This is my first review of an audio download from Audible. (I say "audio download" because this is more like a classroom style lecture series rather than the more common audio book.) Until now I thought it totally unnecessary to add yet another me-too review to other books I've listened to with dozens to hundreds of similar reviews already posted. But since this course has been lightly reviewed I wanted to give my input for others considering this lecture series.
In a few words: I really enjoyed it...
I really thought I was pretty savvy when it comes to computer security. Was I ever wrong! This series was fascinating from beginning to end. The Stuxnet virus lecture (lecture 1) was really amazing. The hardware vulnerability lecture was disturbing. The section on password vulnerability made me super paranoid, and has made me change all my passwords to ones that are much more secure.
I will certainly be more careful in my browsing habits, but I worry greatly about attacks on our infrastructure here in the USA. After listening to this series I was taking a walk along the California aqueduct and came to a massive flow control gate station. There was nobody there. The building itself was heavily fortified, and most likely alarmed. But everything is controlled remotely, and the entire path of the controlling cable is clearly marked with "Do not dig here" placards. Can you tap in here by digging down a few feet? What if someone hacked into that network and opened all the control gates along the entire route from northern California to Los Angeles? Are the control sequences encrypted? How secure are they? Are they connected to the internet? [Keep in mind, though, the Stuxnet virus penetrated the Iranian uranium enrichment facility even though it wasn't hooked up to the internet].
So I can be prosecuted for a federal crime if I update my facebook account at work, but if I make a personal phone call on the company phone it is not? The legal system is so outdated, based on law from the 1970's when phones were the most common communication medium. Fascinating stuff.
I was amazed at how vulnerable we are, and I don't have much confidence in the ability of our elected leaders to handle this. Are we headed for an impending crisis?
This book is packed with so much fascinating and detailed information I had to go out and buy the kindle version also so I could go through all the details again. I was aware of many of the nuclear accidents described, but my knowledge of them was often incorrect. Many of them were much less catastrophic than the media portrayed at the time, while others were much less known and much worse.
The book starts out with a story of entrepreneurs staging train wrecks (using decommissioned aging trains headed for the scrap heap) and charging admission to watch them collide head on at high speed (like 30 MPH). This segways into atomic accidents - a connection I don't quite get (atomic accidents are like watching train wrecks?). I didn't think this part connected at all to the story, but it is short and if you breeze through it the rest of the book is spell binding.
My favorite event was the description of the Chernobyl accident. The people running that facility were conducting a doomsday scenario where they deliberately cause the reactor to shut down the turbines, disable the emergency core cooling system, turns off all cooling pumps, and block the diesel backup generators from turning on. The idea was - let's see what happens... There were many contributing design problems as well, and the operators in charge had no clue as to how the reactor functioned at all. Major warnings from the control equipment were ignored, and automatic shutdown systems were manually overridden. After the blast the system manager was convinced that this was just a minor steam pressure relief valve failure, and sent two workers down to check on the reactor core to manually push in a few stuck control rods (at least stuck according to the instrument control panel). The two workers had to navigate past elevators blown out of their shaft, and concrete blocks the size of cars which used to be part of the reactor building. The reactor wasn't there. There was just a hole where it once was. Meanwhile, they notice a fresh crisp smell in the air, and strange tingling sensation in their bodies. Their skin was turning brown from the 30,000 roentgens per hour dosage they were receiving...
Another thing that really surprised me was the chapter called "The Military Almost Never Lost a Nuclear Weapon". I was vaguely aware of the Mars Bluff incident in 1958 (where an unarmed atomic bomb accidently got dropped in South Carolina), but the details were very shocking. Even though the nuclear core was not in the bomb, the implosion charge (which compresses and sets off the nuclear explosion) was huge. The crater is still there today 50 plus years later (google "Mars Bluff Bomb Crater"). But there are so many more 'incidents' of lost nuclear weapons. I had no idea.
Most of the serious accidents that killed individuals (military research and nuclear reprocessing) happened decades ago, and the industry is clearly getting safer today.
This is a great book. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the future of nuclear power in the world.
Like others who have reviewed this book, I had read this book decades ago (in print of course). Listening to it again now was a real joy. I had forgotten so much of the story!
But unlike others I had no problem with the narrator. I don't understand. Did we listen to the same book? Peter Ganim was fine. I'm worried that some will pass on the book based on bad narrator reviews, which in my opinion are off the mark. I would have no qualms listening to another book read by him.
After listening to this great story I'm just imagining what a great blockbuster movie this could be.... Think of the special effects that could be done with today's technology - and in 3-D too!
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