By Richard Rhodes
Many environmentalists have opposed nuclear power, citing its dangers and the difficulty of disposing of its radioactive waste. But a Pulitzer Prize-winning author argues that nuclear is safer than most energy sources and is needed if the world hopes to radically decrease its carbon emissions.
In the late 16th century, when the increasing cost of firewood forced ordinary Londoners to switch reluctantly to coal, Elizabethan preachers railed against a fuel they believed to be, literally, the Devil’s excrement. Coal was black, after all, dirty, found in layers underground — down toward Hell at the center of the earth — and smelled strongly of sulfur when it burned. Switching to coal, in houses that usually lacked chimneys, was difficult enough; the clergy’s outspoken condemnation, while certainly justified environmentally, further complicated and delayed the timely resolution of an urgent problem in energy supply.