Monday, July 21, 2014

ATOMIC ACCIDENTS by James Mahaffey

If you liked COMMAND AND CONTROL, you’ll love ATOMIC ACCIDENTS, written by research scientist James Mahaffey, who once worked for the Nuclear Defense Agency, the NGIC, the AFALC, and the Georgia Power Company (on design and analysis for reactor safety.) This exhaustive examination of the history of nuclear power accidents yields many surprises, including incidents that happened in Russia outside of media scrutiny. Where Command and Control focused on missile base accidents, this book is more about nuclear power plant accidents (both in planning and testing and in actual operation.) There is much here on explaining atomic reactions, and the complexity of developing reactors…and then controlling them. How close did we come to the China Syndrome? That was just a movie. The reality is sometimes scarier, especially back when the safeguards were far less stringent. Also the author of ATOMIC AWAKENING, Mahaffey penned the subtitle of his new book “A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima.” Tom Weiner's voice is always engaging as narrator, guiding the listener from the development of the A Bomb in New Mexico to the failed development of atomic planes (cancelled by JKF), to the present day situation of nuclear submarines, bombers, scattered ground bases, and power plant vessels. Mahaffey wisely strikes a balance between the sensational elements out of which movies might be made and the technical and historical elements, using both wit and wisdom to ultimately leave the listener with the big questions we all must face, including whether more and better atomic power is worth risking, considering that fossil fuels are on a downward curve as the Earth heats up due to burning them. (Nuclear power plants are comparatively safe, considering deaths by other means, such as coal power plants.) Also, should machines or robots be in control, given that most accidents are human caused? Because the book combines history, science, intrigue, and mystery, told with power and authority, I choose it as AUDIOBOOK OF THE MONTH. But if you still need fiction, try DON’T TALK TO STRANGERS by Amanda Kyle Williams, read by narrator Ann Marie Lee—a both cosy and scary offbeat private eye novel involving an abductor of girls tracked by an ex-FBI profiler. And LEAVING THE SEA STORIES by Ben Marcus, as read by Andrew Garman, George Guidall, Brian Hutchison, and Andy Paris. Bordering on the experimental, the stories come at you from all sides, and take wild and original risks. (Something bestselling authors can’t do, for fear of angering their formula-loving audiences!)

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