A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactCheck Mailbag, Week of Jan. 25-31

This week, readers sent us comments about nuclear energy, "clean" coal and student loan repayment programs for congressional staffers.

In the FactCheck Mailbag, we feature some of the e-mail we receive. Readers can send comments to editor@factcheck.org. Letters may be edited for length.

Nuclear Energy: A ‘Clean’ Option

I’ve been an avid reader of FactCheck for many years now; you do great work and I appreciate you keeping policymakers honest. I’m writing about your article ["FactChecking Obama’s Address," Jan. 26] in particular your section on "clean" energy. I was disappointed that instead of actually assessing nuclear’s clean energy credentials, your staff instead chose to cite the Sierra Club and link to an article about a Yucca Mountain lawsuit.

The problems with this are twofold. Firstly, environmental advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club are attached to an assessment of nuclear technology that is more than 35 years old, which is reflected in the link you provided. Nuclear technology and nuclear policy are much more advanced than they were in the ’70s, which allows current plant operators to boast some of the best capacity factors and worker safety records in the world. Secondly, while used nuclear fuel and other wastes are still a hotly debated political issue, mostly centering around the final method and location of treatment and disposal, the technical issues of dealing with these materials in the interim are on much firmer ground. Every waste product generated by the civilian nuclear industry is fully accounted for, properly contained, and properly managed until policymakers decide on a final stage. To my knowledge, they are the only energy generation technology with such stringent attention to their hazardous materials from cradle to grave. If that isn’t enough to conclude that the nuclear industry as a clean energy source, then nothing ever will be.

Jeffrey Hausaman
Graduate student
Nuclear engineering
Texas A&M University


Not So ‘Clean’ Coal

Thank you for parsing the misleading term “clean" coal as used by the president in his State of the Union address. It’s important for Americans to know that the technology on which this concept relies is not yet operational.

However, I believe your analysis is not complete unless you also note that “clean” coal’s putative cleanliness includes only the burning of that coal, and does not take into account the environmental costs of coal extraction. Coal that is burned in a “clean” way but is mined via mountaintop removal, for example, still extracts a tremendous environmental toll, defiling groundwater and rendering entire areas unlivable for generations to come. I hope you’ll factor the environmental costs of mining into future discussions of the disingenuous (at the very least) concept of “clean" coal. Keep up the great work!

Doug Reichert Powell
Chicago, Ill.


Twisted Student Loan Logic

You totally either intentionally misrepresented this issue ["Congress Not Exempt From Student Loans," Jan. 6] or you truly do not understand the issue.

The point is that members of Congress and, as you point out, the federal government have preferential benefits extended to them at the taxpayers’ expense. The “benefits” are extreme and extraordinary and promote the attitude of elitism within in our democracy. Your points are immaterial and misleading; you say that this allegation is false yet you explain that there is a “program” that allows “no more than $60,000" (for House) and $40,000 (Senate) to be “forgiven.” This type of thinking is convoluted. A case of not seeing the forest for the trees!

I am very disappointed in your handling of this matter. Your response: NOT TRUE!

Here are a few quotes from your article, read them with a clear and objective mind. Shame on you! I especially enjoyed your emotional editorial comment, “It is wrong to say congressional staffers ‘do not pay student loans back.’" Then you go on to explain how there are “programs” that have annual and lifetime caps for non-repayment. … What is wrong here is your inability to think in a logical and objective manner.

Dave Knothe
Orlando, Fla.