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Customer Review

on 13 June 2012
This topic could very easily be made confusing or demanding to read. Thankfully Ferguson has succeeded in crystallising the pertinent facts into 8 easy to read subject chapters. The format is particularly helpful - the chapters total around 130 questions and answer sections, making the text straight forward to understand and to access quickly for reference.

I initially thought the sub-title had a scaremongering tone to it - ("What everybody needs to know") - sounds almost like a warning. I now interpret the title as "Nuclear Energy - just the important and interesting bits." Some of the answers do read a bit like a summary, but Ferguson seems to communicate the relevant facts, both for and against the issues discussed.

The author is President of the Federation of American Scientists, and used to be a nuclear engineering officer in the US Navy, but thankfully his personal perspective on the use of nuclear power to generate power remains objective enough to avoid noticeably promulgating one view over another.

Maybe Ferguson's objective is popular education: He dedicates the first 50 pages to nuclear "fundamentals", which starts with some basic physics and becomes progressively more issue related. Comprising a quarter of the book, the knowledge from this section will help fully grasp the issues later in the book.

Quick example of an issue discussed: I used to think the practice of reprocessing 'spent' nuclear fuel to yield further 'usable' fuel was a no-brainer, as this reduces nuclear waste and makes efficient use of a finite resource. Turns out that reprocessing technology usually generates the isotopes desirable for use in nuclear warheads, so this design of nuclear power station is not appropriate for unstable nations.

Any interested reader would benefit from Ferguson's breadth of knowledge on nuclear issues. However, I would question his statistic on the final page concerning alternative energy sources: "Wind power could, if fully harnessed at available locations, meet several times the world's present electricity demands." (For a superb cost vs benefit analysis of energy production I seriously recommend "Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air".)

Ferguson's book represents great value for money - a concentrated source of the salient facts surrounding nuclear energy issues. Don't expect colour photos or flashy diagrams, but do expect an engaging and informative read!
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