Fossil fuels are far deadlier than nuclear power

 
Although counterintuitive to some fossil fuels are a killer.

“There is no question,” says Joseph Romm, an energy expert at the Center for American Progress in Washington DC. “Nothing is worse than fossil fuels for killing people.”

A 2002 review by the IAE put together existing studies to compare fatalities per unit of power produced for several leading energy sources. The agency examined the life cycle of each fuel from extraction to post-use and included deaths from accidents as well as long-term exposure to emissions or radiation. Nuclear came out best, and coal was the deadliest energy source.

The explanation lies in the large number of deaths caused by pollution. Fine particles from coal power plants kill an estimated 13,200 people each year in the US alone, according to the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force (The Toll from Coal, 2010). Additional fatalities come from mining and transporting coal, and other forms of pollution associated with coal. In contrast, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN estimate that the death toll from cancer following the 1986 meltdown at Chernobyl will reach around 9000.

In fact, the numbers show that catastrophic events are not the leading cause of deaths associated with nuclear power. More than half of all deaths stem from uranium mining, says the IEA. But even when this is included, the overall toll remains significantly lower than for all other fuel sources.

So why do people fixate on nuclear power? “From coal we have a steady progression of deaths year after year that are invisible to us, things like heart attacks, whereas a large-scale nuclear release is a catastrophic event that we are rightly scared about,” says James Hammitt of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis in Boston.

So put that in your pipe and smoke it. 

via Fossil fuels are far deadlier than nuclear power – tech – 23 March 2011 – New Scientist.

Dr. M (1605 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.





3 comments on “Fossil fuels are far deadlier than nuclear power
  1. Fossile Fuels may be far deadlier, but there are a lot of other problems with nuclear Power.
    One example is the atomic waste.
    And we don’t know how many people died because of radioactivity because we do not know how many people develop cancer because of human made radioactivity…
    It’s not that easy to decide what is deadlier in the long term. In fact we should try to get rid of both energy sources!

  2. The immediate # that died a year after the disaster was about 100.

    The 9000 is an assumption that that many will die eventually due to the radiation exposure.

    That is also assuming they would have never died from anything else during their lifetime.

    Only communal paranoia driven fear makes the requirement of 100% safety for using nuclear energy seem sensible in light of the wholesale devastation in all its forms caused by fossil fuel use – like air pollution, acid rain, global warming.

    Even taking into account that much wider use of nuclear energy would mean more accidents it’d still be far less damage overall than fossil fuels.

    The only reason why storage is such a problem is the demand that it be 100% secure. Yucca Flats its said would secure the radioactivity for about 35,000 YEARS, but that’s not long enough for some.

    Oh and the little thing referred to as “global warming” had we always used nuclear we wouldn’t be dealing with that.

    I can hear the retort now – it beats a dead irradiated planet. The only problem with that is we have yet to see anything that presages that during the time we’ve used nuclear energy. Global Warming however is irrefutable and hear, and a direct result of using fossil fuel.

    You need to come up with a better retort that again doesn’t require being driven by paranoia to make any real sense, especially since the way wildlife thrives at Chernobyl and Hanford kind of makes the notion that radioactivity is the absolute worst fuel to use kind of seem silly.

    Is it dangerous absolutely, but using rigorous safeguards made mandatory, it’s the best alternative until we can overcome the corporate welfare that makes wind and solar so expensive and fossil fuel so cheap.

  3. We use fossil fuels to heat our homes, run our cars, and to power industrial plants. Global warming is one of the serious challenges facing us today. However, many fossil fuels are used by industrials plants, our cars and our houses so we need to be careful how we manage both fossil fuels and alternative energy sources – Jason Kim.

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