access to a supply that should last 500 years. He said that 40 percent of uranium comes from Australia and 25 percent from Canada. "I don't advocate that nuclear power is the `be all and end all,' and I'm hopeful that before 500 years is up, we'll have come up with another alternative," he said.