- Paperback: 464 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (October 14, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307385876
- ISBN-13: 978-0307385871
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 92 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #152,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy Reprint Edition
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About the Author
Gwyneth Cravens has written about science and public health for The New York Times, Harper's, and The Washington Post. She was an editor at The New Yorker and at Harper's, and has published three novels: The Black Death, Heart's Desire, and Love and Work. This is her first work of nonfiction.
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During her acceptance speech, she spoke of her childhood in Albuquerque, playing in the arroyos in the desert, quite possibly where my house is now located. She also introduced Dr. Rip Anderson, who initially challenged her to reexamine her anti-nuclear bias, and was her guide around the nuclear world, and a rational “touchstone” by refuting many of the arguments, often ill-founded, that inhibit our development of a resource that is our best option for “saving the world.”
The author commences with an epigram from Richard Rhodes, the author of (The Making of the Atomic Bomb) who in turn quotes Niels Bohr on the relentless goal of science being the “removal of prejudices.” In her text, in passing almost, she also quotes an equally apt passage from George Eliot’s Middlemarch (Penguin Classics): “Everyone liked better to conjecture how the thing was, than simply to know it; for conjecture soon became more confident than knowledge, and had a more liberal allowance for the incompatible.”
In addition to “the brains” of the Manhattan Project being in Los Alamos, NM, and the first atomic bomb being detonated at Trinity site, near Alamogordo, NM, the state was the source of substantial amounts of uranium. The first stop on her “nuclear tour” was Ambrosia Lake, west of Mt. Taylor. With clear and lucid explanations, she ties together the work of Madam Curie, the significance of the U-235 isotope of uranium, and the boom-and-bust cycle of uranium mining, with Navajo Indians playing a prominent role.
With the help of Dr. Anderson, and with a considerable amount of hassles in the “post 9/11 era”, she would manage to tour the Idaho site, where nuclear reactors were deliberately put to extreme tests, and “melted down” on occasion. One of the meaningful comparisons she was able to make was a tour of two Duke Power plants in the Carolinas, one nuclear, the other coal fired. She toured Three Mile Island, the site of the most famous nuclear mishap in the United States, and relieved my brain of some of the useless misconceptions I still carried about it. Vicariously, via Dr. Fred A. Mettler, Chair of the Radiology Department of the Univ. of New Mexico, she would “tour” the worst disaster in the history of nuclear power: Chernobyl. He was a major investigator of this event. She also toured WIPP, the operating nuclear waste depository in southeastern NM, as well as the non-operational money sink hole of Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
Cravens provided numerous “takeaways.” These include the fact that “risk” in the nuclear field is still being measured by the “linear non-threshold hypothesis” (LNT). An apt comparison can be to having one’s hand being burned in 212 degree F. water. Using LNT, if a million people placed their hands in 36 degree F. water, 500 would receive third-degree burns. In essence, small amounts of radiation are still considered dangerous, and are not related to the amount of radiation people receive naturally. For example, as Cravens points out, people will double the amount of background radiation by simply moving from Long Island, in New York to Albuquerque, because those living at higher altitudes receive more background radiation. She also relates a meeting of the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, in which the assessment was: isn’t the massive amount of safety redundancies in the nuclear field a waste of money compared to anything else we do, for example, the operation of coal-fired plants that spew far greater amounts of toxins into the environment?
To some degree Cravens addresses the problem, but I feel it needs a much more thorough review, because it remains the “essential problem.” For example, she cites how additional radiation was detected by Duke Power, on workers coming from a site in Ohio, which, admittedly had a reputation as being poorly run. The response from the Ohio site: denial and defensiveness. Radiation IS an issue of which the public is poorly informed, and the images of Hiroshima and Chernobyl dominate. She speaks of tough regulators overseeing, and the honest and integrity of the workers in the nuclear field, of which, I am sure there are some, but what also dominates the public perceptions are the continued lies and inactions and cover-ups in widely disparate governmental (and yes, corporate!) areas from FEMA and Katrina, to the SEC and Bernie Madoff, through the Veterans Administration and HHS implementation of the ACA, Worldcom, Enron, and the latest outbreak of killing substances in the food industry, et al. And what can be done about putting the public’s mind at ease about that?
Overall though, despite some justified reservations, Cravens did convince me that a vigorous program to adopt nuclear power in the United States, as France has long done, is not merely an option that is 20% better, but rather an entire magnitude better. 5-stars for an essential read.
From her childhood in the outskirts of Albuquerque, to her life as an anti-nuclear campaigner, to her education at the hands of some of the world’s top scientists, we follow Ms. Craven’s personal journey and share in the details of her transformation and education. She has an amazing ability to translate arcane, technical concepts into beautiful prose that lays bare the magic and mystery.
I listened to the Audible version of the book and the narration by Christine Williams was simply sublime. I highly recommend this important book and in particular, recommend the audio version for it’s beautiful narration.
I was thankfully raised in a well educated "science oriented" family and therefore I have a strong tendency to look at the facts. The facts pointed out just how fuzzy my ( so called ) information concerning nuclear energy was. Think Three mile island and Chernobyl.
Just look at the worlds burning of fossil fuels and the resulting devastation, e.g. climate change, health impairment, overall planted destruction;
I would have to agree that going nuclear is a reality that needs to be implemented ASAP. ( Please note that after reading this book with the author's extensive references, I conducted my own independent research and found the information accurate ).