Earth Is a Nuclear Planet by Mike Conley & Tim Maloney [5/10]

Penned by two enthusiastic, dedicated technical writers, Earth is a Nuclear Planet: The Environmental Case for Nuclear Power should be a welcome addition to the vital debate about the role of nuclear energy in the decarbonization of the world over the next decades. Both Mike Conley and Tim Maloney have clearly undertaken a massive amount of research, including diving into many numerical analyses, and they write with verve (our current generation of reactors is “big-block V-8s of the nuclear industry”) and, at the paragraph level, quite some clarity. If you are firmly convinced of nuclear’s pivotal importance in our Anthropocene Era, Earth Is a Nuclear Planet is chock-full of interesting factoids and pieces of evidence. If you are, like most of us, hovering in between being a pro-nuclear acolyte and an anti-nuclear partisan, this book is, however, a step in the wrong direction, for it is a mess of feverish, swirling pro-nuclear arguments, analyses, and numerical blotting pages. The authors make no attempt to balance pros and cons: “So please bear with us if we fly off the handle every now and then, or drop the occasional snide remark. It’s a sign of the times.” A large part of their case follows recent scientific moves to place a threshold under which radioactivity does no harm, and by halfway through the book, I had grown tired of hearing yet again, how such a scientific revolution (one that is, as yet at least, a fringe one) means that TMI, Chernobyl, and Fukushima were trivial events that should have been regarded as everyday gloss. Another regular trope of the pro-nuclear discourse—that “nuclear fear” poisons human judgement, that antinukes exploit that, and that additional information (such as this book!) will cure the situation—is rolled out every few pages, ignoring the very obvious (to me at least) understanding that we should be afraid of the power of atomic fission. Although individual strains of argument are often presented with admirable clarity, the overall organization of the book is a dog’s breakfast; I can only imagine how confused a neophyte would be after a read. Overall, Earth Is a Nuclear Planet has its place in the nuclear debate but serves more as propaganda than the reasoned analysis and discussion humanity currently desperately needs.

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