Nuclear power is a paradox of danger and salvation—how is it that the renewable energy source our society so desperately needs is the one we are most afraid to use?
The American public’s introduction to nuclear technology was manifested in destruction and death. With Hiroshima and the Cold War still ringing in our ears, our perception of all things nuclear is seen through the lens of weapons development. Nuclear power is full of mind-bending theories, deep secrets, and the misdirection of public consciousness, some deliberate, some accidental. The result of this fixation on bombs and fallout is that the development of a non-polluting, renewable energy source stands frozen in time.
It has been said that if gasoline were first used to make napalm bombs, we would all be driving electric cars. Our skewed perception of nuclear power is what makes James Mahaffey’s new look at the extraordinary paradox of nuclear power so compelling. From medieval alchemy to Marie curie, Albert Einstein, and the Manhattan Project, atomic science is far from the spawn of a wicked weapons program. The discovery that the atom can be split brought forth the ultimate puzzle of the modern age: Now that the energy of the universe is available to us, how do we use it? For death and destruction? Or as a fuel for our society that has minimal impact on the environment and future generations?
Outlining nuclear energy’s discovery and applications throughout history, Mahaffey’s brilliant and accessible book is essential to understanding the astounding phenomenon of nuclear power in an age where renewable energy and climate change have become the defining concerns of the twenty-first century.
From Publishers Weekly
For many people, the idea of nuclear power died with the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown, but for the curious and open-minded, this book offers a timely look at nuclear technology that, the author argues, could provide plenty of cheap, renewable energy, if only we can get past our oversized dread of it. Mahaffey’s history lesson begins along a familiar path, from 17th-century chemist Robert Boyle to the great 20th-century physicists. Nazism and WWII sent hundreds of scientists—and their cutting-edge work—to the U.S. But the war also sent that research underground in the ultra-secret Manhattan Project. Researchers also dreamed of peaceful atoms to generate electricity and run submarines, planes and rockets. The specters of Hiroshima and a few horrifying nuclear accidents displaced that peaceful vision. With a wealth of anecdotes, Mahaffey, a senior research scientist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, offers hope leavened with pragmatism that, while nuclear technology may be experimental forever, it can still be useful and safe. (Aug.)
Atomic Awakening offers an essential look at nuclear power and how it will overcome its negative connotations to shape our century. (Scientific American Book Club Selection)
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