Nuclear Energy: What Everyone Should Know

By Charles D. Ferguson, Oxford University Press, 2011, ISBN 978-0-19-975946-0, 222 pages, $16.95

Reviewed by Frank Lock

This is a good reference for any reader who has a working knowledge of nuclear technology.  The topic is divided into eight chapters, and each chapter is divided into sections in which posed questions are answered.  As an example, Chapter 4, "Proliferation," is separated into sixteen topic questions, an example of which is "Has commercial nuclear power been used to produce nuclear weapons?"  The book includes information about the recent nuclear power plant accident in Japan.

The first forty-one pages consist mostly of basic information about nuclear science and nuclear energy technology.  For readers versed in these topics this section may be reviewed quickly.  The remainder of the book addresses several important topics, including energy security, climate change, nuclear safety, radioactive waste management, and sustainable energy.

The book contains a great deal of factual information. Examples include:  the cost of a new large reactor (9 billion dollars); the skilled professionals needed to build and start up one new nuclear plant (1,000 operations and maintenance staff, 200 quality control inspectors, 400 construction inspectors, 500 construction engineers, 100 Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspectors, and 300 people to start up the plant); the number of weapons in the inventories of the nuclear-armed states (nine nations are listed including the top three – U.S 5,113, Russia 4,600, France 350); proliferation-proofing the nuclear fuel cycle ( the American Physical Society indicates there is no proliferation-proof nuclear technology); how safe are today’s nuclear power plants (least safe are the eleven Chernobyl-type reactors in Russia); a comparison of the radioactivity emitted by nuclear plants versus coal-fired plants ( the radiation risk from a coal-fired plant is very small – 1.9 millirems from ash per person per year, versus 360 millirems per U.S. person per year from general background radiation).

The last two chapters deal with the challenge of nuclear waste management, and sustainable energy.  These are key problems that must be solved, and the author addresses potential solutions.  Also included is an extensive bibliography.

The question / answer format of the book enables numerous issues to be analyzed and addressed.  At the same time the format is somewhat dry.  Readers with a general interest in nuclear energy may find themselves plodding through some of the topics, but it is obvious that Charles Fergusson did extensive research in preparing the book.

Frank Lock
Gainesville, GA

These contributions have not been peer-refereed. They represent solely the view(s) of the author(s) and not necessarily the view of APS.