Issue 38 | Correspondence | The Sun Magazine


I much appreciate your interest in my evaluation of nuclear reactor hazards. [THE SUN, February 1978, Issue 35] May I revise an opinion of mine concerning the argument, mentioned by Karl Grossman, that “one teaspoon of plutonium . . . can give 150 million people a fatal dose of lung cancer.” I indicated that this way of assessing the hazard of nuclear reactors is not valid, for I said that you cannot just assume that 150 million people will receive the plutonium in their lungs but rather one must show how plutonium released from an accident will get into the lungs of people. After more consideration, I have changed my mind. It is said that one human being inhales the equivalent of about 50 teaspoons of soil dust (fully compacted) in a lifetime, with no significant ill effects. The same with water vapor; no ill effects when inhaling it. Since I believe that human beings can live happily on Earth by means of only the soil, water, and air, with the aid of the sun, I feel we do not need to create for this Earth a permanent toxin, especially one as powerful as plutonium, when a teaspoon of it can kill 150 million people. My apology to Dr. John Gofman, who first drew attention to the poisonous power of plutonium using the teaspoon measure. The point is certainly a sufficient concern to reject nuclear energy, including nuclear weaponry.

To correct two errors in the article, I meant to say that in the Fermi reactor meltdown accident, the operator finally shut down the reactor after the reactivity began to rise (not radioactivity). Also the temperature in a fuel meltdown accident is 5000 degrees Fahrenheit (not 500 degrees) — about one half of the Sun’s temperature, which shows up the potential for vaporizing the radioactive materials inside of a reactor in an accident.

Richard E. Webb Toledo, Ohio

There’s so much injustice in the world, so much waste, want and destruction, that I’m ashamed to feel such rage about “my own backyard.” But let other struggles be wisely tempered, sustained. At this point I must go ahead and scream like crazy: Water, water!

People laugh when I call it a lake, so okay, it’s a big pond, several football fields across. It’s pretty, despite the houses across the way. Surrounded by grassy slopes. Ice-smooth, green, clear enough to see your hand below the surface, even the bottom half of your two-piece. The water temperature is cooler than the air by day, warmer at night. The full moon visits, glides from shore to shore. Frogs sit around the lake at night and discuss their lives.

Everyone needs a lake. Or something. I need the lake around me, soft silkiness swaying, body buoyancy, arms and legs spreading and merging and the inner timber falling, crashing into the water softly. I float in it, stretching, and the water kneads me out to the surrounding shores until I am a thin surface, reflecting. Only then does anger cease. Away with pent-up pettiness, vanity. I am assuaged.

Any fool could have guessed that this tiny sea would not last; man-made, fed by bodies and soils and houses and passing cars. An underground spring has been keeping it cool and clean. The banks have been dotted with fishermen at the beginnings and endings of warm days. Occasionally they whoop with success, a big bass. Though I lived ten miles away last summer, I visited the lake nearly every day; this winter I moved into a house that faces it. I saw ice edge it in February, trees laden with snow fall into it in March. Night lights on it, the stars. It looked so good — would summer never come?

I escaped the last weeks of freezing weather by going to Florida — sun on the ocean, the colorful water! But the swimming was no finer. My lake, I remembered from last summer, had no barracuda; I recalled the carefree floating, being able to swim in a straight line until I was exhausted. The warmth, the stimulation. I was content to come back to it.

But when I turned into the driveway at the end of the return trip, I was shocked. Development had begun in earnest. The once hilly pasture behind my house was flat and dusty. Bulldozers had removed our garden site and the cedars, and to the left of the house they had shoved earth to the edge of the lake; great clods of clay and dirt covered the place where the lake was fed.


For a while the lake was cloudy. That was April, still too cool to swim anyway. As the weather warmed, the lake off and on again was disturbed by silt, but generally seemed much as before, despite the concrete foundations the duplexes. Trucks roaring, dust mushrooming. Neighbors. Well, okay, I chose to live this close to town. It’s bound to happen. We can share this water.

Then the fish died, floated, edged the lake. Old signs once set by this large development company to keep trespassers away were vehemently replanted close to the water: “No fishing, hunting, swimming,” etc. They just don’t want a lot of people out here, I thought. Then, the other night I heard rumors — not safe, don’t go in the water. No! I chose to ignore them, to swim until they proved to me. . . . what, me worry. . . . think about it tomorrow. . . . this just can’t be.

I woke up early this morning. A hot day. I read for a while, then decided to take a shower before going to work. I was distracted by the shining lake outside the glass door. In the bathroom, my bathing suit on the towel rack, the damp Danskin against my body, out the door, down the lawn. It felt good. I stretched, splashed, kicked. Turned belly up to the morning sky and watched my knees rise out of the water, feet fluttering, water curling delicately into the air. The sound of it.

Then, on my stomach, gliding, arms sweeping the water like wings through the air. I had too much energy to take to the office, so I decided to swim all the way across. Against the opposite bank was the black roundness of an inner tube. Good, I thought. A salvage job. I swam toward it. The backside of a sign up on the bank. I dove, finned, sped forward, broke into the air and breathed deeply, then knifed back under. The green light, no fish. Well, had I ever seen fish while swimming? No, but I’d felt them before, nipping gently. Nibbling.

The big white sign. I climbed up onto the grass and stood before it. “No fishing, hunting, swimming . . .”

The inner tube floated in the tepid water of an indentation in the bank. Slimed with green. No one around. I pushed it back into the deeper water, past three small dead fish. There was scum on top of the water, and I wasn’t imagining the smell. I sat atop the tube and paddled as if I was in a row boat, arms and cupped hands dipping in and out. The sun dried my face and knees. A hot day.

The water didn’t encourage me to stay in this morning, needless to say, and I showered immediately after getting out. The lake is sick; maybe it will get better again. I don’t know. For two years, though, it’s been a friend, and for that I’m grateful.

Jennifer Miller Chapel Hill

We don’t usually print letters that tell us we’re doing a good job, though it’s wonderful to receive them. Once in a while, though, something comes in that makes us feel so good we want to share it. So, we pass along these kind words by Ed McGrath in The Cooptimist, the newsletter of the Roanoke Cooperative Association in Roanoke, Virginia.


What I wanted to do this month was sell you a magazine. Maybe you’ve been waiting in the check-out line and after finishing half of the bag of cashews in front of you, you casually glance at the magazine rack. Over in the corner you see this gleam, this quiet glow which turns out to be THE SUN. THE SUN is an absorbing, entertaining monthly put together in Chapel Hill, and sold at the Coop for the last five months.

I’ve fallen for this publication. In spite of the Chapel Hill focus (which is understandable though somewhat impractical for a reader in Roanoke) there’s a great deal of what you might call substance between the covers.

I’m selfishly motivated, though. You might want to keep that in mind. THE SUN is in financial trouble; I’ve enjoyed it very much so I’m trying to get you interested in order that you might subscribe. Since advertising is limited by reason of its community focus the folks need subscription cash to keep their work alive. With a new deal now worked out for national distribution, they find that they might not have enough money to put out another issue. So maybe you could check it out the next time you’re in the store.

There are real people behind THE SUN; I can feel them behind the pages, and can feel the editor’s late-night eye strain as I finish the editorials. Especially enjoyable are the efforts in the direction of what Rolling Stone magazine has chosen to call “Participatory Journalism.” The readers contribute freely and I’ve met these people, too. This makes for few restrictions, however, and some might find some material objectionable. Be forewarned. Good poetry also but some people find that objectionable too.

Ed McGrath Roanoke, Virginia

In Issue 35 (February 1978) Jennifer Miller asked whether other readers have had “full moon experiences.” This is one letter she received.

— Ed.

Dear Jennifer,

I read your letter in THE SUN, and felt I must write to you, having had very similar experiences. I’ve always been quite a moody person, but noticed there were certain days (usually ‘noticeable’ in the evenings) when I felt very elated, almost high, for absolutely no reason. It was on one of these occasions that I was staying with my mother in Portugal, where she lives. We were having supper outside on the porch, and I was very giggly, and danced around the palm tree in the middle of the garden! My mother laughed, and said, “You really are a moon-child, aren’t you?” She had noticed there was a full-moon. It was several years later that she studied astrology and eventually became an astrologer. We have ‘watched’ for my ‘elated’ signs, and they are inevitably when there is a full moon. My mother says it is not at all surprising as I am a Cancer, and the moon is ‘my planet’; it governs the sign of Cancer. I have two other planets in Cancer as well. Have you had your chart done? Do you have a number of planets in Cancer? However, apparently, the same ‘moon-influence’ (and ones that vary in expression) can affect people born under other signs. We had a friend, a Leo, who became incredibly aggressive when there was a full-moon, or near a full-moon.

When one sees the affect — the ‘pull’ of the moon on the sea (tides), it is hardly surprising that it should affect humans.

I hope the above helps. Thought you might be interested in our publication, despite the fact you say you’re not “receptive to ‘those’ things”! So am sending a sample copy.

All the best,

Vivienne Verdon-Roe SPIRALS
P.O. Box 29472
San Francisco, California 94129
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