In the decade or so that I worked in nuclear power, I never found a comprehensive apologetic for nuclear power that was published in the marketplace. All of the arguments were available piecemeal or in a more unified manner from people inside the nuclear power guild, but none from someone who didn’t have a clearly vested interest in keeping nuclear plants running.
Michael H. Fox is an emeritus professor in the Department of Environmental and Radiological and Health Sciences at Colorado State University. Here is an individual who is outside of the commercial and nuclear power world who has access to the best science about the most concerning aspects of the risk of nuclear––radiation and cancer.
Fox’s conclusion is that compared to imminent risk of climate changes, the risks of nuclear power are worth it. He spends nearly three hundred pages making his case by considering the basic arguments for and against nuclear power, as well as the case for and against other forms of non-fossil energy.
The beauty of this volume is that it is written at a level that can serve as an introduction, but it also ramps quickly into the explanations for the more technologically adept. With the clear structure of each chapter, I was able to skim past those explanations that I am familiar with based on my experience as an operator and instructor. By the end of each chapter, however, the progressive development of each explanation had me reading carefully to follow his explanations. Even regarding the topics that I am less familiar with––such as the mechanism of cancer development in cells––Fox’s explanations were sufficient for me to understand the more complex aspects based on his earlier explanations.
This volume is, therefore, both a suitable introduction and a valuable reference on the topic of nuclear power.
The book is divided into three nearly equal parts. The first part deals with Fox’s explanation of the global warming and the contribution of Carbon Dioxide from coal and natural gas. He also explains the limitations of solar power and wind power. Fox is positive toward the benefits of renewable sources of energy. However, unlike many of the rabid proponents, he is realistic about the limitations in terms of capacity and footprint required, and he recognizes the ongoing need for baseline energy generation that fossil or nuclear will provide. Thus the future is in nuclear power, if real changes are to be made to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
The second part is a discussion of radiation and its biological effects. This is the section that plays to Fox’s strength, as he explains some basic physics, then digs quickly in to a realistic analysis of the dangers of radiation. He doesn’t hide the real risk, but he also doesn’t overplay it. The reality, as Fox explains, is that any radiation exposure increases the risk of cancer, but the amount of additional exposure due to nuclear power is negligible compared with naturally occurring background.
This is the most significant argument against nuclear power and Fox handles it well. However, the scientifically ignorant will continue to persist in their argument that any risk is unacceptable. For some reason this argument is powerful against nuclear power when it isn’t for other concerns. The miniscule risk increase of cancer from living near a nuclear plant, even using the conservative (i.e., inflated) estimates required by law, pales in comparison to having a speed limit over 15 MPH.
The third part focuses on the risks of nuclear power. Fox deals with concerns about nuclear waste, which have been overblown by opponents. He deals with the real and tragic history of the three significant accidents in the history of nuclear power. He is fair about the consequences, but also notes the real learning that has taken place and points toward the attempts by anti-nuclear groups to grossly misrepresent the consequences. Then he deals with the issue of Uranium mining, also dealing with the failings in early nuclear power to deal appropriately with the risks of pollution. That damage was avoidable and is being avoided in properly conducted mining enterprises now. Finally, Fox concludes with a chapter debunking in summary the five most significant myths used to argue against nuclear power. He does this by accepting the truth in the claims and then showing why the arguments aren’t realistic or persuasive.
Fox writes well and he is honest in his assessment of risks. In other words, he presents the reality of risks on all sides, without overstating his case. I would have thoroughly enjoyed this book simply because of the robust integrity Fox demonstrates, without having to agree with him. As it turns out, I agreed with the substance of Fox’s arguments, as well. He is realistic and helpful in how he argues. He is looking for solutions to problems instead of trying to manipulate emotions and control people’s lives through excessive regulation. There are points that I disagree with Fox, typically on the political implications of his arguments, but overall the case is well made and reasonable.
If the modus operandi of environmentalists is followed, where only people that have PhD’s in climatology have a right to speak about climate change, then Fox’s book will have amazing convincing power. Notably, the majority of anti-nuclear advocates speak from outside of the pool of people that have expertise in the area. Unfortunately, well-reasoned arguments like that of Fox are much less likely to gain headlines than “Fukushima is leaking, we’re all going to die and the government doesn’t care.” Indeed, that is largely the nature of a recent book which includes the Union of Concerned Scientists among its authors.
If you have questions about nuclear power, buy this book and read it. If you are a proponent of nuclear power, buy this book and cite it in your arguments. This is, hands down, the best one stop reference on the subject I have encountered.
Note: A gratis copy of this book was provided by the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.