Thursday, May 2, 2013

Nuclear Power vs. Coal:

Comparative Estimate of Deaths

In recent weeks, I've seen several reports on energy issues that encourage me that people really are looking deeply at the issues.  I recently reported on one set of articles on some of the potential shortcomings of renewable technologies.  In this post, I'll talk about a report that nuclear power has saved 1.8 million lives.  The news reports are based on a technical paper published by the American Chemical Society and authored by Pushker Kharecha and James Hansen.
This report initially got a fair amount of attention because James Hansen has become well known as an advocate for reducing greenhouse gases (although an op-ed by Clint Wolfe in the Augusta Chronicle noted that the attention has largely been limited to technical publications, and it has not gotten nearly as much attention in the general press as Hansen's earlier studies on global warming received). The authors embarked on this study because they were concerned that the reaction to Fukushima was out of proportion to its impacts.  The study compared both fatalities and greenhouse gas emissions from the entire fuel cycle for both coal and nuclear power.  (It did not look at non-fatal illnesses.)  Most of the press seems to have focused on the figures for fatalities, which are startling. 

I have been a little surprised I haven't seen more follow up on the reports.  After all, numbers in the millions seem so large that I expected some rebuttal offering different data and different results.  I must confess I haven't tried to parse all the data and calculations in the study myself, but I can only assume that the lack of counterarguments is evidence that the study results are solid.

Of course, many of us have known for a long time that there were a lot of coal-related fatalities.  The problem has been that they usually occur in small numbers at a time, and mostly among people who are elderly or in poor health, so the correlation between coal burning and health effects has tended to be masked.  

Still, a number approaching two million certainly got my attention.  I hope it will get the attention of others. 



  1. People prefer to worry about the exotic rather than the mundane. Uranium causes cancer and creates giant mutated insects which destroy cities. Coal just gets your carpet dirty. It is analogous to the public's worry over terrorists when, statistically, you are eight times more likely to be killed by a police officer than a terrorist and about a thousand times more likely to be killed in an auto accident.

  2. Who would give the study more attention?

    Coal will want to ignore it and hope it fades quietly away.

    Renewables think that it is irrelevant, because they take it as given that coal should be replaced. They just believe that unreliables are a better choice than nuclear.

    I'm not sure why the media doesn't trumpet it more widely. It seems like the kind of sensational news they'd make more hay out of.

    Nuclear never bothers to raise a finger to defend or advance itself.

  3. "I'm not sure why the media doesn't trumpet it more widely. It seems like the kind of sensational news they'd make more hay out of."
    Government, or their friends, are all invested in the renewables because it was a politicians dream. Carte-blanche regulation and subsidy the public naively supported. All their midia partners, clients, acolytes or minions will support it to death.

  4. The study should get more attention. Fukushima shock is over, it's time to set emotions aside and look at nuclear energy in terms of statistics.

  5. Of course they won't mention such a report. If they do they may have to mention the fact that about 1.8MILLION people die each year from renewable energy.
    That is more than have died from nuclear effects in its entire history, including the bombs.