Monday, October 1, 2007

Gwyneth Cravens's Hail to Nukes!

Global warming has given nuclear power new appeal. But is the cost too great?

The Truth About Nuclear Energy
By Gwyneth Cravens
Alfred A. Knopf, 464 pp., $27.95

Review by Bill McKibben


... at a party some years later in her native New Mexico, she bumped into Rip Anderson, a scientist at Sandia National Laboratories, with "curly, receding gray hair, a full mustache, blue eyes," a wiry build, a flannel shirt, and an "international reputation in the fields of probabilistic risk assessment, environmental health, and nuclear safety." His manner of speaking, "courteous and laconic, with the occa-sional archaic word thrown in, reminded me of the Old West." Their conversation sparked this book, Power to Save the World , which the author calls "an unexpected journey through the nuclear world with Rip as my Virgil." Cravens, as Dante, begins each section with a fluttering set of questions: Isn't radiation dangerous? Can't the terrorists turn these things into bombs? What will we do with the waste? And the unflappable Anderson takes her on a suitable field trip -- to a reactor control room or a mine or a waste stor-age site. In each case she sees that things are not as she has feared, and Anderson seals the deal with some anecdotes about radiation as a small sprinkling of salt on a plate of hash browns or why the physics of "ground effect" would make it extremely difficult to crash a speeding jet into a relatively squat reactor.

This strategy works well to convey copious amounts of fairly dry information about the risks of a nuclear accident. The only problem is that Anderson is the truest of true believers -- he ends the book with a little sermon about how God sent "the brainiest guys in human history" to crack the atom "and enough uranium and thorium to last for thousands of years." And while Cravens is diligent in following him through the vast nuclear archipelago, she's less diligent in tracking down the opponents of nuclear power to hear their metaphors and statistics. She quotes a couple of former opponents, there's one throwaway sentence apiece from Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, and she scolds Barbra Streisand and "former supermodel" Christie Brinkley for being environmental hypocrites. But other than that, she mostly just lets it Rip.

To read the whole review, click here!

(via indianpointsec list serv)

No comments: