Sunday, December 04, 2011

Nuclear Energy is Dangerous! (but less so than most other energy sources)

Few things in the global discourse are plagued with more disinformation, feelings instead of facts and paid lobbyists than energy production.
Consequently, it is almost impossible to listen just to the plain truth, in almost all news and public articles there is a hidden agenda (supported by either the coal, oil, gas, solar, wind or nuclear lobby).
So let’s try to be objective for a moment, only for a moment.
Question: Which is the country with the most installed nuclear capacity in the world?
Answer: The USA.
Question: Which has been the worst nuclear power plant accident in the USA since the technology went online in 1957?
Answer: The Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1979.
Question: How many people died in that accident?
Answer: ZERO.
A more recent example that, through media bias, terrorized the world and in particular some world leaders (yes, we are thinking about Angela right now) was the Fukushima Daiichi accident.
Question: How many people died in this accident?
Answer: One (1).  He actually died of a heart attack, but we’ll count him anyway.
On the other hand, in the earthquake / tsunami that caused this accident more than 15,000 people died and more than 7,000 are still missing.  However, by listening to the news it would almost seem that the casualty numbers are switched.
Since the first nuclear power plant went online in 1954 (the Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant in the then USSR) only two nuclear accidents have been classified at a Level 7 severity (the scale goes from 0 to 7).  The only other Level 7 event, aside from the Fukushima Daiichi one was the Chernobyl disaster that caused 57 direct deaths.  Sure, there has been much discussion with respect to the indirect deaths caused by Chernobyl, but the UNSCEAR now states: “There is no scientific evidence of increases in overall cancer incidence or mortality rates or in rates of non-malignant disorders that could be related to radiation exposure.”  On the other hand, France produces almost 80% of its electric power with nuclear plants and, I couldn’t find through my research a single serious nuclear power plant accident in that country, ever.  Fact: today 13.5% of the world’s electricity supply is produced by nuclear plants.**
So, and just for the record, how does this compare to, say, hydro power, an energy source considered safe and “green” by most people?  The worst hydro accident so far has been the burst of a dam in China in 1975 which caused the death of 171,000 people, plus the loss of 11 million homes.
And, what about coal?  “In the U.S. alone, more than 100,000 coal miners were killed in accidents over the past century.” And in China, according to TIME up to 20,000 coal miners die every year in coal mine accidents.  Wow!   Fact: today 41% of the world’s electricity is produced with coal.**
In the case of coal, as with the other fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas, the direct deaths do not include the effects of global warming or air pollution diseases that could potentially kill millions or even billions.
So, this leaves us barely two contenders for the “safe” energy badge: sun and wind (sure, a few bats and birds will die at the blades).  However, sun and wind are not for the most part “base” energy producers.  Peak consumption at most cities is between 8pm and 10pm when, almost by definition we have no useful sunlight and wind may or may not blow at any particular moment.  Consequently, humanity needs ample supplies of “base” power. 
Conclusion: if we set aside lobbying, disinformation and feelings and just focus on the actual track record of nuclear power for its whole 57 years of existence, we have to conclude it is one of the safest, if not the safest, base energy source that humanity has developed.  Oh, and did we mention it generates almost no CO2 during operation?
In case somebody wants to dive deeper, below is the full set of references used to write this article.


At 8:31 AM, Anonymous actinideage said...

If I may provide a reference that summarises fatal and non-fatal accidents involving wind generation:
In 2011 alone there were 14 fatal accidents.


Post a Comment

<< Home