The Doomsday Machine (book)

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AuthorMartin Cohen
Andrew McKillop
CountryUnited States
Subjectnuclear industry, nuclear energy, energy economics, social science
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publication date
March 27, 2012 (2012-03-27)
Media typePrint, digital
LC ClassHD9698.A2C567 2012

The Doomsday Machine: The High Price of Nuclear Energy, the World's Most Dangerous Fuel is a 2012 book by Martin Cohen and Andrew McKillop which addresses a broad range of concerns regarding the nuclear industry, the economics and environmental aspects of nuclear energy, nuclear power plants, and nuclear accidents. The book has been described by The New York Times as "a polemic on the evils of splitting the atom".[1]


Economic fundamentals[edit]

"The usual rule of thumb for nuclear power is that about two thirds of the generation cost is accounted for by fixed costs, the main ones being the cost of paying interest on the loans and repaying the capital..."[2]

Areva, the French nuclear plant operator, for example, offers that 70 percent of the cost of a kWh of nuclear electricity is accounted for by the fixed costs from the construction process.[2] In the foreword to the book, Steve Thomas, Professor of Energy Studies at the University of Greenwich in the UK, states that "the economic realities of rapidly escalating costs and insurmountable financing problems... will mean that the much-hyped nuclear renaissance will one day be remembered as just another 'nuclear myth'."[3]

In discussions about the economics of nuclear power, the authors explain, what is often not appreciated is that the cost of equity, that is, companies using their own funds to pay for new plants, is generally higher than the cost of debt. Another advantage of borrowing may be that "once large loans have been arranged at low interest rates—perhaps with government support—the money can then be lent out at higher rates of return".[4]

Environmental platform[edit]

As Matthew Wald in the New York Times noted, despite being at its heart environmentalist, the book challenges certain Green orthodoxies, notably the idea that whatever the risks of nuclear energy, the threat from man-made climate change is greater.[5]

As Chiara Proietti Silvestri wrote in a review for the Italian Energy journal Energia[6] in the Doomsday Machine, the authors argue that the fight against pollution from CO2 generated mostly by the human activities and described as be the primary cause of rising temperatures at the global level thus becomes a "simple story" told by a club dominated from Anglophone countries in an attempt to defend and promote particular national interests. Reducing huge national subsidies to domestic coal industries and promoting the lucrative market for nuclear power stations being the case in point.[7]

The book describes how fossil fuels remain the main source of energy for the world, while nuclear power manages to meet only three percent of the needs of world energy. This leads to the question: why is the figure so low when it is often read that nuclear is a key part of the "world energy mix"? The authors explain that the trick is in the "fiddling" of statistics, writing that the "key point about world energy is that it is almost all thermal. Whether it is created by burning coal, oil or gas, or firewood or dung, or even running nuclear power plants, the first thing produced is heat".[8]

Historical perspective[edit]

Although nuclear power is still today presented as the energy of future ("the first myth" [9]), its roots are paradoxically in the speech "Atoms for Peace", by President Eisenhower. The authors state that this history shows that the origins of nuclear power lie with military needs, and are anything but peaceful, and that Eisenhower's speech itself was an attempt to distract the world from the tests of the US hydrogen bomb. Scientists — from Albert Einstein and Georges Lemaître to Enrico Fermi and Robert Oppenheimer — come in for criticism for serving the same military strategies.[10]

The history of nuclear power is also marked by the slogan — "too cheap to meter" — described as the foundation of another myth. The book argues that nuclear power is not and has never been cheap but rather found the resources to tap public subsidies, special systems of taxation, loans government and other beneficial guarantees. The arrival of the liberalization[2] of the electrical market has had a strong impact on the nuclear industry, revealing the true costs (e.g. the over-run in costs on the new EPR at Olkiluoto in Finland).[11]

This leads to "tricks" to manipulate figures (cost projections of construction, decommissioning and insurance schemes), the extension of the life of the reactors, the reuse of the depleted fuel) in order to conceal the fundamental non-affordability.[12] Today,[when?] according to the authors, the nuclear lobby triumphantly describes the new order flow, especially in developing countries, where the "environment tends to remain a 'free good'",[13] and there is a "cultural indifference to public hazard and risk" all of which, they argue, raises new concerns about the environmental protection, about technical expertise and political instability.[14]


A central theme of the book is the issue of the true, economic, cost of nuclear electricity. The preface by professor Steve Thomas indicates the information density with which the authors construct their arguments, expressed nonetheless in witty and tight language, as the Italian Energia review put it,[15] while according to Kirukus: "The authors deliver a convincing account of the partnership between industry and government (essential because nuclear plants require massive subsidies) to build wildly expensive generators whose electricity remains uncompetitive without more subsidies."[16] In another review, science policy writer Jon Turney stated that the "strongest suit" of the book was "energy economics and supply data".[17]

New York Times' Matthew L. Wald analyzes the argument put forth in the Doomsday Machine that "even if global warming science was not explicitly invented by the nuclear lobby, the science could hardly suit the lobby better". He comments, "In fact, the [nuclear] industry continues to argue that in the United States it is by far the largest source of zero-carbon energy, and recently began a campaign of upbeat ads to improve its image." Finding the claim that "In almost every country — usually for reasons completely unrelated to its ability to deliver electricity — there is almost universal political support for nuclear power" is "probably an exaggeration" in the case of Japan post-Fukushima and Germany, Wald agrees that "two countries with enormous demand for electricity and not much hand-wringing over global warming, are planning huge reactor construction projects". Wald notes that, even in Japan, the "catastrophe plays in some quarters as a reason to build new reactors".[1]

New Scientist's Fred Pearce panned the book, calling it "mendacious and frequently anti-scientific", remarking that it "combines hysterical opposition to all things nuclear with an equally deranged climate-change denialism".[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Wald, Matthew L. (2012-04-10). "Nuclear Power's Death Somewhat Exaggerated". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-06-09.
  2. ^ a b c Doomsday 2012, page 89
  3. ^ Doomsday 2012, page v
  4. ^ Doomsday 2012, page 199
  5. ^ a b Pearce, Fred (30 March 2012). "CultureLab: Doomsday drivel: promoting nuclear paranoia". New Scientist. Archived from the original on 2013-09-01. Retrieved 2013-08-12.
  6. ^ Energia 2/2012, pages 78–80
  7. ^ Doomsday 2012, page 167
  8. ^ Doomsday 2012, page 28
  9. ^ Doomsday 2012, page 34. The book says: "Yet, as with most technological solutions, novelty has shielded nuclear from a clear-eyed assessment of its actual usefulness. Many people in the "old-nuclear" countries, where civil nuclear power was first developed from the 1950s and 1960s, can still recall how atomic energy was first presented to them. In schoolbooks, in speeches from leading politicians, and in the press, an impressive chorus of recommendations for ever bigger and bigger high-tech reactor projects presented nuclear power unambiguously as the energy of the future." And a bit later: "…with a new millennium starting, nuclear power was back— suddenly reinvigorated with a surge of multibillion-dollar projects—or at least plans for them. Once again, the atom was to be the energy of the future."
  10. ^ Doomsday 2012, page 40
  11. ^ Doomsday 2012, page 73
  12. ^ A section of the book entitled: '12 Best Tricks of nuclear economics' describes these: Doomsday 2012, pages 92-108
  13. ^ Doomsday 2012, page 20
  14. ^ Doomsday 2012, page 44
  15. ^ "Rivista Energia - Rie - Page 44". Retrieved 7 February 2018.
  16. ^ Smith, Gar (2012-01-30). "THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE by Martin Cohen, Andrew McKillop". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 2013-06-09.
  17. ^ "The Doomsday Machine: The High Price of Nuclear Energy, the World's Most Dangerous Fuel". Times Higher Education. 2012-07-05. Retrieved 2013-06-18.