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Review Essay

The Nuclear Option

Renewables Can’t Save the Planet—but Uranium Can

In This Review

Energy and Civilization: A History
Energy and Civilization: A History
By Vaclav Smil
MIT Press, 2017, 568 pp. Purchase

Around the world, the transition from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy appears to finally be under way. Renewables were first promoted in the 1960s and 1970s as a way for people to get closer to nature and for countries to achieve energy independence. Only recently have people come to see adopting them as crucial to preventing global warming. And only in the last ten years has the proliferation of solar and wind farms persuaded much of the public that such a transition is possible. In December 2014, 78 percent of respondents to a large global survey by Ipsos agreed with the statement “In the future, renewable energy sources will be able to fully replace fossil fuels.”

Toward the end of his sweeping new history, Energy and Civilization, Vaclav Smil appears to agree. But Smil, one of the world’s foremost experts on energy, stresses that any transition to renewables would

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