With over half the American public living near a reactor, nuclear power is one of the most urgent issues of contemporary life. If you read one book about nuclear energy, this should be the one. In twenty-one provocative essays, those who have shaped the course of nuclear power substantiate their views and set forth refutations of their opponents' views.
"The first step in resolving the nuclear controversy is to bridge the gap between what the experts know and what the public wants to know." Hence, editors Kaku and Trainer invited leading proponents and opponents of nuclear power to contribute essays on major themes: safety, economics, radiation hazards, waste disposal, alternate energies, etc. The papers are not debates, with statements and rebuttals, but well-edited summations with excellent scene-setting, author-placing introductions. The result - reflecting the artful choices - is lively if unsettling reading. Ralph Nader squelches the idea that consumer groups have impeded nuclear progress and added to energy costs. Hans Bethe eloquently explains and defends fast breeder reactors. Boyd Norton, a physicist who grew up in the nuclear age, provides some fine, personalized background history. Rand computer modelers present simulations of energy needs in the next century. Contending radiation experts insist that any pollution is bad (John German), or sneer at the risk (Bernard Cohen). Whom to believe? Despite the editors' stated neutrality, the pro-nuclear side ultimately has a slight edge. One comes to feel that there's no putting the genie back in the bottle; and that the more we learn, the better equipped we are to make decisions. In the long run, that may mean improving existing plant-and-equipment to conserve energy, as well as adopting "soft" technologies, as environmentalists propose. It may also mean pressing for (less hazardous) fusion technology, while insisting on better quality control and efficiency in running today's reactors. With Ford's sad commentary on past industry and AEC performance (above): a valuable picture of where we stand today and our options for the future. (Kirkus Reviews)