Fred Hoyle An observer of the world and a ponderer on its problems ...

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Commonsense in Nuclear Energy 1980

Like its predecessor "Energy or Extinction - The case for nuclear energy", "Commonsense in Nuclear Energy" clearly sets out the case for the urgency of the adoption of nuclear energy as an alternative to the rapidly dwindling supplies of hydrocarbons. At the time of writing this review, the British Prime Minister, Mr. Gordon Brown, has announced that seven new nuclear power plants are to be constructed in Great Britain. Welcome though this decision is, it still falls very far short of the 200 nuclear power plants that the authors of "Commonsense in Nuclear Energy" advise is needed if the nation is to obtain all its energy from nuclear power. President George Bush of the United States of America has recommended the stepping up of the search for the discovery of new oil fields, but this merely postpones the inevitable, it does not solve the long-term energy problem, for oil, like all fossil fuels, is a finite resource. Continue

Although it came out in 1980, the issues it raises with regard to nuclear power are as relevant today as they were then. That the anti-nuclear lobby is expressing the same concerns and misgivings about nuclear energy as it did back in the `70's and `80's, goes to clearly show that nothing has changed and little has been done to educate the public with regard to the true nature of nuclear energy. As this book debunks myth after myth about nuclear power, one cannot help but be convinced that if it were widely read today, a more enlightened consensus among the general public would serve to ensure that Britain's plans for nuclear power would be much further advanced than they currently are.

In the preface, the authors make a clear distinction between nuclear power and nuclear war. They contend that an energy shortage caused by population increase and diminishing supplies of hydrocarbons would be a sure recipe for conflict. Therefore, the implementation of policies designed to wean the world away from the fossil fuels of coal and oil would be the best bet for ensuring that the global stockpile of nuclear weapons would not be unleashed.

The authors take great pains to point out that they are both ardent conservationists. One of the myths which they successfully explode is the one which contends that nuclear energy is harmful to the environment. They explain how hydroelectric schemes are extremely detrimental to the environment. The raising and lowering of the water levels of natural lakes has had a deleterious effect on the flora which have followed the seasonal fluctuations of the water levels of the lakes. This, together with the visual pollution of unsightly dams has, as the authors explain, added very little to meeting the country's energy requirements.

The main thesis of this book is that the nuclear industry is one of the safest of all. The authors explain that, contrary to popular misconceptions, nuclear power stations do not explode and they go on to demonstrate that gas cylinders and various chemicals have far greater explosive potential than nuclear power plants. One of the most amusing things they point out is that there are the same ingredients in a bar of chocolate as in TNT, yet no-one would dream of banning chocolate on the grounds that it is a combustible hazard! When it comes to deaths through industrial accidents, the nuclear industry comes out smelling of roses, as there are more hazards in coal and oil exploration than there are in the production of nuclear energy. The authors show that statistically we have a much greater chance of meeting our end in car and plane accidents and from natural disasters than we do from nuclear accidents. When it comes to exposure to radiation, it is found that there is vastly more radiation from our natural surroundings than from nuclear power plants. The bar graph on page 20 indicates that of all the sources of radioactivity, the lowest of all is to be found in the production of nuclear power.

The authors examine non-nuclear options as an alternative to hydrocarbons and conclude that they are not viable propositions. They explain that deep drilling for natural gas could result in earthquakes. Solar, wind and wave power are ruled out due to the massive engineering constructions that would be necessary in order to successfully concentrate and distribute the energy derived from them. The authors explain the cardinal rule which underlies the entire energy debate, which rule being that energy derived from any source must be more than the energy expended in obtaining it.

Another myth which the authors successfully demolish is the one which claims that the storage of nuclear waste presents an environmental hazard. Calculations undertaken by the American Physical Society indicate that nuclear waste buried 3,000 feet underground would take over one million years to percolate to the surface.

The authors' conclusion is that the most efficient type of nuclear technology is the fast breeder reactor. When commenting on the fears of this form of nuclear production, they devote their final chapter to a comparison between the forebodings of the anti steam engine groups about George Stephenson's locomotive and railways on the one hand and those of the anti-nuclear lobby on the other. This comparison serves to put the whole nuclear issue in a proper and rational perspective. After reading this book, one cannot help but feel that society must conquer its fears about nuclear energy and overcome its lingering Luddite mentality if the horrors of an energy crisis are to be averted.