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Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age Hardcover – May 22, 2018
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From the Publisher
A Q&A with author Fred Pearce
Q: Tell us what inspired you to write a book on our nuclear legacy.
Fred Pearce: Nuclear scandals and disasters have been a recurring theme of my life as an environment journalist for several decades. But they seemed to have fallen off the radar. Old news, but definitely not fake news. Then I was commissioned to visit the heart of Britain’s nuclear industry, both military and civil, at a remote spot on the northwest coast of England called Sellafield. I was profoundly shocked at what I found, from the mile-after-mile of coastal mud that qualifies as radioactive waste to the world’s largest stockpile of plutonium, sitting inside a warehouse and wide open to terrorist attack. I set out to explore the world’s hidden legacy of nuclear fallout and debris, and this book is the result.
Q: In your travels around the world, you’ve seen how atomic waste has been disastrously mishandled. What are some environmentally-sound methods of storing it?
FP: We need to find permanent disposal sites. We can’t visit this stuff on future generations by keeping it in store. For the long-lasting stuff—mainly containing plutonium, which has a half-life of thousands of years—we have to bury it safely out of harm’s way for that length of time, while it decays. Deep underground in the safest geology we can find. I hate to say it to the people of Nevada, but Yucca Mountain is about as good as it gets. It’s not perfect, but we can’t wish this stuff away. The danger is that if everyone says “not in my backyard” the end result is this stuff stays in everyone’s backyard. Most states in the US have supposedly interim stores of this highly dangerous stuff, and as of now, we have nowhere to put it.
Q: Why was it important to address the psychological impact of nuclear technology in the book?
FP: Because it is a real impact. A lot of people in the nuclear industry dismiss their critics as suffering from 'radiophobia'—the fears brought on by government secrecy, nuclear fallout, contamination, and long-lasting health risks of radiation. It is true that probably the biggest health impacts of Chernobyl and Fukushima have been the psychological suffering—because of the dislocation of evacuations, the fear of lingering radiation and so on. Many of those fears are excessive in the extreme. But these fears are real effects of the industry, for which the industry must take responsibility. Psychological impacts are as real as radiological impacts. Also, this is far from being all on one side. The psychological ill-effects of nuclear technology extend deep into the industry itself and its supporters. Radiophobia is matched by a kind of rabid enthusiasm for nuclear technology that results in an inability to think through the things that might go wrong and their consequences. Most of the accidents have happened because of this.
Q: What would you like readers to take away from your book about our nuclear legacy?
FP: Treating nuclear weapons as just another weapon for macho posturing is crazy. The bottom line is we have to get rid of these weapons for the safety of the world. We forget that America signed up with most of the world to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1970, under which nuclear powers committed to phasing out their nuclear weapons in return for non-nuclear powers committing not to develop their own weapons. Yet we demand that countries like Iran and North Korea stick to their side of the bargain when we don’t stick to ours.
The trouble is we have kind of gotten used to having nuclear weapons around. That is maybe the most dangerous thing of all. We need to rediscover fear about our own weapons. When researching my book, I traveled through Colorado looking at the weapons silos in fenced off corners of corn fields. It was almost like they were an accepted part of the landscape. That was truly scary.
“In Fallout, Mr. Pearce, a veteran science journalist, travels the world to pin down what he calls ‘the radioactive legacies of the nuclear age.’ He moves between weaponry and energy, cataloguing mistakes, dishonesty and irrational fears. The result is a panorama of atomic grotesquerie that is at once troubling, surprising and ruthlessly entertaining.”
“For any reader who craves a clear-headed examination of the tangled relationship between a powerful technology and human politics, foibles, fears, and arrogance, Fallout is the definitive look at humanity’s nuclear adventure.”
—Midwest Book Review
“This tour de force by Fred Pearce takes the reader on a riveting journey through nuclear installations and radioactive landscapes around the world. A blend of firsthand reporting and historical research, Pearce’s prose reads easily while simultaneously asking the hard questions. The author’s penetrating political eye and sober scientific gaze combine to reveal the many reasons, including toxic legacies of fear and deception, that it’s time to call an end to the nuclear age. Read this book as if the future depended on it.”
—Betsy Hartmann, author of The America Syndrome: Apocalypse, War and Our Call to Greatness
About the Author
- Publisher : Beacon Press (May 22, 2018)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 264 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0807092495
- ISBN-13 : 978-0807092491
- Item Weight : 1.15 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,836,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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You'll find a lot interesting stuff here, from radioactive tourism to natural preserves on the exclusion zones of fallout, to atom bombs and nuclear testing to leaking stockpiles around the world. There's a nicely balanced style of reporting here that shows both the exaggerations of people with radiophobia as well as the gung-ho attitudes of people who think that nuclear is great, despite it's insanely high price and horrific safety record.
This is a light and breezy (ha!) read at 216 pages so you'll polish it off quick, but if you are interested in a brief history of the atomic age this is your book. Highly recommended to history buffs who are interested in the subject but don't want to read something too technical or a scare-mongering or marketing book.
It’s filled with surprising-to-me facts. For example, everyone on the planet received nuclear fallout from the above-ground nuclear tests conducted from 1954-1963--the average human received 0.15 millisieverts (a tiny dose) in 1963 alone. Or, as another example, the best way to dispose of nuclear waste is to reprocess it to extract the plutonium--something that was routinely done when plutonium was used to produce atomic weapons, but that is NOT usually done now that plutonium is used to generate power.
This book is a good choice for anyone who wants to get quickly up to speed on the past, present, and future of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.
This is not to take away anything from this book it is just the subject matter is so broad and so vast that to attempt to cover it in 200 pages is laughable. You get zero details about anything listed above. But he does a good job citing sources to enhance what is barely touched upon it the book.
The first few chapters were both horrific and boring, because they're about early nuclear disasters in the Soviet Union, where little was known about radiation and news was covered up. Terrible things happened but they were far away, a long time ago. The last chapters are about nuclear waste, and equally horrific and boring. Terrible things could happen in the future, perhaps in thousands of years. Experts just don't know.
In the middle were the good chapters. Rocky Flats is just a few miles from my house in Colorado, and I paid attention to the stories about plutonium fires. The fires were described in detail, down to the flammable plastic boxes and gloves used to make the bomb pits. Then the chapter about Windscale in the UK was equally detailed, explaining exactly what can go wrong in a nuclear power plant. Chernobyl and Fukushima were also presented clearly.
The author proved his case that no expert can say exactly how dangerous any particular radiation is. He presents many cases of people and animals living long lives in nuclear zones. He presents other cases of nuclear disasters causing widespread thyroid cancer. We just don't know what is safe.
Top reviews from other countries
Written as a series of journalistic essays, it is scrupulous in its balance and is critical of the wilder claims of damage nuclear energy has caused.
However, lacks depth in that it fails to consider the benefits of nuclear energy, with regard to climate change in particular, or to examine even briefly how the negatives of nuclear energy compare to those of oil, gas, et al.
A useful contribution to a wider debate, but far from comprehensive.