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on 3 July 2008
As I write this review, the price of oil hovers at around the $140 per barrel mark. With demand on the verge of outstripping supply, it seems to be the case that the cost of a barrel of oil will be adjusted upwards rather than downwards as the months and the years role by. Newspaper editorials and television and radio newsreel analyses of the current energy crisis concentrate on mainly two aspects of the problem - the politically volatile situation in the Middle East and the need to explore for oil in more remote parts of the world. Very few commentators in the media have managed to get a handle on the crux of the matter which is that hydrocarbons are now reaching depletion levels.

In the final chapter of his book "Energy or Extinction? The case for Nuclear Energy" Sir Fred Hoyle criticised a Sunday Times article of 12th December 1976 in which the author persuasively argued the case for delaying Britain's nuclear energy programme on the basis that "we have time". Hoyle directly contradicted this statement by asserting that "we do not have time". Those who are aware that the phase the world is now entering into with regard to hydrocarbons is more geological than it is political will be astonished at Hoyle's astuteness in being able to predict the problem as far back as 1976. Yet, even more astonishingly, Hoyle's foresight concerning the depletion of hydrocarbons goes back even further. In his books "Man and Materialism" and "A Decade of Decision", both published in the early 1950's, Hoyle warned that hydrocarbons afforded mankind a mere temporary breathing space and that plans to base energy on alternatives to fossil fuels should be under serious consideration by governments. In his Forward to Hoyle's book, Sir Alan Cottrell, a one time scientific advisor to H.M. Government stated that, with regard to nuclear power, and with especial regard to the safer non fast breeder reactor of the Canadian CANDU type "It is surely a scandal that the US and UK have ignored this attractive alternative for so long".

"Energy or Extinction" ( pub. Heinemann ), although a short 80 page book consisting of a forward, introduction, six chapters and an index, clearly, succinctly and persuasively lays forth the case for nuclear power as the only viable alternative to oil and coal. Sir Fred completely debunks the scaremongering of the anti-nuclear lobby which conveys the notion that nuclear power constitutes a danger. Backing up his argument with the use of statistics, he shows that there is more radiation emanating from common rocks, coal ash and hospital x-rays than from nuclear power plants. Hoyle makes perfectly clear that driving, living in cities, and working in the construction, coal-mining, dock and textile industries are far greater hazards to life and health than the nuclear power industry.

After guiding the reader through the astrophysical processes by which the Earth came to acquire its hydrocarbons and various mineral deposits, Hoyle examines the viability of non-nuclear energy alternatives such as solar, wind and wave power and concludes that they are no substitutes for nuclear energy. To provide the world with energy based on solar power, 1% of the Earth's surface would have to be covered with solar panels - this would be an area comparable to the size of western Europe. And collecting all the electricity from the vast array of tiny cells could never be done efficiently or inexpensively. Hoyle demonstrates how wind power is as unfeasible as solar power. If Britain were to obtain all its power from wind mills, an area half the size of England would be covered by these mills - about 20 million of them! Obtaining energy from tides and waves would, as Hoyle says, " an engineer's nightmare". Britain would require a coastal boom length of 8,000 miles to provide its energy needs by this method and the world would need to have a boom length of 600,000 miles.

Energy obtained from the uranium in common rocks would provide energy for at least 30,000 years. Hoyle calculates that with technological improvements in which a 50% burn up rate is achieved, the lifetime of uranium based energy could be extended to hundreds of thousands of years. Further technological refinement resulting in a higher percentage burn-up could even extend resources to millions of years. Regarding the issue of leakage from waste, Hoyle explains that the half life of various radioactive elements would eventually produce a balance in the amount of radiation from nuclear waste. Leakage from waste buried 3,000 feet under ground would have lost much of its radioactivity by the time it reached the surface - if it ever did. There is more radiation in our water supply produced by rain running off the common radioactive rocks in mountains than could ever be produced by leakage.

"Energy or Extinction" was used as an Open University set book. If this book were currently widely available to those both in academe and industry who are involved in the issue of energy, there would surely be a greater sense of urgency in the development of nuclear based energy facilities. Sadly, we do not seem to have progressed beyond that 1976 Sunday Times article and are thus still deluding ourselves that "we have time".
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on 17 December 2011
I have read this book and very much agree with the first reviewer's comments.

The book, unfortunately, is somewhat dated in its numerical calculations.

For that reason I give it 4 stars.

Also of interest could be the book "THE NUCLEAR ENERGY OPTION" by Bernard L. Cohen. See [...]
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