Skip to main content

Nuclear Power: a very short introduction – Maxwell Irvine ***

The ‘very short introduction’ series from OUP is decidedly variable in its content. Some are really readable pocket popular science books. This one isn’t. However I would say it is an absolutely essential little book for anyone who wants to get the facts straight in a discussion of the pros and cons of nuclear power.
In effect it’s a fact book on nuclear. And being a collection of facts it isn’t always incredibly readable (not helped by the industry’s delight in acronyms). The pages on different reactor types in various countries, for example, provide little more than a long, detailed list. Yet it’s all valuable  information. The way, for example, in the UK pretty well every reactor is a prototype, so we never got the benefits of scale that France did from mass production.
The book is modern enough to cover the 2011 Japan tsunami disaster and its impact on the power plants, though doesn’t mention the painful knee-jerk political reaction in countries like Germany. It is clear and factual on costs (remarkably similar to coal/oil when everything is factored in, though longer term hence the investment problems), on risk and on the world’s need to have conventional nuclear to keep us going until fusion comes online (which it explains very well).With the best will in the world, that isn’t going to be until the 2050s at the earliest. It doesn’t dismiss renewables, but highlights the way they just aren’t and can’t be enough to get us into cleaner energy soon enough.
Overall then, in terms of value of content, this is probably a five star book, but I can only give it three stars because it’s not much of a read.

Paperback 

Kindle 
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Where are the chemistry popular science books?

by Brian Clegg
There has never been more emphasis on the importance of public engagement. We need both to encourage a deeper interest in science and to counter anti-scientific views that seem to go hand-in-hand with some types of politics. Getting the public interested in science both helps recruit new scientists of the future and spreads an understanding of why an area of scientific research deserves funding. Yet it is possible that chemistry lags behind the other sciences in outreach. As a science writer, and editor of this website, I believe that chemistry is under-represented in popular science. I'd like to establish if this is the case, if so why it is happening - and what can be done to change things. 


An easy straw poll is provided by the topic tags on the site. At the time of writing, there are 22 books under 'chemistry' as opposed to 97 maths, 126 biology and 182 physics. The distribution is inevitably influenced by editorial bias - but as the editor, I can confirm …

Make, Think, Imagine - John Browne ***

When you read a politician's memoirs you know that, nine times out of ten, it won't really quite work, because the message can't carry a whole book. It's reminiscent of the old literary agent's cry of 'Is it a book, or is it an article?' It's not that there aren't a lot of words in such tomes. It's almost obligatory for these books to be quite chunky. But it's a fair amount of work getting through them, and you don't feel entirely satisfied afterwards. Unfortunately, that's rather how John Browne (former head of oil giant BP)'s book comes across.

It's not that the central thread is unimportant. It used to be the case, certainly in the UK, that science, with its roots in philosophy and the pursuit of knowledge, was considered far loftier than engineering, growing out of mechanical work and the pursuit of profit. There is, perhaps, still a whiff of this around in some circles - so Browne's message that engineering has been…

Bloom - Ruth Kassinger ***

There is much fascinating material in this chunky book by Ruth Kassinger. It may be my total ignorance of biology and everyone else knows these things, but I learnt so much - for example that seaweed is algae and not a plant, about algae's role in the development of land plants, about the algae in lichen and its contribution to coral reefs.

The book is divided into four broad sections: on the origins and development of algae, on algae (and particularly seaweed) as food, on making use of algae, for example, for biofuel, and on algae and climate change, particularly the bleaching of coral and algal blooms. This is all done in a very approachable writing style, mixing descriptive material that is never over-technical with narrative often featuring visits to different locations and to talk to a range of experts from those who study to algae to those who cook them.

There are two problems though. Firstly, the book is too long at 380 pages. Each section could do with a trim, but this wa…