Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Megawatts and Megatons

Megawatts and Megatons: The Future of Nuclear Power andIn this highly accessible book, Garwin and Charpak give a comprehensive overview of nuclear technology, covering both its civilian and military use. The opening sentence "If it is to benefit humanity, concern for our planet and the future of our civilization needs to be matched with an understanding of the facts." sets the tone. Megawatts & Megatons aims for a balanced overview, though it leans towards an essential role for nuclear power.

A sense for the numbers is essential in the energy debate, and the chapter on energy units comes as a real bonus. There are 37 orders of magnitude between the smallest energy unit at atomic scale, the electron volt (eV) or 1.6E-19J and the largest unit in use, the Exajoule (EJ) or 10E18J. One cannot help but wonder whether some statements in the energy debate would be made with a proper understanding of the underlying math.

The book gives an excellent overview of the science and engineering behind current nuclear technology. If it has one weakness, it's on its coverage on potential future developments for reactors and waste management.

An excellent chapter describes radiation and its effect on living things. It talks about natural radiation, and the various sources of man-made radiation (medical & dental X-rays, radon), illustrating the difficulty to assess the effect of low-dose radiation on health.

This book is a must for anybody interested to make up her mind on nuclear technology. Whether you're strongly in favour or against nuclear, your opinion is likely to be more balanced after reading 'Megawatts and Megatons'.

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