Nuclear Roulette: The Truth About the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth
Author: Gar Smith
Pub: Chelsea Green
Gar Smith’s first book is at once level-headed and hysterical, well-researched and questionable, trustworthy and unreliable. Where Smith’s writing is level-headed, he presents a compelling argument against the ‘doomed technology’ of nuclear power and in favour of renewable energy sources. But his over-reliance on melodrama is a problem that seriously weakens his case, and one that never quite goes away.
Smith, former editor of Earth Island Journal, lays out the case against nuclear power before detailing its damning consequences and the alternatives that exist. He fills the book with case studies, creating a rich tapestry of evidence condemning nuclear energy, its advocates and the industry’s ‘business before safety’ mentality, whilst convincingly arguing that alternatives do exist.
He certainly lays on the hyperbole in the early chapters of the book, calling the status quo ‘an energy-desperate economic system that is based on the insane notion that economic growth can continue forever’. According to Smith, the idea of safely burying nuclear waste is ‘an assertion bordering on insane’, whilst the future risks arising from the Fukushima disaster will ‘remain incalculable’.
However, once you get past the first few chapters of the book, the reader is richly rewarded. Smith tones his writing down considerably, instead presenting a much more composed picture of the ways to achieve a nuclear-free future. Particularly praise-worthy is his account of how Germany has empowered local people to produce their own renewable energy and move away from nuclear power.
There is no question that Smith has done a thorough job of researching this book. Every page is full to bursting with facts and figures not just on the nuclear industry, but also on the renewable sector and energy consumption levels in general. Yet the nagging concern that Smith’s earlier sensationalism may cloud his vision never quite goes away, and this is borne out after a simple bit of fact-checking. Smith cites the 1957 Mayak disaster in the Soviet Union, claiming that an accident at a nuclear power station led to the evacuation of 270,000 people from 217 nearby ‘cities’. Commentators disagree on this figure, with some claiming the number of evacuated was closer to 10-11,000 people from 22 villages, not cities. It is notable that Smith goes with the more extreme figure.
And this is the crux of the problem. Despite all the facts that Smith presents and the very convincing argument that he makes, one repeatedly finds oneself wondering just how accurate his claims are.
Certainly, the case against nuclear is strong, but unfortunately, Smith’s sensationalism undermines his authority – as it seems impossible that he can provide a balanced and reliable account. The end result of the melodrama is that the reader quickly becomes bored; in an attempt to engage his audience with the very real dangers of nuclear power, Smith only achieves the opposite. With a more level-headed analysis, he could have achieved so much more.