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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


History Physics and Policy

Uranium Wars: The Scientific Rivalry that Created the Nuclear Age by Amir D. Aczel (Macmillian) Set against the darkening shadow of World War II, Uranium Wars follows the time's most brilliant scientists as they race to capture nuclear power. Pioneering woman physicist Lise Meitner uncovered nuclear fission but never won the Nobel Prize. Denmark's Niels Bohr sided with the Allies when he held a secret meeting with his protégé and possible Nazi collaborator Werner Heisenberg. Years of dogged research culminated on a racquetball court at the University of Chicago as Italian physicist Enrico Fermi set off the first nuclear chain reaction that led to the building of the atom bomb. Told with flair by one of our best popular science writers, Uranium Wars is a fast paced and vivid narrative about a pivotal moment in history. Amir U. Aczel expertly connects the dots to today, when nations seek nuclear capability and scientists strive to better understand and responsibly manage the most controversial type of energy ever discovered.

Hardly a day goes by without a major news report about nuclear issues, whether it's the international community's response to Iran's nuclear program or the future of Pakistan's atomic arsenal. At the same time, some politicians and scientists envision a future in which nuclear reactors dot the country, generating electricity that will help break our dependence on fossil fuels. Nuclear energy can help us combat global warming because this power source does not entail the release of carbon into the atmosphere. But the promise of a carbon-free energy source is checked by concerns about the ill effects of nuclear waste, as well as the danger of another disaster like the 1986 meltdown of a nuclear plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine, the human toll of which we have yet to fully quantify.

While we are inundated daily by these news reports, few people understand what the information means: What do 9,000 centrifuges working around the clock at an Iranian nuclear center actually do? What is refined uranium, and how do these machines produce it? And what is the power that resides inside the nucleus of uranium, a humble silvery element found at various locations around the globe, and how does this element deliver the immense destructive power of a nuclear bomb?

Most people know about the atom bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, and many know that the operation that brought these bombs into existence was called the Manhattan Project. But few people know the full story that led to that massive endeavor: How uranium was discovered, how its properties were investigated, and how a fierce competition among several groups of scientists in different countries brought us a deeper understanding of uranium. Few people know that it is the atom of the element uranium that undergoes the unusual process of fission—by simply splitting in two when it is hit by a tiny subatomic particle.

Researchers, working frantically in a race to understand this process, found that splitting apart the uranium atom releases energy—as predicted by Albert Einstein's famous equation E = mc 2. Some time later, an even more intriguing possibility was raised—and soon it too became a reality—the possibility of creating a chain reaction. When a very large number of atoms of uranium undergo fission in a chain reaction it creates a nuclear explosion. Equally, when the chain reaction is kept under control, when it is more moderate than an explosion, uranium can create the energy generated in a civilian nuclear power plant.

We are now at the cusp of developments in world affairs for which our policies concerning energy, economics, and national security depend, in part, on a thorough understanding of the properties and uses of uranium. This is why the story of uranium is so important.

Our knowledge about nuclear processes, nuclear bombs, and nuclear energy originated in the Second World War. Scientists who escaped the brutality of the Nazis built the atom bomb in America, just ahead of their counterparts in the Third Reich. Nuclear power went on to have a controversial life—holding the potential to provide civilian populations with energy yet threatening the world as rogue states such as Iran and North Korea have used it as a subterfuge to defy the international community and continue to develop atomic weapons.

The destructive power of nuclear arms is our postwar legacy. Before the war nuclear processes were a scientific wonder, a mystery that researchers worked night and day to solve. Uranium Wars charts the lives and work of the scientists who brought us the knowledge to make an atomic bomb, evaluates their responsibility, and explores their triumphs as well as their failure to stop the bomb from being used against thousands of civilians in Japan, a nation then close to surrender. It is also about the interplay between a country's leadership and its scientific community. All of these are issues I feel most passionately about, questions that have fascinated and tormented me throughout my life.

In the 1970s, I was a student of mathematics and physics at the University of California at Berkeley, and I worked in a laboratory with radioactive elements, using the techniques developed by some of the scientists whose stories are told in this book. Through my study of physics, I had the privilege of meeting one of the major players in the drama of modern physics and nuclear discovery: the German physicist and quantum pioneer Werner Heisenberg. This meeting changed and redirected much of my thinking. As a young student, I was taken by Heisenberg's genius and his brilliant explanations of the quantum theory.

While Heisenberg never talked about his wartime work on atomic development in Germany, I knew that there was a hidden side to the life of this charming man. And more than two decades later, in the 1990s, evidence surfaced that Heisenberg played a significant role in the Nazi effort to build an atomic bomb. I became obsessed with the promise and danger in science and with the ways governments can manipulate scientists to do their bidding.

Many other scientists played crucial roles in the development of
atomic power and weapons. Some of them knew exactly what they
were doing and entertained no illusions about what governments
might do with their work. Others were perhaps more naïve, or were
willing to believe that they would have a say in the political decisions.
The story told in this book is a complicated and fascinating tale about
how scientists decoded a mystery of nature—in fierce competition
with each other—and how their discoveries enabled the launching of
the most enormous weapons research and production project ever undertaken: the Manhattan Project, which brought us the atomic bomb.
The book follows the scientific adventures of the men and women
who played key roles in the great endeavor of learning the secrets of uranium, breakthroughs that led them to discover the processes of fission and chain reaction—the essential elements of both nuclear power generation and nuclear bombs. These scientists included the tireless and fiercely ambitious Lise Meitner, the Austrian physicist who throughout her life had to struggle against sexism and anti-Semitism and yet triumphed to become the first scientist to decipher the strange process of fission. Our story follows the innovative experiments designed by one of the most versatile scientists of the twentieth century, the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, who thought he had discovered the production of transuranium elements in his lab when in fact he had made much greater discoveries about radioactivity and the nature of the atom. These would lead to his creation of a chain reaction under the football field of the University of Chicago. And we meet the eminent Danish physicist Niels Bohr, whose work on uranium fission was of paramount importance and who influenced the careers of virtually all the scientists involved in this voyage of discovery. The book describes the struggles, challenges, and triumphs of the scientists who worked on uranium, as well as their conflicts. Their collective work resulted in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Cold War, and our present nuclear age—with its great challenges brought on by the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the expansion of nuclear power as a response to global warming.

Energy: Wind: The History of Wind Energy, Electricity Generation from the Wind, Types of Wind Turbines, Wind Energy Potential, Offshore Wind Technology, ... Economic and Policy Issues, Tax Policy by (TheCapitol.Net) Since early recorded history, people have been harnessing the energy of the wind. In the United States in the late 19th century, settlers began using windmills to pump water for farms and ranches, and later, to generate electricity for homes and industry. Industrialism led to a gradual decline in the use of windmills. The steam engine replaced European water-pumping windmills, and in the 1930s, the Rural Electrification Administration's programs brought inexpensive electric power to most rural areas in the US. However, industrialization also sparked the development of larger windmills, wind turbines, to generate electricity.

After experiencing strong growth in the mid-1980s, the U.S. wind industry hit a plateau during the electricity restructuring period in the 1990s and then regained momentum in 1999. Industry growth has since responded positively to policy incentives.

Although wind power currently provides only about 1% of U.S. electricity needs, it is growing more rapidly than any other energy source.

Wind power has negligible fuel costs, but high capital costs. The estimated average cost per unit incorporates the cost of construction of the turbine and transmission facilities, borrowed funds, return to investors (including cost of risk), estimated annual production, and other components, averaged over the projected useful life of the equipment, which may be in excess of twenty years.

Modern wind turbines fall into two basic groups: the horizontal-axis variety and the vertical-axis design. Utility-scale turbines range in size from 100 kilowatts to as large as several megawatts. Larger turbines are grouped together into wind farms which provide bulk power to the electrical grid. Single small turbines (below 100 kilowatts) are used for homes, telecommunications dishes, or water pumping. Small turbines are sometimes used in connection with diesel generators, batteries, and photovoltaic systems. These systems are called hybrid wind systems and are typically used in remote, off-grid locations where a connection to the utility grid is not available.

A key challenge for wind energy is that electricity production depends on when winds blow rather than when consumers need power. Wind's variability can create added expenses and complexity in balancing supply and demand on the grid. Recent studies imply that these integration costs do not become significant (5%-10% of wholesale prices) until wind turbines account for 15%-30% of the capacity in a given control area.

Opposition to wind power arises for environmental, aesthetic, or aviation security reasons. New public-private partnerships have been established to address more comprehensively problems with avian (bird and bat) deaths resulting from wind farms. Some stakeholders oppose the construction of wind plants for visual reasons, especially in pristine or highly-valued areas.

Wind technology has improved significantly over the past two decades, and wind energy has become increasingly competitive with other power generation options. Federal wind power policy has centered primarily on the production tax credit (PTC), a business incentive to operate wind facilities. The PTC was extended through 2013. While wind energy still depends on federal tax incentives to compete, key uncertainties like climate policy, fossil fuel prices, and technology progress could dominate future cost competitiveness.

Full Table of Contents, Sample Sections, and additional resources are available on the book's web site: www.TCNWind.com

Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock That Shaped the World by Tom Zoellner (Viking) Uranium is a common element in the earth's crust and the only naturally occurring mineral with the power to end all life on the planet. After World War II, it reshaped the global order-whoever could master uranium could master the world.

Marie Curie gave us hope that uranium would be a miracle panacea, but the Manhattan Project gave us reason to believe that civilization would end with apocalypse. Slave labor camps in Africa and Eastern Europe were built around mine shafts and America would knowingly send more than six hundred uranium miners to their graves in the name of national security.

Fortunes have been made from this yellow dirt; massive energy grids have been run from it. Fear of it panicked the American people into supporting a questionable war with Iraq and its specter threatens to create another conflict in Iran. Now, some are hoping it can help avoid a global warming catastrophe.

In Uranium, Tom Zoellner takes readers around the globe in this intriguing look at the mineral that can sustain life or destroy it.






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