Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Yesterday, Alon asked for responses to his post about statistics that make it appear that coal is worse than nuclear when it comes to radiation emissions and health risks. Here are my views.

Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies – lies, damn lies, and statistics.” I have taken a year of graduate-level stats and I can verify that you can choose your methods to show almost whatever it is you want from a given set of numbers. This is what people do who have an agenda to forward other than just getting the truth out.

Back in the days when George H.W. Bush was president, he said in a speech: “More low income people will benefit from these tax cuts than high income people.” Well, that was technically true. It’s just that the “low income” people benefited by about ten dollars, while the “high income” people benefited by the tens of thousands of dollars. It’s a lot like how a magician uses misdirection – making you look over here at this hand while the other hand slips a pigeon out of a pocket.


Death stats are often used to downplay some danger or another. The reason more people have not died from radiation (lately) is that nuclear accidents are still seen as serious and people get the hell away from them. If the Japanese government had not evacuated the area around Fukushima, the stats would look a whole lot worse.

Plus, nuclear advocates (who seem inexplicably to have some hold over our news media) just love to point out that the reason that a person died could have been anything – not necessarily radiation. It’s actually somewhat difficult to “prove” that someone died of radiation poisoning, unless it was a severe and obvious case.

Another important fact is that radiation is essentially forever. If you were to pee in a lake, the urine would not only dissipate, but biological processes would act on the urine to essentially make it really go away – change form, etc. Radiation does dissipate, but it’s still there, at least until well beyond its half-life.

Accidents like Fukushima are the gifts that keep on giving for a long time. Fukushima is FAR from over and the radiation coming out of there is not slowing down but is in fact probably speeding up. It’s flowing into the air and the ocean.

Nukeys also love to tell you about how you get more radiation from sunbathing or whatever. But it’s the TYPE of radiation that matters. Here’s a hint, nuclear accident release the bad type.

Furthermore, compared to coal-fired plants, nuclear power plants don’t release much radiation on site when everything is working properly and no mistakes are made. But mistakes and accidents happen much too often for my comfort. The latest accident, Fukushima, has released thousands of times the radiation from any pile of coal sludge.

As I’ve said before, nuclear is not cost efficient, nor is it safe. Nukeys love to tell you that, with the development of new technology, nuclear will get safer and safer. This, of course, will happen given time and lots of money. And in the process, there will be some accidents, radiation leakage, health issues and possibly lives lost.

What would happen if we instead took that time and money and put it into developing solar, wind, wave, and geothermal energy? I guarantee that, at the end of the same time period and with the same expense, we would be many times better off by going the renewable energy route.

But there is a danger with, specifically, solar power. The most efficient way to utilize solar power is to produce it yourself, at your own house (and in reality the old-fashioned solar water heater roof units are the best thing you can do). This means that you would buy the equipment, which is manufactured by companies competing for business – largely on price. Then, your energy would be pretty much free. So there is a  danger…

…to corporate profits.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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