Higher Power: An American Town’s Story of Faith, Hope, and Nuclear Energy

Book jacket of Higher Power

Casey Bukro (BSJ58, MSJ61)

Nuclear power once promised to be the solution to the world’s energy crisis, but that all changed in the late twentieth century after multiple high-profile accidents and meltdowns. Power plant workers, finding themselves the subject of public opposition, became leery of reporters. But one plant in Zion, Illinois, just forty miles north of Chicago, allowed unrestricted access to one journalist: the Chicago Tribune’s Casey Bukro, one of the first environment reporters in the country. Bukro spent two years inside the Zion nuclear plant, interviewing employees, witnessing high-risk maintenance procedures, and watching the radiation exposure counter on his own dosimeter tick up and up.

In Higher Power, Bukro’s reporting from the plant is prefaced by a compelling history of the city of Zion, including a tell-all of John Alexander Dowie, a nineteenth-century “faith healer” who founded Zion, and whose evangelism left a mark on the city well into the modern era, even as a new “higher” power—nuclear energy—moved into town.

With the acceleration of climate change, the questions and challenges surrounding nuclear power have never been more relevant. How did the promise of nuclear energy stumble? Should we try to address the mistakes made in the past? What part could nuclear power play in our energy future? Higher Power explores these questions and examines one American town’s attempts to build a better society as a bellwether for national policy and decision making