Web edition: May 20, 2011
Print edition: June 4, 2011; Vol.179 #12 (p. 31)
In all I’ve read in the popular press about spent nuclear fuel, including “Natural catastrophe begets nuclear crisis” (SN: 4/9/11, p. 6), all that is written about is on-site storage or burial. Why is reprocessing of the fuel never seriously considered? I understand that the French have done it successfully for years. Are they so much smarter than everyone else?
Paul Baker, Browns Valley, Calif.
Given the political problems in disposing of nuclear waste, the U.S. Department of Energy has proposed reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, which involves separating radioactive elements for reuse in new fuel rods. France, the United Kingdom, Japan, Russia and others do reprocessing for civilian reactors. But it’s expensive and raises terrorism risks. After the incident in Fukushima, it’s unlikely that the United States will move forward on such reprocessing anytime soon. —Alexandra Witze
Cell phone on the brain
I read with interest the study of the effects on the brain of cell phone use (“Cell phones turn up brain activity,” SN: 3/26/11, p. 13). Are more studies planned? What if the phone is active but not receiving messages? Does the technology matter? The work is a good start at getting real information to counter hype and scare tactics, but it’s not sufficient. We also have to find out whether this brain activity is harmful or neutral.
Ted Grinthal, Berkeley Heights, N.J.
A cell phone call appears to boost activity in brain regions near the phone’s antenna. No one knows if this effect is harmful, neutral or even beneficial. Nora Volkow’s team plans further experiments to answer such questions. — Laura Sanders
Right-side (left-hemisphere) dominance for specialized hand function shows up in primates, and the orangutans that appear to be left-handed (“Apes show handedness,” SN: 4/9/11, p. 11) may nonetheless be right-handed. Chimps, bonobos and gorillas move about using all four limbs and tend to use the right hand for handling objects. Orangutan locomotion is primarily with the arms, so these primates may use a dominant right hand for hanging on (crucial in a tree) while handling objects with the left.
Don Burnap, Rapid City, S.D.
William Hopkins’ team suggests that orangutans really do tend toward left-handedness because they often use right arms and hands to maintain balance and stability while moving upright along tree branches, so the left hand gets used for grabbing objects and carrying out fine manipulations. —Bruce Bower