a sibilant intake of breath…

From Canada, a bright young blogger named Milan Ilnyckyj (a pronunciation guide is on his site) makes a number of interesting and positive points about my book. His review correctly points out that In Mortal Hands downplays the technical aspects of nuclear energy in the interests of lay readers who might otherwise get discouraged and put the book down. More critically, he says the book “does not provide a sufficiently broad minded basis for reaching a final judgment on nuclear energy.” My aim was to tell the story behind the failure of nuclear energy — why it came to a virtual standstill — rather than to debate the pros and cons, which have pretty much remained the same since nuclear energy was first heavily promoted in the 1950s, a topic well covered in the book and by many others. The idea for the book was conceived in 1999 before the ‘renaissance’, when anyone suggesting a comeback would have been laughed at. The prognosis at the moment does not look particularly encouraging for many of the reasons I discussed in the book. That said, I appreciate Milan’s calling attention both to the topic and the book.

One factual correction concerns his statement that the Americans encouraged North Korean uranium mining. That was the handiwork of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s technical assistance program.

2 Responses to “a sibilant intake of breath…”

  1. Milan  on July 8th, 2009

    My aim was to tell the story behind the failure of nuclear energy — why it came to a virtual standstill — rather than to debate the pros and cons, which have pretty much remained the same since nuclear energy was first heavily promoted in the 1950s

    As David MacKay stresses in his excellent book, it is fine to support and to oppose various energy technologies but, in the end, you need an energy plan where the numbers add up. Peeking at one possible energy plan he proposes for the United Kingdom demonstrates how renewables are far from a painless solution, in terms of both costs and environmental impacts. You may think those costs are less serious than those associated with nuclear fission, but I think it would have been valuable to go into that more extensively. It is worth noting that this example plan actually includes 40 nuclear stations. His ‘Plan L‘ shows what one nuclear-free option might look like.

    Every form of electricity production, from hydro to coal to nuclear, has problems associated with it. Getting through the next century, dealing with climate change, and addressing fossil fuel depletion means finding a set of technologies and behaviours that are both sustainable and acceptable to us as individuals and societies. To really nail shut the coffin for nuclear fission, you need to show that all of this is possible without it.

    George Monbiot’s Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning is one book that attempts to produce a comprehensive and nuclear-free plan of this kind, but it involves what most Americans would consider to be massive sacrifices, such as an end to short-haul flights, and the replacement of all inter-city traffic with buses.

  2. Stephanie Cooke  on July 9th, 2009

    Another must is Amory Lovins, founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute — any of his numerous books, videos, speeches. One of my favorites is his 2005 article in Nuclear Engineering International called Mighty Mice. Lovins argues convincingly the case for micropower and decentralized energy and says that nuclear costs too much and has excessive financial risk. In a 2006 interview, he noted that “In no new nuclear project around the world is there a penny of private capital at risk.”
    Also suggest reading Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free by Arjun Makhijani.


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