NS Book Review: Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Power Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America’s Energy Odyssey

Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Power Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America’s Energy Odyssey

 A Nuclear Street Book Review By Randy Brich

An engaging, engrossing, enlightening and entertaining journey down energy lane -- Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Power Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America’s Energy Odyssey by William Tucker – investigates the current and future contributions of various energy sources to America’s energy supply.  Assertive, revealing, rational and rhetoric-free Terrestrial Energy separates energy hype from energy reality as it discriminates between sun and earth based energy sources. 

Using physics and facts, Tucker dispels the myth of contemporary manmade global warming.  Acknowledging that common sense dictates a potential for future climate change if fossil fuel usage increases beyond some unknown threshold, Tucker leads the reader to embrace nuclear power as the perfect solution to America’s future energy needs.   

Through the continuous process of radioactive decay, the two heaviest natural elements, uranium and thorium provide 60 to 90 percent of the heat present inside the earth eventually reaching temperatures of 7,000 degrees C -- hotter than the surface of the sun. 

Tucker wryly observes:

A nuclear reactor is nothing more than terrestrial energy brought to the surface, just as a coal plant is stored solar energy brought to the surface. There is nothing sinister or diabolical about it. We are not defying the laws of nature.  Rather, we are working with a process that already takes place in nature.

Tucker convincingly argues that everything else (i.e., coal, natural gas, wind, hydro, biofuel, tides and solar) is sun based.  Sun based sources of energy are very energy diffuse, necessitating a large footprint.  In comparison, terrestrial energy is 2 million times more dense than sun based sources and creates an incredibly small footprint.  For example, a coal fired power plant gobbles up a train load of coal every day, whereas an equivalently sized nuclear power plant only needs a single truck load of fuel delivered every year and a half.

Making the case for nuclear energy, Tucker relies on the international experience -- primarily France, which receives over 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear power and reprocesses spent fuel -- to bolster his argument for enhanced nuclear power production in America.

Presciently, Tucker concludes:

The real battle of whether the greatest scientific discovery of the Twentieth Century can be used to resolve the problems of the Twenty-first Century will be fought in the court of pubic opinion.  Will the public reflexively cringe thinking that a nuclear power plant is a bomb waiting to go off?  Will it accept the scenario that one terrorist with a carving knife can set off a nuclear holocaust?  Will it believe that every picocurie of radiation found in the vicinity of a nuclear reactor is the harbinger of a cancer epidemic?  Will it recognize that because of its incredible energy density, the environmental footprint of terrestrial energy is infinitely smaller than the oceans of waste products produced by fossil fuels or the vast amounts of land that must be employed to gather solar energy?

Tucker’s clarity suffers occasionally when word processing errors incongruously appear. However, when his technical editor allows mistakes involving decimal places to slip by (i.e., converting from millirems to millisieverts) and incorrectly stating the cancer risk coefficient for millirems (i.e., 1 in 10 million; not 1 in 10,000) the discerning reader is left wanting.

Finally, if I had anything to add it would be a general discussion on the relationship between energy independence and national security.  Regardless, Terrestrial Energy provides an extremely valuable lesson in a lively format that should become the centerpiece of discussion among people of all persuasions -- solar or terrestrial based.

William Tucker
430pp. Bartleby Press. $27.50.
978 0 910155 76 2


Email Randy Brich>> randy@nuclearstreet.com

About Randy Brich
Randy graduated from South Dakota State University in 1978 with a M.S. in Biology.  After developing the State of South Dakota’s environmental radiological monitoring program, he became a Health Physicist with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, eventually transferring to the Department of Energy where he specialized in environmental monitoring, worker protection, waste cleanup and systems biology.  Later in his career he published a multi-sport adventure guide book and became a regular contributor to The Entertainer Newspaper’s Great Outdoor section. 

Since then he has retired from the federal government and, after taking time out to build an energy efficient house near the Missouri River, has formed Diamond B Communications LLC.  Diamond B Communications LLC uses a multimedia approach to explain complex energy resource issues to technical and non-technical audiences.  He also guides for Dakota Bike Tours, the Relaxed Adventure Company, offering tours of the Badlands National Park, the Black Hills and Devils Tower National Monument.

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