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A Green Alternative or Road to Catastrophe


Sukla Sen

IN MORTAL HANDS: A CAUTIONARY HISTORY OF THE NUCLEAR AGE
By Stephanie Cooke
Orient BlackSwan, Hyderabad, 2010, pp. xv+487, price not stated

THE UPSIDE DOWN BOOK OF NUCLEAR POWER
By Saurav Jha
2010, pp. xii+220, Rs. 250.00

VOLUME XXXIV NUMBER 8 August 2010

Nuclear power is again a hot topic. It was, admittedly, never really cold, since inception. But with the ‘nuclear renaissance’ making its appearance, for about a decade now, there is a renewed spurt of discussions and debates now. If initially, there was an abundance of exuberance, the mood pretty much soured in the wake of the Three Mile Island accident in the US in 1979. Then the Chernobyl disaster in the then USSR in 1986 dealt a severe, even if far from fatal, blow. With global warming coming to attract the world’s attention and causing huge concerns and candidly right wing regimes occupying the seats of power in some of the leading nations—the US, in particular—who paradoxically did their best to deny global warming in the first place, we have had a sort of resurgence of nuclear power as a green alternative. The continuing oil spill caused by a deep sea horizontal drilling rig operated by the BP in the Gulf of Mexico, in the territorial waters of the US, has further added to the complexities of the current debate. On the one hand, as expected, nuclear power is being touted as the apt alternative to power from fossil fuels; on the other, it brings to mind the spectre of a not-so-impossible catastrophic accident. Nearer home, the Bhopal gas disaster is back in the news, and with a bang at that. And connections are being made with the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill now before the Indian Parliament and possible scenarios arising out of a catastrophic nuclear accident. Evidently, ‘catastrophe’ is the key notion here. The two books under review are very recent additions to this pool of raging debate, with a number of significant and interesting contrasts though. Most importantly, these are located across the line dividing those for and against nuclear power. Just to take up a few examples: while the first book is by a journalist and editor of some repute reporting on the nuclear industry for close to three decades, the author of the second book does not appear to be dealing specifically with nuclear power. While both are meant to reach out to lay readers, the first builds up its case, bit by bit, composed in subtly lyrical prose with striking poignancy, meant to touch deep within the readers’ hearts and stir them to action; the second is written in a lighthearted, and arguably flippant, ...


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