The Age of Radiance: Atomic Energy’s Rise and Fall

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Nuclear power often conjures nightmarish images of Hiroshima, but it fuels everything from microwaves to medicine, and this paradoxical energy source defined the 20th century.

In some ways, it seems like the answer to traditional power sources like coal and oil, which have been maligned for hurting the environment and for being limited resources. However, the technology has inherent problems of its own including a poor public reputation with people who associate nuclear power with meltdowns and military posturing.

Craig Nelson, author of “The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era” says it is unclear how the very real benefits and dangers of nuclear power will shake out.

High-profile nuclear meltdowns at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island in 1979 and in Fukushima, Japan in 2011 hurt public perception of nuclear power, Nelson said.

Nuclear’s “dark history”, as Nelson describes it, dates as far back as the first nuclear weapon tests in the United States from 1951 to 1963.

A 2002 report by the US Department of Health and Human services estimated that cancer stemming from radioactive fallout killed some 11,000 Americans.

Despite the challenges, a technological breakthrough could revitalize the nuclear industry Nelson said, noting recent developments in potentially cheaper and safer thorium technology.

The Cleveland-based Energy From Thorium Foundation is among the proponents for the technology.

“It would have been great if back in the 70’s if the United States had made the decision to keep going with this technology,” said Bill Thesling, executive director of the foundation. “We would have had Thorium reactors by the 90’s and by this point would have been completely energy independent, and would be for thousands of years, but that didn’t happen.”

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