Short Takes

Short Takes: Book reviews, in brief

March 8, 2014 


Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster

David Lochbaum, Edwin Lyman, Susan Q. Stranahan and the Union of Concerned Scientists, New Press, 320 pages

In 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake rattled a complex of six nuclear power plants known as Fukushima Daiichi 150 miles northeast of Tokyo. Then came a tsunami that swamped the complex, flooding its electrical generators and putting its three operating reactors out of commission. The reactors were soon out of control, the plant effectively disabled by that most feared event in the nuclear industry: a “station blackout,” when no power is available to run any of the safety systems.

In the days that followed, three explosions blew apart portions of two reactor buildings, and the reactors’ fuel cores at least partly melted down. Public officials steadily expanded the evacuation zone around the plant, eventually to 19 miles; the evacuation of Tokyo itself was briefly considered.

These events and more are meticulously reconstructed in “Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster,” by David Lochbaum, Edwin Lyman and Susan Q. Stranahan of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Followers of Fukushima and its consequences for the nuclear power movement have come to rely on Lochbaum and Lyman for their scientific expertise on the topic. Stranahan, a journalist whose experience with nuclear power dates back to her coverage of the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, is evidently responsible for the book’s lucid and gripping narrative. No one with an interest in the present and future of nuclear power in the United States should miss it.

Los Angeles Times

The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man

Luke Harding, Vintage, 346 pages

I’d like to think that somewhere in Russia, which has played host to both the Winter Olympics and Edward Snowden, the world’s most wanted whistle-blower was cheering, “USA! USA!” the past few weeks – though maybe sotto voce.

Nearly nine months ago, he rocked the U.S. government and many of its allies and antagonists by leaking top-secret documents that exposed massive surveillance programs by Washington’s National Security Agency. Along with its brief to spy on bad guys, it was bugging world leaders and monitoring the telephone and Internet traffic of millions of ordinary people at home and abroad.

Snowden, now 30, dropped his bombshell in early June, while in Hong Kong, and was indicted by the U.S. government for espionage on June 21. He flew to Moscow two days later, seeking asylum with another superpower not known for respecting privacy – or extradition efforts.

“The Snowden Files,” the first book on what British journalist Luke Harding calls “the biggest intelligence leak in history,” is a readable and thorough account. The narrative is rich in newsroom details, reflecting Harding’s inside access as a correspondent for the London-based Guardian newspaper, which broke the story.


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