Spencer Reiss, who often writes about energy for Wired Magazine, published a review of Gwyneth Cravens’s Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy in the November 20, 2007 edition of the Wall Street Journal. The value of this review has already been demonstrated to me – I have received several emails mentioning the review from friends and acquaintances who know of my atomic interests but who do not normally read Atomic Insights.
Here is a sample quote:
In fact, it’s hard not to read Ms. Cravens’s book as a 400-page indictment of the nuclear power industry’s tragic-comic inability to tell its own story. Going all the way back to Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986) — disasters that look a lot less disastrous in retrospect, as Ms. Cravens discovers — the industry has swapped missionary zeal for a hair shirt and a defensive crouch. Assaults by the Sierra Club — which, ironically, once upon a time campaigned for “Atoms Not Dams” — and Greenpeace (one of whose founders, Patrick Moore, is another high-profile nuclear heretic) are only part of the problem. Worse is being the stepchild of a utility establishment happily shacked up with wretched old King Coal — now putting 400 million more tons of coal a year up in smoke, Ms. Cravens ruefully notes, than when she innocently planted her first organic garden in the early 1980s.
I think Reiss has hit the nail on the head; nuclear power is an answer to many of the world’s most pressing problems. With a vibrant and growing nuclear power sector, we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, produce more clean water, spread electrical power to places that have none now, and reduce the importance of oil, coal and gas in the world’s economy. One reason that we do not have the required vibrant industry is that the existing players on the field are tired and defensive from many long years of battle when the leaders were pleased if they simply survived. Of course, those years were defined by relatively low cost fossil fuels with less competition for resources.
Here is another perceptive quote from Reiss that leads me to think that reading “Power to Save the World” may be even more important for nuclear industry leaders than for members of the general population.
Of course, nuclear power’s funnest fact is: zero carbon. But don’t hold your breath waiting for your coal-wed local utility to boast about it. “Clean & Green” is as far as most of them will go. And so, while right-thinking Americans fantasize about a solar-powered Seattle and a corn-fed Prius, smart countries from China and India to Finland are powering ahead with spectacular new 21st-century nuclear reactors.
Toward the close of “Power to Save the World,” Mr. Anderson lets Ms. Cravens in on a wry engineering (and science-fiction) term for magical fixes: unobtanium. In today’s energy discourse, unobtanium includes hydrogen, biomass, cellulosic ethanol, negawatts, Jimmy Carter’s cardigans and any other dream technology that someone can come up with to avoid focusing on the epic problem of keeping an ever-brighter planet’s lights burning.
Another cute bit of knowing jargon pops up in Richard Rhodes’s introduction to “Power to Save the World.” It neatly encapsulates 98% of public discourse about nuclear power: “secondhand ignorance.” Ms. Craven’s firsthand portrait of the devil we know won’t fix that by itself, but it is — appropriately — illuminating.
What I hope is that the book gives industry leaders the courage to begin telling its good news story aggressively. Of course, I know that process is starting, but it is still too timid for my tastes.
A couple of days ago, I posted a comment about how the Wall Street Journal published a special section focused on energy that included 20 pages without a single mention of the word “nuclear”. I went back and reviewed that section one more time. As you might expect from a special section focused on a single topic, there were a lot of advertisements in those 20 pages. Not one of them mentioned the word “nuclear” either.
The industry cannot expect the media to tell its story if it does not try telling that story in language that media companies understand – advertising.
As much as I like Gwyneth and her book, we cannot depend on finding many more people like her to tell the world what nuclear power can do. It might not surprise you to learn that few people will take 8-10 years out of their life to learn the material in the depth that she did. The good thing is that this is America, a place where commercials help us choose our beer, our cars, our toothpaste and our energy sources.