Atomic Awakening


I come down on the side of non-nuclear, but I’m not above changing my opinion and an article around the time of the Fukishima disaster, an obvious low point for nuclear power, made me wonder if there were other types of reactor that could be the answer.

With a subtitle of ‘A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power’ I was hoping this would look at the options going forward. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

The book starts with the history. It’s a whistle-stop tour, even if it doesn’t feel that way, because it goes through all of the discoveries and inventions that were necessary to allow nuclear power to be developed, from Marie Curie to Einstein to the Manhattan Project.

I assumed it would go on to discuss the future, but it didn’t. Instead, after dedicating probably 80% to general history and a bit more to the author’s personal history, there’s a the briefest mention of how the industry has picked up. As it was written before Fukishima, it doesn’t include the subsequent downturn.

To add insult to injury, it changes from being objective about the risks to a PR exercise, practically telling the reader that fears of nuclear radiation are completely overplayed and that hard lobbying by the environmental movement was the only reason we stopped building new plants.

It doesn’t work so well when you’ve been led through a history that includes tests, near-misses and frankly ludicrous examples of people playing with power beyond their understanding and control (several scientists gave themselves lethal doses by accidentally dropping things).

It’s read by John McLain. My only criticism is that he sounds more like a fifties All-American hero than someone able to deliver lessons in nuclear physics. It took a bit of getting used to, but was fine.

So, if you want a pro-nuclear book looking at the history and development of nuclear weapons and power, this is for you, if you want a balanced argument about nuclear power and how it could be used in the future, don’t bother.

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This was an copy of the book

Reviewed: 5th April 2015