Nuclear Energy – still safe?
You would think, given my blog post on Friday that the era of nuclear power is over. Actually, according to a recent poll, more people think that nuclear power is safe after what happened in Japan than a few years ago. In fact, only 40% of Americans believe that nuclear energy is unsafe.
A few more interesting titbits from this survey: 60% of men believe in nuclear power, while only 40% of women. Also, the older you get, the more willing you are to accept nuclear power. What about the grandchildren, paps?
One brave columnist decided to take the 1986 meltdown of Chernobyl, Reactor 4, as the worse example in history. He honestly accepts that:
“Thirty-one people died soon after the accident, most of acute radiation exposure, with perhaps a few more in the years since. More than 100 others suffered radiation injuries. Some 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer have been diagnosed in Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Russians who were under 18 at the time, many likely stemming from radiation exposure via milk contaminated with radioactive iodine. However, only 15 deaths had been reported as of 2005 — thyroid cancer is readily treated.
“There’s evidence of increased leukemia and cataracts among recovery workers who received higher doses, but no health effects otherwise. (Experts project an eventual 4,000 additional cancer deaths among the 600,000 people most exposed — i.e., an increase of a few percent beyond the 100,000 cancer deaths you’d expect for this group.) An irregularly shaped “exclusion zone” of about 1,700 square miles around the plant remains off-limits to human habitation, 220,000 people had to be permanently relocated, and agriculture is restricted, but vegetation and wildlife for the most part have thrived.”(source)
…but then goes on to point out that: “Look, here was a five-star fiasco and the confirmed death toll is about the same as from 12 hours of U.S. traffic accidents. Is that an outstanding safety record or what?” (source).
Now I have to admit, the amount of fatalities from traffic accidents and drunk driving is astounding and there is no reason in the world to belittle it, but his comparison is chilling.
He then makes the comparison to coal. “Each year, on average, 35 U.S. coal miners are killed and 4,000 are injured. In China, 2,600 coal miners were killed in 2009, following 3,200 dead in 2008. (Recent U.S. uranium mining deaths: zero.) Coal-burning power plants release close to three times as much radioactivity as nuclear plants.” (source)
Sometimes I just hate statistics! How would you respond to this?
Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).