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US hardback
Oct 2007
Power to Save the World
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Knopf
ISBN 0307266567
464 pp
Power to Save the World
by Gwyneth Cravens

Unlike myself, Gwyneth Cravens accepts that carbon dioxide constitutes a threat to the planet that must be addressed; consequently, she ranks the absence of gaseous emissions as one of the main benefits of nuclear power. I hold the case for nuclear to be more than strong enough to stand on its own merits without recourse to such arguments, but I thought I'd list her book for the consideration of those who share her concerns. It is interesting and revealing in its own right also as the account of a conversion experience by one who was among the strongest critics. I'll let her put it in her own words (extracts from the introduction on amazon.com's book page):

"My book is fundamentally about prejudice based on wrong information. I used to oppose nuclear power, even though the Sierra Club supported it. By the mid-1970s the Sierra Club turned against nuclear power too. . . . When I began my research eight years ago, I'd assumed that we had many choices in the way we made electricity. But we don't. Nuclear power is the only large-scale, environmentally-benign, time-tested technology currently available to provide clean electricity.

I was surprised to learn that:

Nuclear power emits no gases because it does not burn anything; it provides 73% of America's clean-air electricity generation, using fuel that is tiny in volume but steadily provides an immense amount of energy. Uranium is more energy-dense than any other fuel. If you got all of your electricity for your lifetime solely from nuclear power, your share of the waste would fit in a single soda can. If you got all your electricity from coal, your share would come to 146 tons: 69 tons of solid waste that would fit into six rail cars and 77 tons of carbon dioxide that would contribute to accelerated global warming. A person living within 50 miles of a nuclear plant receives less radiation from it in a year than you get from eating one banana. Someone working in the U.S. Capitol Building is exposed to more radioactivity than a uranium miner. Spent nuclear fuel is always shielded and isolated from the public. Annual waste from one typical reactor could fit in the bed of a standard pickup. The retired fuel from 50 years of U.S. reactor operation could fit in a single football field; it amounts to 77,000 tons. A large coal-fired plant produces ten times as much solid waste in one day, much of it hazardous to health. We discard 179,000 tons of batteries annually--they contain toxic heavy metals. Nuclear power's carbon dioxide emissions throughout its life-cycle and while producing electricity are about the same as those of wind power. Nuclear plants offer a clean alternative to fossil-fuel plants. In the U.S. 104 nuclear reactors annually prevent emissions of 682 million tons of CO2. Worldwide, over 400 power reactors reduce CO2 emissions by 2 billion metric tons a year."

I can't help wondering, though, if we might see another book by Gwyneth ten years or so further on down the line telling how her penchant for fact-based research eventually led her to conclude that maybe the whole carbon dioxide business had been an equally deceptive scam too.

“Cravens has submitted a thorough, persuasive report from the front lines of the world’s energy and climate crises, illuminating for general readers the pros and cons of a highly misunderstood resource.”
     --Publisher’s Weekly

"In a vividly descriptive, exhaustively researched, and unfailingly lucid narrative, Cravens tracks the life cycle of uranium, tours nuclear facilities, and asks tough questions . . . Cravens' thorough inquiry dispels myths, clarifies science, and portrays an astonishing and ever more crucial hidden world."
     --Booklist
starred review

“There is by now a pretty long list of enviromentalists who used to be anti-nuke and are now in favor of it . . . If a new book called Power to Save the World is half as good as this Wall Street Journal review says it is, expect that list to get much, much longer.”
     --New York Times "Freakonomics" blog by Stephen J. Dubner

“Her presentation of these arguments is lucid and convincing, and her prose is lively and colorful . . . this is a sensible and important contribution to the dialog.”
     --Library Journal

"I have long wondered why, since so many liberals believe that the emission of greenhouse gases is endangering the world, more liberals were not pro-nuclear power. Nuclear power is, after all, the most reliable source of large-scale energy, which produces no carbon dioxide. It has its own issues, of course, but if global warming is going to end the world, then you would expect greens to weigh the costs of nuclear power and to support it. . . . In this book, liberal novelist Gwyneth Cravens finally follows this logic. She is a liberal. She is a greenie. And she came over time to be an ardent pro-nuclear power advocate. This book chronicles her progression from the typical liberal anti-nuclear person to the most rah-rah-pro-nuc person you could imagine. The book relies heavily upon her friendship with Rip Anderson, a scientist with deep knowledge in the nuclear issue."
     --Richard Gibson, amazon.com reviewer

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