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Deaths per unit of energy for various sources (ibm.com)
203 points by johndcook on Mar 16, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 247 comments

The sources look good [1] In particular, the deaths as a result of hydroelectric power caught some catastrophic failures. Dams are very, very dangerous constructions, and have a failure mode that makes a nuclear plant look safe by comparison. Just one major Hydroelectric Dam [2], Bangiao, was responsible for on the order of 50,000 deaths related directly to the Dam Failure.

[1] http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-so...

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banqiao_Dam

If 50,000 people were to die from a nuclear incident, a large portion of the public would absolutely lose their minds and insist that a nuclear reactor never again be built on the planet.

50,000 deaths resulting from <choose any other technology> however, is just an unfortunate incident. Hundreds of people will die year after year mining coal with nary a whimper of complaint, but we will hear about people sufferring from thyroid cancer 20 years after Chernobyl until the end of time.

(Sorry, a tad snarky....but also very true, no?)

Depends on their surface reflectivity.

A few 10s of European people die at chernobyl = crisis, ban nuclear now. A few 10,000s of Indians die at Bhopal = so what.

Of course sometimes you have to be a little more discriminating. A damn breaks in China killing poor yellow people = so what. A reactor accident in Japan affecting rich yellow people = crisis.

Strangely 1800 people being killed on trains in a Tsunami doesn't seem to matter. Germany hasn't decided to cancel ICE services between Munich and Wien until the track can be made Tsunami proof.

"A few 10s of European"... I think you should correct Wikipedia. https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Chernobyl_dis... "Estimates of the total number of deaths attributable to the accident vary enormously, from possibly 4,000 to close to a million".

Forget wikipedia and go the site of the World Health Organisation. http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2006/9241594179_eng.pd... http://www.who.int/ionizing_radiation/chernobyl/chernobyl_di...

The reports range from 4000 extra cancer deaths (of 100 000 deaths) to 10 000 deaths out of a million. While 10000 isn't small, it represents a 1% increase in cancer related deaths. Stricter smoking laws can save more people than a nuclear stop.

That's including 0.01% lifetime extra cancer risk * 100M people

If you are going to do that then a single cigarette ad on a formula 1 car kills more people than Hiroshima.

If you are going to do that then a single cigarette ad on a formula 1 car kills more people than Hiroshima.

Maybe not a single ad, but certainly cigarettes do, and it is a valid way to count.

then how are you counting?

Probably because they were safer on the trains than they would have been in cars? You'd still have people in transit, and I'm not a mechanical engineer or physicist but I'd think it was obvious that trains hold up a little better to giant waves than the typical japanese car.

There is less radiation risk from normally operating German nuclear power stations than there is from all the radionuclides the extra coal burning stations will emit.

Although since Germany hit on the idea of exporting it's dirty coal to Poland, burning it there and importing the power they will be east europeans getting the cancer.

Well, I was talking about being hit by tsunamis, not radiation.

I prefer nuclear power to coal myself but I must clarify that "normally operating nuclear power stations" aren't what people worry about with nuclear power.

Yes, but people don't give a flying fuck about coal or coal seam fires when globally coal seam fires release 40 tons of mercury into the atmosphere, 3% of the worlds annual CO2 emissions. Not to mention they're releasing a crap-load of radioactive materials on their own.

People are idiots. They worry about nuclear power going "wrong", but don't worry about all the other far more dangerous power technologies working "right" and being more deadly.

Nuclear power is like a rubber bullet. When it goes wrong, it can kill someone but 99.9% of the time it's phenomenally safe. Coal and Oil are essentially like lead bullets. They can kill someone each and every time they're fired, but people are used to it so they don't care.

If Chernobyl had been a dam burst incident, people would be living in Pripyat right now.

What if a nuclear disaster like that happened next to say, Philadelphia, and left the area uninhabitable for 10,000 years?

So, if you are allowed to use Chernobyl as an example of "typical" nuclear power installations, and come to the logical conclusion that all other nuclear reactor installations in the world carry the same risk, then can I similarly use the Banqiao Dam as an example of a "typical" hydroelectric dam, and declare that all dams in the world therefore carry the same risk?

You sure can. I think his point is still valid. Nuclear disasters are unique in that the damage from then tends to last FAR longer then the damage from any other type of disaster.

People still live near three mile island.

That accident was safely contained.

I agree, and even without nuclear disasters, no human society has ever lasted for as long as nuclear waste must be looked after.

Nuclear waste is a US only issue. It doesn't exist in any other country. Buy some CANDU reactors from Canada and you can burn your nuclear waste for energy.

You can't be serious... nuclear waste is a huge issue in pretty much every country that has nuclear power plants. Half of Germany goes insane every time there is a transport of nuclear waste from one temporary storage location to another.

The parent comment to yours is serious. CANDU reactors can run off fuel that is considered 'waste' from light water reactors. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candu#Fuel_cycles

Every other nuclear power reprocesses their waste into fuel.

The reason the US doesn't is partly nimby-ism and partly strategic, waste contains plutonium and if we need to make more nukes to fight the commies we will be glad we didn't reprocess it all.

CANDU doesn't chemically re-process it (no purification). It just physically breaks it up into fuel rods that it can use. A CANDU reactor can run on unprocessed, raw (just-pulled-it-out-of-the-ground) uranium, which light water reactors cannot do without chemical reprocessing.

You can't accurately assess the total impact of the Chernobyl accident yet because the damage is still on-going and the exclusion zone will still be hazardous to human health long after you and I are in our graves. The presumption that knowledge of the nature of the danger and the geographical boundaries of the exclusion zone will be preserved and passed on to future generations for the entire duration that the area remains a danger to human health is rather dubious. History is riddled with examples of ancient civilizations whose secrets are lost to us. As members of the technical elite of our society, we tend to implicitly assume that knowledge will be preserved and technological progress will continue in an unbroken chain, but that doesn't necessarily make it so. Technological "dark ages" have happened before in which much that was known was lost. How can we be certain that anyone will still know the location of the exclusion zones and be aware of the radiation risk 500, 1000, 2000 years from now? If we're honest with ourselves, we will admit that we have saddled future generations with the burden of a booby trap that will likely still be causing much suffering and death when our present civilization is as ancient as the Parthenon is now.

I think he's trying to say Chernobyl was an outlier, a faulty design which melted down under completely outrageous circumstances, and due to today's safety standards it won't happen again. Therefore Chernobyl can't really be used to say nuclear power is unsafe.

The point is that the consequences of a disaster like Chernobyl are so nasty and so long-lived that, if we are to continue building and operating nuclear power plants, we have a responsibility to ensure that such "outliers" never happen unless the earth sustains a direct hit from an asteroid or the Yellowstone supervolcano is erupting (in which case, we're screwed like the dinosaurs anyway). If we can't do that then we have no business being in the nuclear power business. Failure is unacceptable. The situation in Fukushima is not the same as Chernobyl, but that doesn't mean that what is happening there is acceptably safe. We shouldn't be seeing news articles stating that "primary containment feared breached" or that the water level in the spent fuel pools is low (source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405274870389970457620...).

From the most pro-nuclear article I've seen thus far: "The earthquake which hit on Friday was terrifically powerful, shaking the entire planet on its axis and jolting the whole of Japan several feet sideways. At 8.9 on the Richter scale, it was some five times stronger than the older Fukushima plants had been designed to cope with." - excerpt from http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/14/fukushiima_analysis/

The article spins this as though it is some magnificent testament to the quality of the engineering design. I read something like that and then look at this historical list of Japanese earthquakes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_earthquakes_in_Japan) and the thought that comes to my mind is, "Why the fsck didn't they build it to withstand a 9.5 and a tsunami so they'd have some goddamn margin of safety?" Why is it considered sufficient to have a system where unavailability of power to run pumps is the single point of failure in all of the cooling systems except for the inadequate-to-do-the-whole-job 8-hour battery-powered system? Why haven't we come up with a completely passive system capable of cooling the reactor if all else fails? The bottom line is, if you want the public to put their trust in nuclear power, then build the reactor so that even a 9.5 earthquake + tsunami is a total non-event.

So in order to get the trust of the public, all we have to do is build a super safe prototype reactor and wait for a 9.5 earthquake and direct tsunami hit to come along and have the damn thing survive? Sorry, but that just means we'll be building more coal plants for at least the next 100 years.

If we managed to get a man to the moon, I think we can figure out a reliable system for backup power at earthquake and tsunami prone plants. And if that fails, add a couple more levels of containment. Some of the latest designs don't require external power for cooling, so once all the old reactors are decommissioned, we shouldn't run into this kind of problem again.

You don't have to wait for a 9.5 earthquake to come along to test a design. That's what computer models are for. How do you think they came up with the estimate of what magnitude of a quake the existing design could withstand (assuming that the statement that this quake was "five times stronger" than what the plant was rated to handle has some basis in fact and isn't just a number plucked out of thin air)?

And if Chernobyl had been a dam burst, it is likely a great many more people would have died, and much more quickly.

EDIT: Despite the downvotes, this is not a trivial point, and is precisely why the OP is getting so much attention.

What if a nuclear disaster happened in Hiroshima or Nagasaki? What would those cities look like today?



An accident at a nuclear facility is rather dfferent than the effects of a nuclear weapon. The radiation exposure produced is much more gradual. It's not as instantly lethal as a bomb of course, but the effects of Chernobyl are still lingering.

Obviously they didn't have to encase Nagasaki or Hiroshima in a concrete sarcophagus. The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were fairly small, and air burst vs. ground burst. The amount of radioactive material in the bombs is a tiny fraction of what was released at Chernobyl.

People are fond of saying you can't compare Chernobyl to other reactors, etc. but it's all we had until recently. I'm sure we'll have some better examples in the future, but for now, according to the IEAE: http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/features/chernobyl-15/cherno-...

"How does Chernobyl’s effect measure up to the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

The accident at Chernobyl was approximately 400 times more potent than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima"

I assume things would look different in Japan if we had dropped a couple hundred of those bombs vs. one.

Haven't people been visiting Pripyat and finding it to be habitable to a lot of species of life? It won't be a wasteland for 10,000 years. And Chernobyl was so pooring designed it is not analagous to everything else (as was the damn that killed 50,000 people).

There is life, to be sure, but it's not 100% healthy. The area is still too radioactive for humans to dwell in without shortening their lives and it's not going away any time soon.

We'll see in the next 50 years how it goes having nuclear power plants operating in Africa, Indonesia, the Middle East, etc. New reactors are better designed, but I still don't trust 80% of the governments or corporations in the world to responsibly operate anything nuclear.

Are you joking? It's only 'habitable' in the sense that wildlife doesn't drop dead the moment it enters the exclusion zone. The animals are still receiving substantial amounts of radiation, and will continue to suffer for decades. The worst areas will be dangerous for centuries.

Towns like Picher, Oklahoma, will still be toxic when the sun goes out.

Radioactive Ceasium and Strontium are a pain for a few decades - lead, mercury and cadmium are for ever.

Non-sequitor. Just because something else is bad doesn't make this situation any better.

Oh my god they had a nuclear accident in Japan - we must shut down our nuclear reactors and instead pump out many millions of tons of dangerous radioisotopes and chemical poisons from new coal plants instead.

It's standard knee jerk procedure. We had a rail accident (the first in 10years) so the reaction was to close a bunch of inter city lines for months while they checked everything. Where did all those extra travellers go? onto the roads!

I hope the government doesn't hear about the problems with Toyota in america - they would then ban ABS and give everybody Tiger tanks to commute on.

I think most people who are opposed to nuclear are hoping governments and industry will seriously pursue more sustainable and non-toxic sources of power, not coal.

Radioactive metals are still toxic as heavy metals even when they're not radioactive, though. Uranium, for instance, is just as bad as lead, or worse.

Also habitable in the sense that a lot of people still live there, in ways extremely similar to how they did before, with (apparently) few ill effects. See http://outsideonline.com/adventure/travel-pf-201103-chernoby...

I'd like to offer you some prime property in Pripyat for your home. If you buy today, I'll even throw in a free well-drilling for your water supply.

So your argument is that as long as the asset or land is reusable then it does not matter if people died ?

So if you were driving a buick roadmaster and got killed in the car. the fact that they could hose of the dash and reuse the car is what matters ?

Or that in World War 2, when the tank crew of a Sherman tank was killed they could refurb it and send out a new crew, does that mean it is somehow better for the first crew ?

The common conception is that nuclear waste stays for a long time and thus 50K immediate deaths would be translated into 500K+ deaths later.

Also, 50K deaths all at once for any given energy source would also freak people out. I think that most people would unconsciously consider a coal mine disaster or a broken dam as "death from occupation" or "death from random accident" rather than "death from energy source". The unknown-ness of nuclear power tends to make people credit it directly with the deaths around it.

And yes, people have a psychological fear of the unknown. Evolutionarily, this is rather clearly justified.

If the education level in all industrial countries was raised to the point that the average person felt they had a strong understanding of nuclear power, the fear of it quite possibly would subside. But the cost of this might be considerably greater than the cost of converting to an "alternative" energy source.

>If the education level in all industrial countries was raised to the point that the average person felt they had a strong understanding of nuclear power

Considering the average person seems to be pushing the limits of their mental abilities differentiating between the debt and the deficit, for example, I for one am not optimistic it's even possible to have widespread understanding of nuclear power.

Well, the alternative to understanding a particular technology is blind faith in a particular technology.

The world's dictators show us only some of the problem with blind faith. The other problem with blind faith is that it tends to turn to blind hatred when disappointed, especially when a demagogue is close at hand to harness that blind faith in a different direction.

Choose whichever side of the political spectrum you consider ridiculously uninformed. Them in power is the alternative to a populace that encompass how the heck our society operates.

What most people don't realize is that there is uranium and thorium in coal itself. If you're worried about 'nuclear fallout' from power, worry about coal and not nuclear. By the way clean coal doesn't fix this because if they could filter it out, they'd be able to get more energy from the uranium than the coal itself.

I took a class once that discussed the relative safety of nuclear power and one of the key points the instructor made was the fact that radiation levels in the vicinity of a coal fired power plant are actually higher than in the vicinity of a nuclear power plant under normal operating conditions.

I've heard a similar story. The story was about a safety inspection at a nuclear power plant where they opened some large blast doors and the radiation alarms went off. After a while they realized that the radiation monitors were responding to a coal plant something like 25 miles away and the wind had shifted toward the nuclear plant.

I'm gonna call "citation needed" on this one. The clean coal part, specifically. Reasons:

Technically, it should be possible to filter out uranium. Thorium, too. Both are heavy enough, it should be possible to centrifuge them out of just about any mixture, unless the compounds they're in are too tightly bound with lighter molecules by intermolecular forces. Even then, I would expect them to find their way "down", even if they had to drag some of the nonradioactive portion with them.

The amount of energy you get out of the coal or the uranium is a function of not only the amount of energy in each, but their relative quantity, as well. If there's not enough uranium present to extract a significant portion, I'd have to wonder if there's really enough to put out as much energy as the coal's total output.

Taking it a little further, if there isn't enough to extract, is there really enough to pose a significant health risk? We're exposed to a certain amount of background radiation on a daily basis already. How much more does the uranium in coal add to this? Again, I'm tempted to doubt it's significant, if there's not enough to be extracted.

So, do we have reliable numbers on this?

Google "coal fired power plant radiation"

The following two articles cite "a 1978 paper for Science, J. P. McBride at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)"



and Wikipedia says, during normal operation the effective radiation dose from a coal plant is 100 times that of a nuclear power plant, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fossil_fuel_power_station#Radio...

Good god, that's the biggest non-point I've heard in my life.

You could've worked in something about potassium content of bananas while you were at it.

I believe his point runs along the lines of, ``there are radioactive elements released with coal smoke''. Which may be a big surprise to many people.

NB., a fun experiment: explain a smoker that the cigarette contains proverbial half of the Mendeleyev table.

In any case, the theoretical content of fissible elements in coal may be significant, but it doesn't seem to be economical to extract it at this point. We have heaps of uranium ore, and nuclear fusion seems to be around the corner.

Fusion power is 20 years away and always will be.

Less snarkily, is there actually good reason to believe that we're any closer to usable fusion?

Actually physicists are saying "Fusion power is 20 years away" without sniggering now!

The second space race is a reliable reason to believe.

Several governments bet big (well, perhaps medium) money on race to the Moon, to extract helium-3 [3] from water ice in there. A key component to commercial nuclear fusion -- and with only small-time other uses in medicine and stuff.


[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helium-3#Fusion_reactions

Yeah, but there's trace radioactive elements in literally everything on earth.

Hence, the biggest non point I've ever seen in my life. Unless coal is actually radioactive to a noteworthy significantly-more-than-a-banana extent, which I probably would have heard of by now (not that I haven't been wrong before).

His point has little to do with bananas and much to do with the danger of radiation and how it is commonly attributed to nuclear power plants rather than coal.

Here is an example of someone else making the same point:


You are right about the facts. And perhaps that's a non-point on well-educated HN. But the general public seems to be under-appreciating the pervasiveness of natural radiation, and freaking out about any nuclear contraptions. In some countries you can't even import those glowing tritium keychains :-(

heh i still smoke. im less interested in finding out all the ways i could die, and much more interested in finding all the ways to live.

On a very off-topic note, I fell madly in love with Totally Wicked Mini DSE901 [1]. And since I started composing liquids to my taste, I'm half-way in heaven ;-)


[1] http://www.totallywicked-eliquid.com/products/electronic-cig...

The dose due to actinide particulates from coal is a non-negligible part of your annual exposure.

It depends on how much there is, doesn't it?...

It does, and the answer is "trace amounts".

Your body has trace amounts of uranium as well. What's everyone so worried about?! Obviously the substance is perfectly safe.

On average, one `Banana equivalent dose' per banana: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose

And no, that's not a joke; it's a convenient measure of low radiation levels. Bananas are more naturally radioactive due to high potassium contents.

I think it's mostly just a rooted fear of anything “nuclear”, but there's an argument to be made that the damage caused by dams is localized in a way that nuclear disasters can't be. In reality, of course, it's quite impractical to move everything away from dam failure zones.

Either way, historical data is very valuable and in that light modern nuclear plants are pretty safe but I think potential damage should play some role in the determination of course…obviously, the best thing would be to go full-tilt renewables (with pretty much only hyperlocal failures) but the question is can we get there without additional nuclear power even if everyone fully invests in it? If nuclear didn't linger such a long time after the plants are decommissioned, the risk/reward of building new nuclear to tide us over the next 20-30 years would be a no-brainer.

I think it's an important discussion that I'm not quite sure can be had rationally – but even that's better than not having it at all.

>If nuclear didn't linger such a long time after the plants are decommissioned

It is at least theoretically possible to eliminate nuclear waste. I'm confident that with research into yet undiscovered reactor types we can reprocess and reuse the long-lived radioactive byproducts into byproducts with lifespans measured in centuries rather than millions of years.

Or we could throw it into the sun (yes, exploding rockets, I know. It's not an especially viable option, but it exists).

I'd wager you're correct to an extent, at least, but I'm not sure if it's still wise to spend the research on that rather than renewables – even allowing for the fact that there're scientists and facilities that can/want only help with the nuclear side, there's funding to be considered.

IIRC, the reason plants linger so long after decommission is because (at least in the US) it's illegal to reprocess the waste, which really isn't waste and has lots of useful stuff in it.

It can't all be reprocessed (which itself is somewhat hazardous not least because of the transport required) so you'll still have a sizable chunk of stuff that needs to be contained for tens of thousands of years.

Yes; people also freak out when a few dozen people die of a mysterious new disease like Ebola, even though thousands die every year in car accidents. The reason is not "WAHHH viruses WAHHH," it's that sometimes, mysterious new diseases become epidemics which kill millions, like AIDS.

A higher level of caution with unknown new threats, whose full possible level of harm is not understood, is rational and appropriate.

I think people are less critical towards casualties from damns because it’s water, and therefore perceived as natural.

I think if 50 000 dies from a oil-related incident you would get some serious backslash against fossil fuels as well. (Electric generation from oil or gas is already quite controversial here in Norway.)

> 50 000 dies from a oil-related incident you would get some serious backslash

30,000 deaths a year from coal pollution in the US alone... Where's the backlash?

30,000 deaths a year?

What you mean to say 30,000 people a year die some amount of time earlier than if we had no coal burning at all. That doesn't mean it killed 30,000 people as they were walking home from the grocery store at age 25 and a wall of coal came crushing down the street because the coal dam broke. So it's not really comparing Apples to Apples at all.

If slow killing by coal pollution is OK, then slow killing by radiation is OK too.

So many facepalm moments reading these threads, maybe I should just quit. What evidence would it take to convince you? Not some hypothetical "people" out there whose rationalizations conveniently say that any flavor of death that's old enough to be considered "commonplace" is okay, but nuclear=hubris. You ought to be smarter. You have seen the numbers. Where's the stickup? Do you think Chernobyl secretly killed 100x more people than they say it did, or what? Or do you admit to having a double standard?

> What you mean to say 30,000 people a year die some amount of time earlier than if we had no coal burning at all.

That's the same way people get to tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths from Chernobyl, isn't it? There were a few thousand direct deaths and a great deal more lives shortened to whatever degree.

Maybe, just like there's a "banana equivalent dose" for radiation we need some kind of "cigarette equivalent risk" to measure increased cancer risk & shortened life spans?

People already hate coal because of the pollution and the health problem miners can develop. Public sentiment doesn't have that much further to drop.

That's why you almost never see coal fired power stations these days, right?

Because when something happens, it's always because a majority of people want it to.

You are being selective about the truths you raise. You are also downplaying peoples reaction to massive numbers of deaths from other technologies, saying it is nary a whimper of complaint. Some would argue that 50,000 have already died from a nuclear incident, and a large portion of the public do insist that a nuclear reactor never be built again. Any of these people would have the same problem with building a dam over a populated area, they would insist that one never be built again. Go and ask someone. There isn't a choice that has to be made between coal, hydroelectric dams or nuclear. Look at the waste you are surrounded with. The difference in reaction to the technologies you are noting is fear of the aftermath of an accident, leaving an area uninhabitable for generations.

> Some would argue that 50,000 have already died from a nuclear incident.

Yes, some WOULD argue, but they would do so without the benefit of factual knowledge.


I'll point it out again: These figures are under dispute[1] and not "factual knowledge".

It seems only the IAEA is claiming 4000 deaths/cancers, whereas other studies claim tens of thousands or even a million[2].

I'll also repeat my other favorite argument in this recurring discussion: Chernobyl happened in a sparsely populated area that was quickly evacuated. Have you considered what the figures could look like if a similar disaster hits, say, the Tokyo area?

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster#Assessing_th...

[2] http://www.nyas.org/Publications/Annals/Detail.aspx?cid=f3f3...

> my other favorite argument...if a similar disaster hits, say, the Tokyo area?

It has probably already been considered, which is why there is no nuclear plant within 100km or so from Tokyo, and the Chernobyl exclusion zone has a radius of 30km. So, that is a hypothetical situation.


I doubt your qualifications to make that statement "without the benefit of factual knowledge". The two biggest disasters listed on your source, the wikipedia link are from locations that were behind the iron curtain at the time. I cannot state categorically to the contrary either for that reason. The statistics for the worst nuclear incident to date are provided on that page by the IAEA. Here is an excerpt from their mission statement[1]: "assists its Member States, in the context of social and economic goals, in planning for and using nuclear science and technology for various peaceful purposes, including the generation of electricity, and facilitates the transfer of such technology and knowledge in a sustainable manner to developing Member States;"


edit: IAEA article II "Objectives" of their statute[2]: "The Agency shall seek to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world. It shall ensure, so far as it is able, that assistance provided by it or at its request or under its supervision or control is not used in such a way as to further any military purpose."


So then are you making an assertion ("Some would argue that 50,000 have already died from a nuclear incident") which you also argue can never be proven true?

Yes, that's it. My wording is terrible. I'm saying there's an argument. I'm not saying which side of the argument is right or wrong. As time goes on, it becomes more and more difficult to know the extent. Only in the fullness of time could the extent possibly be known due to the delay in related deaths. It won't be known because it hasn't been monitored, and there are conflicting statistics.

>"a large portion of the public do insist that a nuclear reactor never be built again."

...and the entire point of the OP is to point out that they are wrong to do so-- or at the very least, that this opinion is irrational.

The opinion may well be irrational, but if it is widely held, would it not then have democratic validity?

Of course it would. Should it? I'd argue "no".

Which is the problem with democracy.

The opinion would be irrational if it were shown that nuclear power will save lives compared to the other sources or reducing power consumption, and these charts do not show that.

This may actually be true. Uranium decays into radioactive radon sooner or later. Radon is a gas so it escapes the earth. People breathe the stuff and inside the lungs it decays into polonium-210 sooner or later. By mining the uranium and sticking it into a reactor, the radon is removed from the atmosphere. Wether or not this benefit outweighs the deaths from Chernobyl and others is a very good (and still open) question.

By looking at the statistics however, switching all coal plants to nuclear reactor would save lives (mostly miners)

Reducing power consumption how much? To zero? By half? That's a bit of a moving target.

Regarding the alternate studies you have posted (which, btw, I really do appreciate): If one were to include the upper limits of them, would that make nuclear more dangerous than fossil fuels? Than widespread "alternatives"?

Please note that I'm not trying to be snarky here. I appreciate your posts and would genuinely like to hear your thoughts.

I haven't posted any alternate studies, I would have to take time to source them. Maybe you didn't notice?

If you bought a kill-a-watt or something similar, you could investigate how much money you can save on appliances. Same goes for energy saving bulbs, based on my own power bills, before and after, I saved about 75 percent when I started to make an effort. It would be foolish to attempt any extrapolation based on my anecdote, but I would surmise there are massive consumption savings to be made. Particularly in the home, insulation and in transport. Particularly startling to me is the frequently thrown about statistic that 5% of the energy consumption of the world is coming from datacentres. And that it was 20% more efficient to use DC to each blade than have a PSU doing ac/dc conversion in each.

I have had a look at the calculation in article linked: http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-so...

The source on Chernobyl (there are lots of caveats given about how it was a once off freak incident and these figures are absolute worst case): "If those possible 4000 deaths occur over the next 25 years, then with 2800 TWh being assumed average for 2005 through 2030, then it would be 4000 deaths over 112,000 TWh generated over 45 years or 0.037 deaths/TWh."

If one were to include the upper limits, the earlier upper bound figure mentioned was 1 million, assuming they died over 112,000 TWh it would be 1000000/4000 * 0.037 deaths/TWh which is 9.25 deaths per TWh. It looks pretty dangerous then, given that. It is grotesque doing this sort of calculation in the midst of unfolding events.

below is the source chart, figures in TWh:

Coal – world average 161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)

Coal – China 278

Coal – USA 15

Oil 36 (36% of world energy)

Natural Gas 4 (21% of world energy)

Biofuel/Biomass 12

Peat 12

Solar (rooftop) 0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)

Wind 0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)

Hydro 0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)

Hydro - world including Banqiao) 1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)

Nuclear 0.04 (5.9% of world energy)

(edit: mistakes, , more mistakes, formatting, reproduced table came out on one line)

> 9.25 deaths per TWh. It looks pretty dangerous then, given that.

I'm sorry, you're saying that less deaths per TWh than Oil, Coal, Biofuel, and Peat looks pretty dangerous? That looks really safe to me, at least in comparison to our other options.

> It is grotesque doing this sort of calculation in the midst of unfolding events.

I'll give you that, if you admit that it's also grotesque to use current events to support related agendas, given that our information about them isn't nearly as comprehensive as it could be.

There's no mention of how the figure for Biofuel is arrived at so I'm not sure that I can agree with it (the idea that arable land is spent on biofuel, thus driving up food prices was doing the round a while ago). With that possible exception, my opinion is that all four are pretty dangerous. It seems they are all at least twice as dangerous as Natural gas. I disagree that it looks really safe compared to the others. I agree that it is grotesque to use current events to support related agendas.

33,808 deaths in 2009 from traffic fatalities


>Hundreds of people will die year after year mining coal with nary a whimper of complaint

Doesn't anyone die mining Uranium ores?

With Chernobyl the fallout was measured across the whole of Europe whilst with some poor workers getting "miners lung" the effect is localised to those who were getting paid danger money to work in mines anyway.

Acid rain used to be big news ...

I don't believe your assertion incidentally.

From the Source Material:

"Uranium mining is a lot safer because insitu leaching (the main method of uranium mining) involves flushing acid down pipes. No workers are digging underground anymore. Only about 60,000 tons of uranium are needed each year so that is 200 times less material being moved than for coal plants."

Yeah, I read about the leaching process (for the previous thread), which sounds good - also enclosed vehicles and such. What I don't get is that wikipedia only included information (the other day when I looked) about open leaching as an optional method of extraction whilst everyone is saying that basically no other methods are used other than in situ (I only readily found information pertaining to experimental use of that in Australia).

The in situ leaching process, as I understood it, requires a quite specific geology and is moderately low in efficiency. The acid goes down pipes and then leaches the uranium out of permeable layers of rock, you suck it up from the bottom and voila (or did I misunderstand). What you can't have is the acid washing away or possibly worse the acid washing the uranium away into the local water supply/environment.

I'm still surprised that basically they never have any accidents at uranium mines/processing plants whilst it seems that everyone who works in the solar industry can't even step on a roof without falling off.

The majority of the worlds uranium is mined in Australia and Canada, countries with exceptional health and safety standards.

The comparison isn't exactly fair since uranium mines are in deep hard rock which is inherently safer - but in comparison a US coal mine is an insanely dangerous place. And I don't imagine standards in China are much better.

The World Nuclear Association (http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf23.html) says that the major production is in Kazakhstan but that as you assert if you add Aus+Can production together it does beat the Kazakh production marginally. But I can still say based on those figures that in fact the majority is produced in Kazakhstan and Namibia - I'm afraid I have no info about their safety record but do know (see these links) that they use strong acid leeching which has been considered harmful everywhere else (this could be due to specific geology, or not).

They also say that "Conventional underground & open pit [accounts for] 57%" of global Uranium production.

Moreover the analysis in the OP article appears to be an historic one though whilst wide scale use of ISL (aka ISR) leeching appears to be relatively new.

Further pages from WNA (eg http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf27.html which I've not corroborated) - says that Australia didn't use ISL (for Uranium) until 2000 in Beverley (I've seen other refs say it was trialled in Aus in 1997). So presumably before that they used heap leeching or regular mining methods?

Quoting that second WNA link:

"In 2009, a total of 18,262 tU was produced by ISL, this being 13,473 tU in Kazakhstan, 2429 tU in Uzbekistan, 1217 tU in USA, 583 tU in Australia and 560 tU in Russia. This was 36% of world total production, a share which has risen steadily from 16% in 2000."

WRT my query elsewhere about extracted ore, the BHP BIlliton facility (2 fatalities since opening; largest deposit known of apparently) extracted "933,000 tons of uranium oxide concentrate" in one quarter of 2007 (http://uk.reuters.com/article/2007/12/12/us-bhpbilliton-olym...). Forecasts for BHP Billiton (http://antinuclear.net/2010/11/17/bhp-shareholder-opposes-da... - note apparent bias of source).

Like I've said elsewhere this is a complex field, one that appears to be being misrepresented.


Edit: other notes 1 - US production was 98% ISL in 1993, http://books.google.com/books?id=pXbdrH6_AVEC&lpg=PR28&#...

7 billion tons per year of coal is mined. 60,000 tons of Uranium is mined (a few tens of millions of tons of ore).

Yeah, saw those figure wrt the other thread and wondered how many tons of non-uranium are mined in order to extract the uranium. I decided I didn't know enough about uranium mineral deposition to come to a reasonable analysis and couldn't readily find such information. Is uranium ore found in large seams like coal?

Others following one of my other comment have basically said that in situ leeching is the only method used but I doubt that for several reasons. Not least of which that I gathered uranium is mined alongside other metals and I doubted acid leeching would work for all of them at the same time.

> Doesn't anyone die mining Uranium ores?

As you've seen from the other respondents, the answer to your question, essentially, is "no".

In addition, uranium mining tends to use acid leaching, which doesn't send as many people underground.

Sure, if you conveniently ignore all of the children born in the Ukraine and Belarus with birth defects due to exposure, the plant workers and soldiers who were sickened or died heroically trying to shutdown the reactor, the increased incidence of cancer, the poisoning of prime agricultural land, I guess Chernobyl was no big deal.

And by the way, dam-building for power generation isn't exactly a popular practice today, particularly in areas were unmaintained industrial revolution era dams burst every few years.

I'm certainly willing to consider all of that, is there any authoritative documentation from an unbiased source I could read on comprehensive deaths from Chernobyl?

Not really. The official report used the numbers self reported by the USSR (not known for its bureaucratic honesty) and TORCH (The Other Report on CHernobyl) was funded by the environmental movement. So we can lower bound the deaths by 4,000 and upper bound them by 1,000,000, but after that you are on your own.

I did my own looking and came to the conclusions that "deaths" is the wrong metric, and "expected years of life lost" is the right metric. When someone dies at age 45 instead of age 60, is that a Chernobyl-caused death? What about at age 50 instead of 60? 59 instead of 75? 2 instead of 70? The answer gets more complicated the closer you look.

Ballpark: tens of thousands to even hundreds of thousands of "effective deaths" from Chernobyl, where an "effective death" is 45 years of life lost, collected from multiple affected people. Relatively few immediate deaths.

And what would the equivalent number for coal mining/burning be?

See the link that started this whole conversation. It has pretty good data, the only questionable part was the fact that their nuclear safety data involved taking self-reported fatalities from the USSR.

Coal is far worse than nuclear by every metric (environmental effects, deaths per TWh, etc etc) in any sane accounting scheme.

I really doubt anyone ever claimed the disaster at Bangiao was just an unfortunate incident.

Who doesn't bash China for their blatant disregard of human life?

Not that I disagree with your point.

but also very true, no?

yes. but why do you think that is? people aren't afraid of nuclear for no reason. While it isn't magic, it isn't exactly trivial either, even for experts.

Could you explain to me how the hell fuel in Reactor 4 storage pond at Fukushima 1 went critical?

"Could you explain to me how the hell fuel in Reactor 4 storage pond at Fukushima 1 went critical?"

I can. The term 'critical' is used to describe the point at which fission events are being caused by the neutrons emitted by other fission events. Also called a 'chain reaction.'

Reactor fuel emits neutrons (actually even 'depleted' fuel emits neutrons see half life). Unused (and spent) fuel is stored in storage ponds filled with water because water is an excellent neutron moderator. Thus any neutrons that are emitted by the natural decay, or by internal fission events of the material are absorbed in the water and converted into a (relatively) small amount of heat.

Air is a poor damper of neutrons, and in fact the chance of a neutron hitting an atom in a gas is greatly reduced.

When the water in a fuel storage pond is removed, the naturally occurring neutrons can reach other fuel that is stored in that pond. If they are sufficiently energetic they can cause atoms in the fuel they hit to fission. If they do cause fission then heat is generated and another neutron (note: it maybe 2 I admit I've forgotten the exact reaction with U235) is emitted which might cause another fission event.

Criticality is controlled by moderating the probability that a neutron will create a fission reaction. If you want to store uranium you can do this by either spreading it far apart or by placing it in an environment that moderates neutron flux. Since the latter is as 'simple' as putting it in water, that is the usual option.

The caveat is that your spent fuel will continue to generate heat, if you don't remove that heat eventually the water will boil. If the water boils sufficiently to allow fuel to be exposed to air, the result can be that the fuel passes its criticality threshold. If you can't keep water cool then you can replace it with something that moderates and doesn't boil.

No, the point isn't lost. And reactor ponds are not the 'best' way to store old fuel, they never have been. They were originally only needed during the refueling cycle and the spent fuel was to be removed off site.

Spent fuel you're not ever going to use again can be melted into boro-silicate glass and not only will it never go critical again, it can't leach into the environment, etc etc. If you've read the Yucca mountain documents I believe they make a pretty good case for 10K yr life expectancy for keeping the fuel out of circulation.

But can you explain why that reactor pond at that time (presumably lost water and) went critical???

The waste was just sitting around an already shut reactor at the time of the Tsunami. After the Tsunami, the workers were doling out water to the other reactors and they just forgot about the cool ponds? Did the pond just spring a leak? The reactors lost power after the Tsunami but we can presume they have it back now.

Just much, why aren't isn't the fuel pallets in these ponds spaces so far apart that one could never interact with another under any circumstances?

"But can you explain why that reactor pond at that time (presumably lost water and) went critical???"

No, but I can speculate.

We "know" [1] that the ponds were boiling at one point. As boiling is the point at which water becomes vapor, if nothing else the ponds will eventually boil dry.

We also know that the spent fuel pools require cooling and that all power has been cut to the plant so there is no cooling.

Temperature rise in the pond will be a function of how many fuel rods are present and the amount of U235 in those rods (are they 'new' waiting to be installed, or 'old' waiting to be disposed? I don't know and its not clear from what I've read what there relative age is.) The uranium is decaying to lead [2] and as it decays, and its decay products decay. It generates heat. Not enough heat to be a useful source of energy, but certainly enough heat to keep the water boiling.

My speculation is that since the other electrical infrastructure has been severely damaged around the plant (and they do not have power back yet [3]) that the equipment that was responsible for circulating water in the pond through convection coolers isn't running and natural convection has either been disrupted or is insufficient to keep the water temperature down.

This combines to allow the water to boil, and if the spent fuel rods in the water were to be uncovered, there is sufficient U235 remaining in the rods present for the group to reach crititcality.

"why aren't isn't the fuel pallets in these ponds spaces so far apart that one could never interact with another under any circumstances?" because the contingency plans did not include a triple failure of main power, diesel backup, and battery backup. I suspect in the future two things will be true, one there will be stronger limits on how many rods you can keep in the pond, and there will be a passive cooling requirement.

[1] http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-sci-0316-ja...

"Reports from the scene indicate the water in the cooling pond is boiling vigorously and engineers fear it will soon boil away, exposing the fuel rods, which would allow them to melt. "

[2] http://scifun.chem.wisc.edu/chemweek/radiation/radiation.htm...

[3] http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/tsunamiupdate01.html

"Attempts to return power to the entire Daiichi site are also continuing."

Hopefully the actual point wasn't lost on you: even sitting around not being used, nuclear fuel needs a great deal of expert care and attention.

It almost certainly didn't went critical. Spent fuel doesn't have enough U-235 for criticality. Moreover steam (boiling water) isn't a very good neutron moderator. I can't do the calculations but I seriously doubt it. Should the fuel have gone critical, a lot more would have happened than a fire. The damage would make the site comparable to Chernobyl.

White smoke is not a sign of criticality...

Without any hard data, I really doubt it went critical. Unless I'm faced with incontrovertible evidence, I'm going to conclude that if there was a fire, it was due to failure to remove decay heat, not due to a criticality excursion.

It's possible, of course. But I just don't think anyone would be dumb enough to put the fuel in such an arrangement that lack of water in the pond would cause a criticality excursion.

> but we will hear about people sufferring from thyroid cancer 20 years after Chernobyl until the end of time.

You can afford to be snarky when you didn't see a 8-year old died of leukemia because of Chernobyl. I don't care if HN bans me or anything, but as someone how has known and befriended such a kid, I tell you this: fuck you. Children dying of leukemia because of radiation is worst than hell on earth (not that I'm a spiritual person anyway).

And just FYI, my brother lives close to a hydroelectric plant that were it to collapse then he would be dead in maximum 10-15 minutes (this is the plant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vidraru_Dam). My father's uncle (after whom I'm named), who was a technician at that dam, actually died while working there (a control room got flooded before he could escape from it). But it doesn't matter, I would still choose hydro over nuclear, because it just feels right.

What if the 8year old kid died of heavy metal poisoning because we stripped mined his water supply for coal? Or he lived downstream from an oil sands fracking plant?

Or he lived in Bangladesh and global warming caused his land to flood.

Or he live din Africa and starved because we pay more for corn to make biofuel than he can afford.

Or he lived in the middle east on top of our oil and we had to drop some laser guided democracy on him?

I know that was simply an emotional response and I don't want to take anything away from the child who died, but to point to a specific child and say that they died because of Chernobyl is no more logical than to look at the snow on the ground outside and declare that Global Warming is a hoax.

> But it doesn't matter, I would still choose hydro over nuclear, because it just feels right.

Why would you admit this?

If Itaipu [1] bursts, it's said that it would flood and destroy a large part of Argentina. In the past, argentinians were worried that it could be used as a weapon against them.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itaipu_Dam

Why do you think the source looks good? It's from a nuclear lobby site.

The referenced data lists 0.04-0.23 deaths per TWh for coal fuel chain and 0.01-0.65.

The number 160 deaths/TWh for is made up from very rough estimates of WHO that 1 mio. people die due to coal air pollution. That's hardly a 'good source', IMHO.

Further, the effect of storing lethally radioactive material for very long time periods is completely neglected.

If you run a full analysis large scale wind farms are the safest form of power generation. The problem with a simplistic analysis is most wind deaths are upfront and most wind power generation is vary new. Build 1TW of just about anything and you see construction related deaths the first year. However, after you build the thing deaths related to the fuel used and the difficulty servicing and decommissioning the power plant start to dominate.

PS: Arguably dam's save lives by reducing flooding and change the landscape over a large area so it's hard to calculate deaths from Hydro power.

I feel like this line of reasoning misses the point a bit. Nuclear waste is dangerous for a very very long time, while deaths from these other sources are front loaded. When can people move back to chernobyl? If we have significant radiation exposure in japan, how long will that land be uninhabitable? Nuclear waste we create today is dangerous for how long?

Unless you have a negative discount rate, a few (hypothetical) deaths in the distant future is less bad than a few deaths now.

People currently live in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, 24 years later:


There was significant radiation exposure in Japan a while back. This is what it looks like today:



couldn't it be a lot of hypothetical deaths? I also fail to see how dumping our waste on generations to come for our own selfish desires is less bad. I think it's less responsible to expect someone else to bear the risks in the future for a reward I want now. Maybe I'm not looking at this like a banker ;)

My default position isn't anti-nuclear, but I find a lot of the arguments and reasoning on the pro-nuclear side to be less than convincing, and in some cases disingenuous. Nuclear seems safer than coal, but the knee jerk reaction on this site from pro-nuclear people isn't helping that cause. Go read the comments on the posts the day after the earthquake, most of them said "everything is fine, nothing bad can possibly happen". Turns out that wasn't true.

> I also fail to see how dumping our waste on generations to come for our own selfish desires is less bad.

You're assuming that just because we consider it waste, they will too. Personally, I'm expecting that at some point some use will be found for the 'waste' -- maybe highly efficient reprocessing or materials for low-radiation (think 'easily traced') medical nanobots -- at which point future generations will thank us profusely for generating such convenient stockpiles of the stuff.

I'll begin dumping all of my garbage on your lawn. I expect at some point you will find a use for this "waste". At some point you will thank me profusely.

The reason you have the discount rate is uncertainty about the future. There are many things that could happen - we might be super wealthy and be able to easily dispose of waste. We might be dirt poor, and death of cancer at 65 rather than at 40 due to ulcers is the least of our issues. We might, as dstorrs speculates or as France demonstrates, consider nuclear waste to be a valuable resource to be harnessed.

I.e., there are many scenarios in which the deaths we hypothesize never actually materialize. Hence, discount rates.

but you're gambling with other peoples health, not your own. When you say "we" you really mean other people not including you.

You're doing the same thing. The only difference is that you are gambling with people who currently exist while I'm gambling with people who might exist in the future.

with whose health am I gambling?

The people at risk of "death from these other [non-nuclear] sources" (see 6 posts upthread).

You're either confusing me with someone else, or putting words in my mouth. I've never said that we shouldn't use nuclear, that nuclear is worse than x, or anything like that. Part of the reason I have a problem with the tone in the aftermath of this disaster is that you guys are seeing a boogie man behind every question. The only thing I did was question the logic and assumptions of a couple of arguments for nuclear power. I'm trying to figure this stuff out for myself, so I'm questioning things.

edit: in fact, if you read my early comment I said this, "Nuclear seems safer than coal, but the knee jerk reaction on this site from pro-nuclear people isn't helping that cause.". That doesn't seem to stop you from seeing a boogie man though.

My bad, I assumed you were saying more than you were.

Nevertheless, the meat of my comment remains the same. Choosing a power generation source with a front-loaded death risk is gambling with other people's lives today. Choosing something with a back-loaded death risk is gambling with other people's lives tomorrow. I see no compelling reason to believe one is better than the other.

there is also a third alternative, use less energy.

That's not a real third alternative, because even if you make less power, you still have to pick your power generation source.

if you burn less coal you put less shit into the air, right?

Is fallout from an atom bomb worse than fallout from a reactor meltdown?

Fallout from the WWII bombings was much greater than the fallout expected from the Daiichi plant. We'll have to wait until data come in to say how much.

How long would the atmosphere take to recover from CO2 emissions if we stopped burning fossil fuels today? How many people will have died as a result of climate change and lung problems before then?

Exactly. This whole chart is irrelevant because what we care about is the expected impact on our health in the future, not the impact on our health in the past.

This is why all those people who say we shouldn't decide what to do about building more nuclear power plants until the events in Japan have stabilized are dumb, because the outcome in Japan has zero impact on expected future outcomes.

"because the outcome in Japan has zero impact on expected future outcomes."

Huh? Expected future outcomes are based on assumptions. Japan gives real data that we should use to recheck those assumptions, and we may learn that some of them were wrong.

It gives data about reactors that are, as I recall, 40 years old. That's entirely irrelevant to the designs of newer reactors.

I am pretty sure people in Japan had nevertheless been told those reactors are safe. They will be told new reactors are safe. Why should they believe it now? If you don't count it as a data point about safety of reactors, count it as a data point about the reliability of engineers and governments.

not if the new reactors made the same assumptions. Are you suggesting that it isn't possible, or highly unlikely, that we'll learn anything worthwhile to improve reactor design in the future from this disaster?

Yeah, more or less. We're learning more about what happens when it fails, but it's an old reactor, and we've seen them fail before. We also seem quite unlikely to learn anything especially revolutionary about how radioactive materials behave.

"We also seem quite unlikely to learn anything especially revolutionary about how radioactive materials behave."

But that's not what we need to learn about. We need to learn about how the systems that are supposed to contain radioactive materials stand up to major catastrophe.

The outcome in Japan may have no impact on the statistics, but it will have a massive impact on the opinons and beliefs of the human decision makers. Waiting for it to resolve will allow calmer heads to prevail.

People keep dismissing renewables. Well, they won't get anywhere if we don't invest in them, and that investment has to come from a decrease in spending on other sources. Like nuclear.

It should come out of coal. If we were willing to nationalize all of our energy, start phasing out coal plants, and go fully nuclear to replace coal, over the next 50 years we could get substantial savings over coal and put those savings into renewables.

And in any case, as this graph shows, renewables are not a panacea. Hydro dams cause significant environmental damage, and even wind turbines have their issues.

Sure, from anywhere it can. But a lot of people are talking about ramping up nuclear spending (and the costs are always understated).

Yes. Ramp up nuclear, ramp down coal. Potentially it is a very green technology, and at worst it's an improvement over the fossil fuel status quo.

I'd rather ramp up renewables, ramp down coal, and let nuclear dwindle on its own. Renewables aren't just "potentially" green, they are green, and without the extremely obvious risks that can contaminate a region for decades and increase the entire planet's risk of cancer. Renewables (and the advanced power grid that would support it) have huge room for improvement in generation, nuclear does not have huge room for improvement.

We do not have a nonfossil alternative that can make up the substantial power needs of the world other than nuclear power. --Glenn Sjoden

In other words, unless we litter the plains with windmills (a form of contamination IMO), we cannot get off of coal and NG.

Oh, look at me being downvoted because what I'm saying can't possibly be true...

Right... Renewables + energy savings. It is not that hard to save 15% energy. And it is such a magic field for startups currently. I don't understand why the startup crowd here isn't already working on making nuclear energy unneeded.

On that thread, it's important to look at new breeder reactors and Thorium reactors before denouncing waste from nuclear reactors as a permanent problem. We have technology that is much better, much safer, and less damaging than even what we have now.

Are those technologies what is being lobbied for in today's governments?

I am not sure how active it is but at least to some extent: http://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gates.html

About this talk: At TED2010, Bill Gates unveils his vision for the world's energy future, describing the need for "miracles" to avoid planetary catastrophe and explaining why he's backing a dramatically different type of nuclear reactor. The necessary goal? Zero carbon emissions globally by 2050.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traveling_wave_reactor TWRs differ from other kinds of fast-neutron and breeder reactors in their ability to, once started, reach a state whereafter they can achieve very high fuel utilization while using no enriched uranium and no reprocessing, instead burning fuel made from depleted uranium, natural uranium, thorium, spent fuel removed from light water reactors, or some combination of these materials. The name refers to the design characteristic that fission does not happen in the entire TWR core, but takes place in a fairly localized zone that advances through the core over time.

Right, + the US crowd majority here probably have a hard time that Japanese cannot move to the other side of the country in case of a major disaster. It's just too small, too full.

The thousands of children (now adults) near Chernobyl with thyroid cancer don't show up in these stats, since they're not all dead.

Doesn't necessarily change the conclusions but worth noting.

From the sources:

"But what about Chernobyl ? The World Health Organization study in 2005 indicated that 50 people died to that point as a direct result of Chernobyl. 4000 people may eventually die earlier as a result of Chernobyl, but those deaths would be more than 20 years after the fact and the cause and effect becomes more tenuous.

He explains that there have been 4000 cases of thyroid cancer, mainly in children, but that except for nine deaths, all of them have recovered. "Otherwise, the team of international experts found no evidence for any increases in the incidence of leukemia and cancer among affected residents.""

My point is that you or your child getting thyroid cancer, even if you or she recovers, is a pretty horrific outcome, and might deserve to be considered somehow -- not just fatalities.

True, but if you're counting that, there must surely be many other equally bad externalities worth counting; e.g. environmental damage due to oil spills and incidence of lung cancer due to air pollution from coal mining.

You have to draw the line somewhere to make the chart, and drawing it at fatalities seems sort of reasonable. It certainly doesn't seem overly gracious to nuclear power.

The elevated rates of asthma occurring in inner city kids is also pretty shitty. One of the better things they did in NYC was to shut down most of the power plants that were actually in the city.

that's what nuclear fanatics here don't seem to get.

as I argued in other thread about the original numbers, what matters aren't direct deaths attributed to one or the other energy source.

what matters (to me at least) is how different energy sources affect our quality of life. I suspect nuclear isn't the worst offender here, but it isn't all butterflies and roses either.

For the record: I am responsible nuclear fission proponent.

Wikipedia[1] cites a claim that France (which generates on the order of 80% of it's power from Nuclear) has the cleanest air of any industrialised nation, due in large part to the lack of fossil fuel burning plants.

I for one think that's a reasonable trade to make for a few nuclear waste dump designated areas being radioactive until we can get some breeder reactors or similar to break them down more quickly.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power

really? Some better [citation needed].


Scandinavia and the Baltic countries had the cleanest air in Europe this summer while Greece, France and Italy faced the worst smog levels, said the European Environment Agency (EEA).


And BTW, I am fully in favor of replacing coal plants with nuclear.

Scandinavia is mostly driven by nuclear and hydro power. So the point still stands.

Hydro - yes. Nuclear - no.

Denmark and Norway - no nuclear.

Sweden - 45% nuclear.

Finland - 30% nuclear.

Uh, you're saying nuclear no, but then nuclear 45% of Sweden and 30% of Finland, so you must mean nuclear yes.

Smog is generated by petro chemicals, heat and sunlight.

That's why LA gets smog and Alaska doesn't - now why would hot sunny France with lots of people (and cars) get Smog but sparsely populated cold Scandanvia not?

Residents of what, the world? How did they measure that?

Neither do the vast amount of respiratory ailments caused by pollution. Coal kills a lot of people, but it cripples more than it kills.

I read through the article explaining how the numbers were calculated and the thyroid cancer is noted. The analysis provided could be disputed on methodology but at least there are references you can check if you want to improve upon it.

There are studies from the russian science acadamy that there are 270.000 cancers caused by Tschnernobyl and 93.000 are expected to end deathly.


It also doesn't include the destruction of a huge territory for thousand of years and the thousand's personal dramas caused by that. Counting only direct deaths is wrong. One has to take the whole risk into account not only one.

All of those points apply to coal as well. Increased risk of cancer, asthma, all sorts of health difficulties. Strip-mining literally destroys land, not just makes it uninhabitable (which is what you meant, not "destruction of a huge territory").

In that case you should also include all the people breaking their bones etc from falling down the roof without dying while installing solar panels.

So basically, according to this graph, coal, oil and natural gas cause way more deaths per unit of energy produced than other energy sources, and notably, nuclear energy is by far the least dangerous.

That's interesting, if it's true.

Same reason people are much more afraid to fly than drive, despite statistics- We're not scared of dying so much as dying in a catastrophe. Also notice that natural gas is especially low, even though everyone who's ever had gas heat has imagined their house exploding.

I'm pro-nuclear myself, but you could argue that these stats are somewhat misleading, since nuclear deaths would tend to come in bunches and the fears are based on what could happen, not what has happened.

You could also conclude that nuclear weapons are extremely safe to have around since they haven't killed anyone for 65 years.

You could also conclude that nuclear weapons are extremely safe to have around since they haven't killed anyone for 65 years.

Indeed some people have come to this conclusion: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutually_assured_destruction

I don't disagree in principle, I'm just saying that putting up aggregated statistics for something that lends itself to once-in-a-lifetime catastrophic events doesn't tell us a whole lot. I think even the biggest MAD proponents would agree that the risk of nuclear war is greater than zero.

Risk of something being greater than 0 is an equally uselss measurement. Otherwise we would have multi-trillion dollar asteroid defense networks, alien invasion detectors in the oort cloud, personal lightning shields, lottery backed retirement funds and so on.

I can play linky too: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Near-Earth_object#Near-Earth_as...

There have been many more asteroids passing really close to earth in recent history than "almost nuclear wars". My point still stands -- nonzero chance is a terrible reason to do anything.

I was hit by lighting, and I was vary happy that my personal lighting shield worked.

PS: Car

I agree with your main point, but I would probably consider being shot with an AK-47 to be a pretty "once-in-a-lifetime catastrophic event".

I think in our lizard brains we prefer to have an imaginary measure of control over how we go. So we'd rather have a 20-foot wall of water bearing down on us at 80mph than to be exposed to invisible radiation. We imagine that we have a chance with the tsunami, but culturally we "know" that we're screwed with the fallout. This is cultural detritus from the duck-and-cover times, when we were told that even if we survived the initial blast of a nuclear weapon, the radiation would inevitably kill us (which isn't necessarily true).

I read a book years ago called WarDay, about a hypothetical limited nuclear exchange between the Soviet Union and the US in the mid-80s. In the beginning of the book, after the attack, the authors describe how they took refuge in a school building and constructed a makeshift geiger counter, which told them how safe it was to go outside to scavenge for food and water and help other survivors. The credit that with saving their lives. In other words, they approached the fallout exposure problem from a scientific standpoint, rather than an emotional one. People can't seem to approach the irradiation problem in other than emotional terms, so the end result is sheer panic. If more people were aware of how to measure and limit exposure, that would give them the control they need to function successfully. Sadly, very few do.

If you compare flying vs. car driving upon the live-time spent with this activities, then 2h flying is much more dangerous than 2 hour car driving. Usually this is compared by distinance, but this is wrong. For example last year I spent my holiday nearby driving by car, this year maybe I am going to fly to a distant place utilizing the same transport time. The flying holiday is far more dangerous than the driving one. I do never decide between car and plane for a given goal, therefore the risk relation to the distance is wrong.

Nope. Even when you count per hours, planes remains vastly safer than car -- more than 4 times safer.

Deaths per billion hours Bus: 11.1 Rail: 30 Air: 30.8 Water: 50 Van: 60 Car: 130 Foot: 220 Bicycle: 550 Motorcycle: 4840

Deaths per billion kilometres Air: 0.05 Bus: 0.4 Rail: 0.6 Van: 1.2 Water: 2.6 Car: 3.1 Bicycle: 44.6 Foot: 54.2 Motorcycle: 108.9



This of course depends on the sources. Mine are the official Austrian statistics. With your sources bus is still more than 2 times safer per hour.

I don't think I agree with your logic here. It seems like you're saying that traveling to far away places is more dangerous than close places, regardless of how you get there. I don't see how that makes flying more dangerous.

An example: A bus driver job is far more secure than a pilot job.

When comparing activities we should relate spent livetime not distances to risk.

Well just about everyone other than Pilots spends a lot more of their life driving than flying, which is still irrelevant to which is the safer mode of transportation. When you boil it down, you're still saying "Going somewhere is more dangerous than not going somewhere."

no I am saying that "2 hours flying is more dangerous than 2 hours driving." For the estimate of the risks in my live I am asking what is the safer mode of living. Therefore the risk of an activity hast to be related to spent livetime.

So, "traveling longer distances is more dangerous than traveling shorter distances."

If you ignore that he's talking about cars or planes, and his point.

I see what you're saying and it's an important point to remember, but rather than one way be wrong, I think it depends on the question. "I need to get from New York to L.A. Which is the safest way to do it?" is about comparing two travel methods (or three if you want to think about trains) for the same distance. The time based answer is suited to your vacation quandary where you have a week off and you wonder whether to drive somewhere or fly someplace else.

Correct. But I never ask the question if I go by car or plane from New York to L.A because it would take too long by car. This simply not a practical relevant comparison. The question what to do or not do in my livetime is the relevant one. And for the answer to this question the risk of a activity has to be related to livetime.

OK I'll play along- I also can't fly to work everyday because there's no airport nearby and I would be broke within weeks. Therefore, driving is more dangerous because I'm forced to spend more time doing it.

Wasn't natural gas among the safest? Third after nuclear and hydro. (I couldn't see any figure for solar, I guess because it's currently negligible?)

Wait, are you trying persuade us with facts?

Airplanes are the safest way to travel by far. That doesn't prevent people from stubbornly refusing to fly (taking very unsafe road trips instead), it doesn't prevent panic attacks in the air, and it doesn't stop governments wasting billions on security checkpoint theater.

God speed, my friend, I sincerely hope the facts will make a difference.

Airplanes are the safest way to travel by far

Yes and no. That depends on how you measure. The typical statistic used (deaths per man-kilometer) favors flying a bit.

For example, the space shuttle is safe, according to that metric (guesstimate: 60 shuttle flights for every crash => over a year in space for every crash, 16 times round earth a day => 60000 revolutions * 40k km => 2*10^9 man km per death)

According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_safety#Statistics making one plane ride is riskier than taking a bus once.

Moreover, taking of and landing are the high-risk parts of flying. So, I would expect that flying would score worse than that when people starte making shorter flights.

I redo the space shuttle risk using the data from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_space_shuttle_missions#...

  Total Orbits: ~20K
  Orbits Length: ~40K Km
  Crashes: 2
  (Assuming same number of crew in each flight.)
  Risk: 20K * 40K Km / 2 = 4*10^8 man Km per death
  Or: 2.5 deaths / billon Km 
So using the Risk/Km criteria the space shuttle is as safe as (water)ships, safer than cars and riskier than trains.

It should be pointed out that there will never be another Chernobyl. It was a perfect intersection of criminally inadequate design, early-adopter naivete, incompetence, and Murphy's Law.

In these discussions, bringing up Three Mile Island is fair game, but Chernobyl is not a realistic parallel.

Chernobyl: the nuclear disaster to end all nuclear disasters?

Illustrates again that people are afraid of what's scary, not what's likely to actually happen.

Reminds me of the "Stranger Danger" scare a while back. Teaching children to beware of strangers makes them safer from kidnappers, but less safe if they get lost or need help from a random adult for some reason. Guess which of these situations is more common.

I'd like to see the cost in $ per TWh as another column.

I'm missing (or the article is missing) the timeline that the calculations are based on. Is that yearly? last year? last 5 years?

We have to take a significant time scale on any of these for it to be considered reliable. Though there may have been 0 deaths from nuclear last year, over a 10 year span, would that number be the same?

I believe nuclear can be safer over the long-run, but I'd like to see some more depth in these stats.

The nuclear calculations have a long timeline. They include mining deaths for plant construction and refueling, and one Chernobyl-scale event every 20 years or so. The numbers are explained in much more detail here:


I read it as allowing for one of that scale every 45 years, the entire duration of data calculation, arriving at 0.037 deaths per TWh. There's no indication that more than one event of that scale is contemplated.

a great part of the fear is that you can not see radioactivity harming you. Water I can see. Mining coal feels like it is within my control whether I engage in that activity or not.

This is the most common reasoning for people who fear nuclear power. They reason that they can't see where the danger (radiation) is so they can't know if they are in danger or not, whereas with an oil spill, a gas pipeline explosion, or an oil refinery event, they have visible boundaries to 'this area is bad' vs 'this area is probably still safe' (note its not of course, you can have odorless and invisible threats like CO but many of the failure modes are visible in a spectrum our unaided senses can detect)

I don't have a good answer for re-assuring these folks. (carrying a counter with them seems to be a non-starter, but perhaps a cell phone app would be ok)

The linked sited is an article that links to a blog post that doesn't really say exactly how they came up with their results, but provide some links (e.g. http://manhaz.cyf.gov.pl/manhaz/strona_konferencja_EAE-2001/...).

It sounds like they take into account deaths where coal air pollution was a contributing factor, but not deaths where radioactive fallout was a contributing factor, and they don't attribute global warming related deaths to fossil fuels.

They also don't take into account ongoing risks - some forms of energy present risks long after the energy has been harvested, so the numbers will continue to rise, while others don't).

I'd therefore take those results with a grain of salt.

Also good to take into account is that Chernobyl and TMI and Fukushima are installations from the 1970's or early 1980's.

And even for those old birds the stats seem fairly favorable.

But as long as emotions fueled by scare-mongering have the upper hand, rationality and facts make no chance. So really widespread adoption of nuclear energy (be it fusion or fizzion - I'd be surprised if the public at large makes any distinction between them) is probably not going to happen for the near future. And that's a shame as it could be our ticket out of both a lot of environmental issues and socio-economic issues.

Are they counting Iraq War deaths?

Didn't the war in Iraq reduce oil production from that country?

This was my first thought, as well, and not just Iraq. There have been numerous wars for oil throughout the past century.

I can't find the crude death numbers in the article. It seems like there's a small chance that the number of deaths due to nuclear power in all of history could increase by a factor of 10 or more due to events in the next week or two, which would push it past rooftop solar energy, although it would still be nowhere near coal.

I think we should also measure an average number of deaths caused by a single incident and the average number of deaths among strangers caused by a single incident. The incidents at nuclear plants are rare, but the consequences can be much more dangerous than from the other energy sources.

One problem with this visualization is that it does not account for future deaths and less noticeable health effects caused by radioactive waste and accidents related to its storage. On the other hand, it also does not account for the same caused by oil and coal and other pollution.

The deaths from solar appear to be from falls while installing roof-mounted systems; this would be primarily applicable to residential and small commercial solar systems, whereas most larger systems will tend to be ground-mounted and safer to construct.

This mostly serves to illustrate just how small the current solar install base is.

So natural gas is the safest?

It is same order of causalities as nuclear, albeit with dramatically less safety effort. One can only imagine how safe would it be if as much was spent for safety measures as with nuclear per TW.

It's just a visualisation of http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-so... figures from a couple of days ago, which I found highly dubious.

For example where are all the biomass deaths from? Why no figures for non-rooftop solar?

What does this "Hydroelectric power was found to to have a fatality rate of 0.10 per TWh (883 fatalities for every TW·yr) in the period 1969–1996" mean? How does spinning a turbine from dammed water cause death?

Ah ... further down the page "... Paul Gipe estimated ..." - so someones estimates without proper working or sources for death rates and such ...

I would love to see a well worked properly sourced analysis along these lines however.

Burning biomass causes high levels of particulate emissions, which are a very significant health risk (Burning firewood is the most important source of air pollution in much of the developing world).

Hydro is completely safe most of the time, but when a dam fails, it typically kills a lot of people really quickly.

It would be really hard to collect figures for non-rooftop solar -- simply because there is so little of it. (They would be very favorable.)

Biomass - comprehension error on my part, I thought that it was using dung in fermenters and like apparatus.

There seems to be enough solar farms to make the same sort of estimates as have been used in the article though.

I think what would be most helpful would actually be a comparison for a large country with similar safety standards across all industries looking at facilities over a fixed period. That would help, IMO, to rule out problems like people continuing with a hydro project even though the dam is cracked from the off ...

Think about what happens when a dam fails. For example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banqiao_Dam

What about all of the plants and animals killed from the various resources? Or the land and water that can no longer sustain life because of one disaster or another...

I'm not sure what you think this will prove, but if you're going to go this route it's going to make nuclear look even better. Much more confined mining operations, much smaller land use (something almost all "green" technologies are actually terrible with, IIRC nuclear is the most power-per-acre you can get with current tech), waste goes to uninhabited areas anyhow (and if we were less stupid about it there wouldn't hardly be any), and take a quick Google at "pictures of Chernobyl" [1] and note how it isn't a radioactive wasteland in the style of Fallout or anything.

Very little land has actually been rendered "unable to sustain life"; I'm not sure it measures in anything more than a handful of acres. Hollywood movies and video games are not a good way to learn how nuclear power works.

[1]: http://www.grcade.com/viewtopic.php?t=2217 - note the greenery all the way up to the plant itself

It may make nuclear look better comparably, but it will make all of these (oil, coal, nuclear) look worse.

When all you factor into the cost is human life and money, you miss the bigger picture of how we're affecting what doesn't have a voice.

flawed observation. true, nuclear accidents don't happen often but when they do you have to deal with immediate and long term effects. as far as I know, coal power plant accidents don't cause deformities for the next 2/3 generations. also I don't see the numbers on solar and wind.

Why are you people advocating for nuclear power so much? Solar and wind power should be the future, and they're renewable. Don't you think that's a much better future? Sure they might not be very effective now, but a couple of decades down the road with some big investments (like in nuclear plants) it should be orders of magnitude more effective than it is now.

Of course, a country like USA will never back down from using nuclear plants because they need their byproducts to make nukes.

At this point, it's the best option for our huge energy needs. Like you said, a few decades down the road, solar power might be somewhat interesting. What do we do until then? Burn coal, which is far more polluting?

Next, solar and wind energy yield but peanuts in how much energy we actually need. A recent article suggests that, with impossible 100% efficient solar panels, we'd have to cover 1/6000th of the earth to meet our current energy demands. A few decades down the road this will probably be doubled because of our growing demands.

Even if reposted with fancy graphs, the data do not get better. Basically, they are from a nuclear lobby site.

The referenced data on the lobby site lists 0.04-0.23 deaths per TWh for the coal fuel chain and 0.01-0.65 for nuclear. I don't see that large a difference here between coal and nuclear.

The number of 160 deaths/TWh is made up from a very rough estimate of WHO that 1 mio. people die due to coal air pollution (without further reference). That's hardly a good source, IMHO.

Further, the effect of storing lethally radioactive material for very long time periods is completely neglected.

For me, this is a troll post and I bite.

> Basically, they are from a nuclear lobby site

Really? You may well know something I don't, but it doesn't seem that way to me: http://www.reddit.com/domain/nextbigfuture.com/

The info is based on such bogus data, I jumped to that claim. I currently can't check your reddit link, because reddit is down. Maybe it's just the article.

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