- A Nuclear Street Book Review by Randy Brich

This review is of a free book. It was written by a retired nuclear engineer who happened to be the graduate school advisor of a friend of mine - who is also a retired nuclear engineer.  Since the book is free there is no good reason for anyone interested in the subject of nuclear power not to download it and at least scan it, maybe read it and forward the link to friends. 

NUCLEAR POWER:  VILLAIN OR VICTIM? is provocatively, subtitled, OUR MOST MISUNDERSTOOD SOURCE OF ELECTRICITY. It sufficiently summarizes nuclear power from the perspective of a qualified expert, providing the reader with a basic overview of nuclear power, and touching on all the controversial subjects along the way.  According to the back cover, author Max Carbon is “ Professor Emeritus of Nuclear Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he chaired the Nuclear Engineering and Engineering Physics department and its predecessor Program from 1958 to 1992.” 

The book’s twelve chapters (Why Is Nuclear Power Important?, What Is Nuclear Energy?, What Is a Nuclear Reactor?, What Is a Nuclear Power Plant?, Radiation and Health Effects, Nuclear Power Plant Safety, High-Level Wastes, Diversion of Nuclear Materials, Advanced Reactors, Nuclear Power Costs, The Promises of Nuclear Power, What Can We Do?) are thoughtfully laid out and convey the basics of nuclear power including its challenges and potential. 

Using common sense based on evidence, Dr. Carbon dispels many of the myths commonly associated with nuclear power.  Myths surrounding health hazards of ionizing radiation, reprocessing, high-level waste disposal, proliferation and several others are patiently explained and logically refuted.  This alone is ample reason to download and read this book.

In making the case for nuclear power, however, I think the book relies too heavily on the argument of Global Warming as a primary reason for nuclear power.  Although nuclear power electrical generation does not emit any CO^2, there are plenty of other valid reasons to support nuclear energy besides the fear of AGW.  The need for new nuclear power reactors include: base load generation, efficiency, safety, reliability, no emissions, affordability, adequate domestic fuel resources and the incredibly small footprint of the entire fuel cycle.  If the U.S. is serious about energy independence, new reactors are essential to achieving this goal.

Should the electric car become America’s personal vehicle of choice in the future then an enormous base load generating system will be necessary to recharge the batteries of all of those e cars.  Estimates show that to replace the fleet of cars in America today with e cars would require the equivalent of 100 new nuclear power plants. If international tensions escalate over oil and America continues to shun oil shale due to its perceived negative environmental consequences, then a backup plan - to the current one that emphasizes renewables - is needed.  Dr. Carbon outlines such a plan. 

Although the book contains a suggested reading list for most of the chapters, controversial claims demand ironclad proof and footnotes would greatly add to the book’s credibility.

Regarding the health effects of ionizing radiation, Dr. Carbon states (p. 30):
“A second group supporting reduced predictions of cancer-death risk is the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. It issued a report in 1994 that officially declared its belief that low levels of radiation exposure are not only not harmful but actually beneficial.”

Based on my recollection of the 1994 UNSCEAR report no such belief was stated.  However, in 2005 the French Academy of Science, equivalent to the U.S. National Academy of Science found, after reviewing new data regarding low dose research, that the risk of cancer from low dose radiation was less than that predicted by the linear theory.  In other words, repair mechanisms appear to function at the cellular level in response to low dose radiation.  However, the U.S. NAS continues to find that the risk of cancer at low doses is linear.  Regardless, the risk from low doses is tiny and regulated public exposures are small fractions of natural background levels - constituting miniscule risk even when the linear theory is assumed valid.

Could the book have benefited from a technical editor? Certainly.  Would a description of social research findings regarding the public’s perception of risks improve the book? Undoubtedly.  Could the book have profited by a discussion of the research of the Department of Energy’s Low Dose Radiation Research Program? Definitely. 

Since the 2nd Edition was published over 3 years ago, significant changes have occurred in cost estimates for new construction, modular reactors have entered the scene, etc.   Prompt inclusion of these changes would strengthen the book’s reliability.  Finally, since this book is available for free on the web, updates should be relatively easy, providing an important service to readers.

Max W. Carbon
NUCLEAR POWER: VILLAIN OR VICTIM? OUR MOST MISUNDERSTOOD SOURCE OF ELECTRICITY Pebble Beach Publishers, Madison, Wisconsin, 2nd Edition, .pdf, 2006

Free:  http://nuclearpowervillainorvictim.engr.wisc.edu/nuclearpowervillainorvictim_2nd_edition.pdf



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About Randy Brich
Randy graduated from South Dakota State University in 1978 with a M.S. in Biology.  Following graduation he switched gears and began a lifelong study of ionizing radiation and its beneficial applications to humanity.  During the course of his study he worked as a staff Health Physicist with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission specializing in the licensing and inspection of uranium recovery facilities.  He transferred to the Department of Energy where he worked as a Health Physicist at the Randy BrichNevada Operations Office and later to the Richland Operations Office specializing in environmental monitoring, dose reconstruction, worker protection, waste cleanup and systems biology.

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.

If you have questions, comments, or know of a book that you think Randy should review E-mail Randy Brich>> randy@nuclearstreet.com

nuclearpowervillainorvictim_2nd_edition (2).pdf

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