Review – The Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy

Power to Save the World Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear EnergyGwyneth Cravens; Knopf 2007WorldCatRead OnlineLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 

Gwyneth Cravens was a writer who knew next to nothing about nuclear power, and like most people who don’t know very much about it, was against it. Then, she decided to learn as much as she could by touring various facilities and talking to lots of scientists, before finally concluding that nuclear is the only option that allows us to keep using electricity without global warming the planet to death.

Like many books about nuclear power, this one is overlong with too much detail. The problem is that the pro-nuclear camp is making an argument that nobody wants to hear, so they make it very comprehensively. It was also written before Fukushima, which renders it alarmingly out of date. If she thought people didn’t understand the risks and benefits of nuclear power before, that perception has only worsened.

That said, much of it is still true, and I would argue Fukushima doesn’t change the basic arguments all that much. The fossil fuel industry creates orders of magnitude more hazardous waste and is less careful about dealing with it. There are permanent disposal places that are more or less perfectly safe. Especially if we reprocess fuel and only store the truly not useful stuff, we will never run out of space because the volume of the waste is so incredibly small.

Another interesting point that I’d have liked to see discussed in light of Fukushima is all of the natural disasters that nuclear plants have survived. Three operating power reactors were hit by Katrina with no problems, according to this book. I’d like to see someone talk about others. And natural disasters will only get worse as the climate gets more unstable, which is precisely the thing relying more on nuclear power, at least as a transitional technology, is intended to prevent.

But in the end, although she was ideally suited to discuss the public misperceptions and what can be done about them, she was still applying the same technique scientists have been for years. Show the public lots of data and they will understand. I was hoping she would have written something a little less technical and a little more emotional.

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