Sunday, April 03, 2011

Tallying Up Energy Sources

From the Financial Times:

Japan’s ongoing disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant, now in its agonizing third week, has led many to conclude that nuclear is the most dangerous way to generate electricity. Not so. Nuclear is not the most dangerous, not by a long shot. That distinction unambiguously belongs to large hydroelectric dams.
The most catastrophic dam failure in history occurred in China in 1975, with the near-simultaneous failures of the Banqiao and Shimantan dams. The “August 1975 disaster,” as the Chinese call the horrors associated with the dams’ collapse, drowned 26,000 people, according to the Chinese government. Another 200,000 lives were lost in its aftermath. 
I've seen a number of stories that take this tack. As we noted in the post a few below, nuclear energy has an extremely good track record - the number of people, inside and outside the plants, killed by it is very small. But I must admit that stating this point and then running through the grim tally for various energy sources can get awfully morbid awfully quick. Writer Lawrence Solomon follows the above paragraphs with a fairly gruesome account of what happened in China.
After this, he continues with a review of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl:
Neither can it compare to either of the two other serious nuclear accidents that have occurred, at Three Mile island, which led to no deaths, and at Chernobyl, where United Nations agencies such as the World Health Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation have been steadily decreasing death estimates with the passage of time.
The latter is because the eventual deaths from cancer due to the radiation release from Chernobyl have not materialized in the numbers once forecast.
It's a good, fair article, but rather stark for a Sunday morning.
There's one additional point worth bringing out. Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe, an anti-nuclear organization. Now, the next part of his series is called The Real Problem with Nuclear Power, so he'll return to task next time around. Assuming he has more to say than that nuclear power executives are a pack of lying jackals, in the mode of partial nuclear convert George Monbiot, that article might be worth engaging.
Hoover Dam. Looks pretty benign to me. My family still has 8 mm movies of us there.

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