Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Gwyneth Cravens on Palo Verde and Nuclear Power Plant Security

Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy, recently took a tour of the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant:

By the end of the tour it became obvious to me that the slightest incident at a nuclear plant, even if it occurs far from any reactor and poses no risk to the public, is usually given three-alarm treatment by the media, whereas the large-scale, relentless, ongoing risks from fossil fuel combustion are ignored. Our biggest reliable sources of our basic electricity supply are fossil fuel plants and nuclear plants. There is nothing speculative about the fact that as coal combustion provides half of our electricity it causes the premature deaths of more than 24,000 Americans a year in addition to hundreds of thousands of cases of lung and heart disease. Is this acceptable?

Nuclear power, while providing one-fifth of our electricity and three-quarters of our emissions-free electricity, has never caused a single death to a member of the American public.
For the rest of our archive on Cravens, click here. Thanks to Rod Adams for the pointer.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Nuclear power, while providing one-fifth of our electricity and three-quarters of our emissions-free electricity, has never caused a single death to a member of the American public."

I guess uranium miners don't count, huh?

Anonymous said...

I've seen this comment several times in the past few months on this website - nuclear power has never caused a single death in the US. I feel the need to clarify.

First, before you prejudge, I'm a trained nuclear engineer currently working in the field and big supporter of nuclear energy (thus a regular reader of NEI's website and also a fan of new president Skip Bowman). So this is not an anti-nuke rant, it's just an attempt to clarify.

But the truth is that there were at least 3 deaths attributable to the incident at the SL-1 test reactor in Idaho in the late 1950's. The cause of the accident was clearly personnel error, not some failure of the technology. I don't know if there were others but it may be possible.

A more correct statement is to say that "Commercial nuclear power has never caused a single death in the US" since SL-1 was an Army test reactor. You can find details in wikipedia.

Anonymous said...

They are trying to distinguish "the public", i.e., an average person sitting in their home or walking down the street, from military personnel (the SL-1 reactor was staffed by members of the US Army) or miners (people working in a specific industry exposed to on-the-job risks).

KenG said...

[WARNING: SARCASM]
I guess it's fair to criticize this statement since the anti-nulcear groups have never exaggerated the dangers.


Seriously, the SL-1 accident doesn't apply to Ms Cravens statement since the SL-1 was not a commercial power reactor (her statement was directly referring to commercial electrical generation) and the deaths at SL-1 were not the "general public" (which is a defined term) but nuclear researchers.

Also, the uranium miner concerns, to the extent they are valid, seem to focus on the 1950's and weapons programs.

Nuclear Dreams said...

In any case, these deaths are far overshadowed due to deaths by industrial pollution and automobile accidents.

robert merkel said...

Anonymous 1: what about iron ore miners for wind power plants? Steel mill workers, perhaps?

As for the safety record of the uranium mining industry, I'd sure like to put that up against the safety record of the coal or petroleum mining industries...

Anonymous 2: there's a list of criticality accidents on the Wikipedia, which counts 7 deaths in the US in total (though several of those were directly related to nuclear weapons research). None were from commercial power reactors.h

Anonymous said...

To my mind the phrase "member of the public" distinguishes the public at large from employees working with experimental reactors at national laboratories. The post was referring to the commercial generation of electricity by nuclear power plants. And by "public" it obviously meant the people who happen to live in the neighborhood of a plant, not the plant workers who might get into some sort of industrial accident.

The toll of 24,000 annual American deaths from coal pollution does not include the annual deaths that befall coal miners from mine accidents, black lung, etc. It refers to the public downwind of the coal-fired plants. If you compare that toll with the annual toll of deaths to people living downwind of nuclear plants, you come up with zero in the entire history of commercial nuclear power.

PS In terms of worker safety nuclear power has a better record than that of the real estate industry, according to OSHA.

Somsel said...

In nuclear engineering school, they made us watch films about SL-1 just to make sure we were sober about the risks and our responsibilities.

BTW, most US uranium went into weapons production. Look at a chart of production vs time and you'll see that production declined before the big civilian reactors came on line.

But then, one needs to compare uranium miner mortality vs other forms of mining and energy resource extraction. I'll bet uranium miners have had it easy compared to coal miners, especially on a gigawatt basis.

Anonymous said...

"In any case, these deaths are far overshadowed due to deaths by industrial pollution and automobile accidents."

this, and all the discussion about whether coal kills more, are beside the point I originally made...which is that it is INACCURATE to say there has not been a "single death" from US nuclear power.

It's simply not true that all the uranium mined in the US was for weapons programs.

When you're proven wrong, change the subject?

Anonymous said...

Here is the quotation from the article in context:

"Nuclear power, while providing one-fifth of our electricity and three-quarters of our emissions-free electricity, has never caused a single death to a member of the American public."

It is clear to me that the author is talking about the production of electrical energy in an operational sense. There have been fatalities at nuclear facilities from accidents such as high-pressure steam release. Mining fatalities occur. Construction accidents happen. But in the course of generating electrical energy from nuclear sources, members of the general public, as a group separate from miners, construction workers, and plant technicians, have not been harmed. The SL-1 accident is also clearly excluded, since that was a government-owned facility operated by military personnel. No member of the general public was harmed by that accident. Same with criticality accidents. The only harm that I know of among the general public that comes to mind immediately would be from industrial and medical radiation sources that became unsecured and found their way into places where untrained persons could access them. But those incidents do not involve the production of electricity from reactors, and even those are very, very rare accidents.