Volume 27, Number 1 January 1998




Nuclear Energy: Principles, Practices and Prospects, by David Bodansky. American Institute of Physics Press (now Springer-Verlag), New York 1996. ISBN 1-56396-244-6, 396 pages, $65.


The 16 chapters of David Bodansky's book, comprising 344 content-filled pages, offer an unusually objective, wide-ranging and thorough discussion of, as the title states, the "principles, practices, and prospects" of nuclear energy. A notion of the range is conveyed by the chapter titles: nuclear power development, natural radioactivity and radiation exposures, neutron reactions, nuclear fission, chain reactions and nuclear reactors, types of nuclear reactors, nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear waste disposal, magnitudes of waste, storage and disposal of nuclear wastes, administrative and policy issues in nuclear waste disposal, nuclear reactor safety, nuclear reactor accidents, reactor safety and future nuclear reactors, nuclear energy and nuclear-weapons proliferation, costs of electricity from nuclear power, and the prospects for nuclear power. Each chapter is fully referenced and examines a broad selection of subtopics, often in very considerable technical detail. For example, chapter 7, on the nuclear fuel cycle, includes a section on uranium enrichment which reproduces a graph of the gaseous diffusion "separative work" (a measure of the energy required to produce one kilogram of enriched uranium product) as a function of the percentage of U-235 enrichment; the eleven information-packed pages on the Chernobyl accident in Chapter 12, nuclear reactor accidents, contain expressions for computing the void coefficient (the derivative of the reactivity with respect to the fraction of the reactor coolant water that is steam) in a graphite-moderated Chernobyl-type reactor. Moreover the book's discussions, even of highly contentious nuclear energy issues on which Bodansky undoubtedly has his own strong opinions, e.g., nuclear waste disposal and the risks of nuclear weapons proliferation, are uniformly thoughtful and fair.

In short, for any physicist who is not expert on nuclear power matters but is concerned about their societal implications, i.e., for the typical reader of Physics & Society, Bodansky's Nuclear Energy is an excellent reference work on the "principles, practices and prospects" of nuclear energy, circa 1997 and probably for a good many years beyond. Certainly I endorse the conclusions of previous reviewers: "[T]his is by far the best book I have seen on nuclear energy for the interested scientist. Every physics professor and physics library should have a copy" (1). "The book provides a superb background for scientists and those in technical fields. It provides probably all the information that many people, including government policy makers, will ever need" (2). The book is intended for a larger audience than "scientists and those in technical fields," however. In its preface Bodansky writes, "I therefore hope that the book will be useful to readers with a wide variety of backgrounds who have an interest in nuclear energy matters." Especially for the benefit of such readers "with relatively little background in physics and engineering" (again quoting from the preface), the book includes: an 18-page appendix "elementary aspects of nuclear physics"; a second appendix listing selected physical constants, conversion factors, the elements from Z = 1 to 105, and properties of selected radionucleides; a three-page list of acronyms and abbreviations used in the text; and a 14-page glossary of defined terms, from "absorbed dose" through "mean free path" to "zircaloy" and "zirconium".

Despite these laudable efforts by Bodansky, I greatly doubt the book "will be useful" to, or even will come to the attention of, readers who are not already technically trained. Such a reader is unlikely to gain much understanding of nuclear physics, even in its elementary aspects, from an 18-page capsulation, especially one that is chock full of equations, for example the derivation of the mean life of a radioactive species from the integral over its exponential probability of decay. In any event, and wholly aside from its liberal use of equations (which, as Bodansky notes in the Preface, is not customary in a book for a "lay audience"), only a highly dedicated "lay" reader can be expected to work his/her way through the many detailed technical discussions the book contains. Consequently it is not surprising that I could not find Bodansky's book on the shelves of my local Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores, or that the only previous reviews to which his publisher could refer me--namely the reviews referenced below--are, like this review, confined to physics journals.

Although this is not surprising, it is nevertheless regrettable, since Bodansky's technical discussions of nuclear energy issues have important public policy implications which many influential nonscientist segments of our society, from anti-nuclear environmentalists to nuclear power advocates to Congressmen, can grasp. Therefore, particularly because Bodansky's balanced low-key style carries conviction, I hope he will consider writing a second book, frankly addressed to nonscientist readers solely, wherein the many discussions of consequential nuclear energy issues his book offers, e.g., of the links between nuclear power and nuclear weapons, are intelligibly recast (as I believe they can be) without equations beyond the obvious, and without attempting to instruct the reader in any aspects of nuclear physics beyond the most elementary. It is in society's interest that he do so. I don't know whether Professor Bodansky will thank me for this suggestion, but I am reasonably confident that if he acts on it his publisher will be grateful.


1. Richard Wilson, Physics Today 50, 64 (May 1997).

2. Stephen Frantz, Am. J. Phys. 65, 453 (May 1997).

Edward Gerjuoy

University of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, PA 15260





The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy,

by the Committee on International Security and Arms Control of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1997, 110 pages, $15


At the close of the Cold War in 1991, the National Academy of Sciences released a landmark report, The Future of the U.S.-Soviet Nuclear Relationship. The report advised the U.S. and USSR. to reduce to 3500 weapons, to eliminate land-based MIRVed ICBMs, to remove most of the tactical weapons from Europe, to reduce the target base from 5,000-9,000 to 1,000-1,600, and so forth. These recommendations were quickly popularized by the Congressional testimony of Michael May and Wolfgang ("Pief") Panofsky. In a nutshell, the Academy gets high credit for encouraging the executive branch and congress to move the world to more sensible nuclear policies.

A half-dozen years later, the Academy has released the sequel, The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy, which is intended to move strategic arms control beyond START II towards the deeper cuts of STARTs III, IV and V. The second report appears now at a time when the Russian military colossus is stumbling and the DUMA has START II on hold. The lack of viable economics limits Russia's choices, but it is imperative for both dance partners that they waltz together to the ratification rumba. Without the DUMA's ratification of START II, the political will to follow the Academy's recommendations will be slowed. Some of the 1997 recommendations are as follows:

 After the reductions envisioned in a START III accord (to some 2,000 to 2,500 strategic warheads), reductions to about 1,000 total (strategic and tactical) warheads each for the U.S. and Russia would be logical. A force of this size could effectively maintain the core function against the most challenging potential U.S. adversaries under any credible circumstance.

 At lower levels of warheads, it is necessary to begin counting individual warheads and verifying warhead dismantlement. Even an imperfect verification regime would greatly reduce the uncertainties in present U.S. estimates of the number of Russian warheads.

 The U.S. has a far greater potential for uploading its systems than Russia because of the capabilities of U.S. delivery vehicles. The Committee recommends reconsideration of the Nuclear Posture Review's "hedge" strategy, the ability to deploy thousands of additional warheads by increasing warhead loading on existing missiles and bombers.

 The Committee recommends that the nuclear postures be softened by removing the launch-on warning, massive attack options. They recommend adopting a more flexible planning system of "adaptive targeting" that would not be based on predetermined prompt attacks on counterforce targets.

 The decline in Russian conventional military forces, the decline in Russian national technical means of verification and radar warning systems, and the garrisoning of SS-25s and in-port SLBMs have probably pushed the Russians towards closer to hair-trigger responses. The Committee recognizes that removing systems from alert could lessen these problems, but recognizes that further work is needed to determine which systems should be removed from continuous-alert practices in ways to avoid instabilities.

If the strides between the dance partners are orchestrated with the ratification of START II, some of the NAS recommendations should be relatively simple, such as reducing to 2,000 (and even 1,000) warheads. Some of the other steps will be more difficult, such as meaningful warhead dismantlement and counting. For centuries, military leaders have said that dangerous threats come from a combination of good military capabilities and bad political intentions. If the intentions of both partners are pure, even the more difficult tasks become possible. In the meantime, retaining a survivable deterrent under the sea should keep the dance floor dry. I heartily recommend The Future of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy for a good discussion of current strategic nuclear issues.

David Hafemeister

Physics Department

California Polytechnic State University

San Luis Obispo, CA 93407