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Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age (2018)
by Fred Pearce
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I read this book because of the subject matter. But it turned out to be a fairly even-handed exploration of a variety of disasters in the nuclear age informed by both historical research methodology and a long-form journalist's view of interviews and experiential reporting.
The result is an indictment of the secrecy and shoddy procedures surrounding military and civilian nuclear operations over the past 80 years while at the same time acknowledging the potential and possibility of nuclear power. This book isn't an outright rejection of nuclear energy, nor is it an endorsement. Rather it is an accessible and though-provoking addition to the literature around human and environmental impacts rendered by nuclear energy.
Review by Michael F. Bemis
I was intrigued by this book not only for its subject matter, but because I had read another of Pearce's books, [b:The New Wild: Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature's Salvation|22716462|The New Wild Why Invasive Species Will Be Nature's Salvation|Fred Pearce|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1408929384s/22716462.jpg|42243715], where he presented some rather unconventional ideas. And [b:Fallout|35458104|Fallout Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age|Fred Pearce|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1501488682s/35458104.jpg|56848409] is similar in his unconventional ideas. He questions whether our fear of radioactivity is rational or not, suggesting that the tolerance of the human body is actually much higher than we acknowledge. He cites statistics where cancers are not as prevalent as we have come to expect in radioactive areas (or where the reporting may be skewing statistics by purposefully looking for cancers that might otherwise have gone unreported). I also found his discussion of the disposal options to be very enlightening. And through it all runs a consistent current of lies and cover ups by government and those who are charged with protecting the public health and interest. If there's one thing you can count on, according to this narrative, it's that the the gov't or public agencies will initially deny and minimize the true scope of any danger, and then end up bungling the response when it finally comes.
Personally, I found the book to be a very enjoyable read, if sometimes a little unsettling. Pearce has a way of making the topic not only readable but understandable as well. At first I was reminded of [b:Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America|600462|Survival City Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America|Tom Vanderbilt|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1347848973s/600462.jpg|587061] with his looks at the testing sites and the downwind effects. But then he shifted gears and I was reminded of [b:Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation|15798109|Toms River A Story of Science and Salvation|Dan Fagin|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1360096482s/15798109.jpg|21521027], and just how difficult it is for scientists to conclusively prove cause and effect when it comes to cancer-causing agents. But his discussion of the magnitude of the problem with dealing with the waste was eye-opening to me - and it's never as simple and cut-and-dried as the opponents and proponents of nuclear power would have you believe. A very interesting read! (I received a copy of the book from the publisher.)
"Environmental journalist Fred Pearce travels the globe to investigate our complicated seven-decade long relationship with nuclear technology, from the bomb to nuclear accidents to nuclear waste. While concern about climate change has led some environmentalists to embrace renewable energy sources like wind and solar, others have expressed a renewed interest in nuclear power as an alternative source of carbon-neutral energy. But can humanity handle the risks involved? In Fallout, Fred Pearce uncovers the environmental and psychological landscapes created since the dropping of the first atomic bomb. Traveling from Nevada to Japan to the UK to secret sites of the old Soviet Union, he explores first the landscapes transformed by uranium and by nuclear accidents--sites both well-known and little known. He then examines in detail the toxic legacies of nuclear technology, the emerging dilemmas over handling its waste, the decommissioning of the great radioactive structures of the nuclear age, and the fearful doublethink over our growing stockpiles of plutonium, the most lethal and ubiquitous product of nuclear technologies. How, Pearce asks, has the nuclear experience has changed us? Is nuclear technology indeed the existential threat it sometimes appears? Should we be burdening future generations with radioactive waste that will be deadly for thousands of years? Fallout is the definitive look at humanity's nuclear adventure, for any reader who craves a clear-headed examination of the tangled relationship between a powerful technology and human politics, foibles, fears, and arrogance"--
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)363.17Social sciences Social problems and services; associations Other social problems and services Public safety programs Hazardous materials
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Pearce travelled the world researching this book, and chapter by chapter he takes us with him as he meets with scientists and ordinary residents in Japan, the U.S., England, and Russia to study the impact of radiation on people's lives and long-term health.
People who want to learn more about the big-picture impact of nuclear weapons and power plants should read this book. It provides a good counterpoint to the vast literature describing the military buildup and strategy of nuclear weapons.