THE ATOM AND THE FAULT: Experts, Earthquakes, and Nuclear Power by Richard L. Meehan

THE ATOM AND THE FAULT: Experts, Earthquakes, and Nuclear Power

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Meehan, the wry, idiosyncratic author of Getting Sued and Other Tales of the Engineering Life, is a San Francisco civil engineer whose firm concerns itself with the geological problems of plant sitings. In this capacity, it has been involved in some celebrated nuclear-reactor disputes. In the case of the GE Test Reactor at Vallecitos, for example, the question of the reactor's proximity to either a landslide or a rupturable fault led to lengthy and heated debate, and eventual closure of the plant despite a trouble-free history. Meehan also probes the seeds of conflict at Pacific Gas and Electric's Bodega plant and at Diablo Canyon. His point of view is neither defensive nor aggressive. Rather, he calls for an end to the polarization that stacks engineers against environmentalists, US geological survey geologists against company geologists or consultants; a polarization further compounded by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with its own advisory committees, consultants, and geologists. So the book is philosophy and history of science, rather than another tract. Meehan does, however, have savage criticism for many--the ""Sierra Clubbers,"" the lawyers, the disputatious geologists (a most contentious tribe, Meehan avers). Interestingly, he classifies geology as a soft science, given to theories no more solid than the Id or Keynesian economics. In the end, he states his case for experts who will calculate risks in an atmosphere free of bombast and rhetoric; following his own logic, he raises doubts as to the safety of some of the California nuclear-plant sitings. Unusual and absorbing.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1984
Publisher: MIT Press