Nukes Save Lives

Wow:

A study published recently in Environmental Science and Technology by scientists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Columbia University Earth Institute adds heft to that argument, indicating just how much human life nuclear power may have saved over the years. To wit, researchers estimate nuclear power has prevented more than 1.8 million deaths due to air pollution between 1971 and 2009.

Given our fears, the findings are counterintuitive. But they’re persuasive. Those lives were spared, researchers say, because nuclear power spared the earth’s atmosphere 64 gigatons of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions. What’s more, they argue, an additional 80 to 240 gigatons and up to 7 million deaths could be prevented by around 2050 if we replace some of our fossil fuels with nuclear power over time.

Mother Jones actually misquotes the study, I think. The 1.8 million lives were spared by dint of reduced pollution in the form of particulate matter (soot, sulphur dioxide, etc). That’s fewer heart attacks, lung cancers, etc. because people haven’t been breathing as much shit into their lungs. Nuclear power also saved 64 billion tons in CO2 emissions but there is no way to realistically correlate that to lives saved.

I’m suspicious of studies like this even when they reinforce my beliefs (especially when they do). But their number is, if not in the ballpark, at least on the highway to the ballpark. The number could be a lot less (which they acknowledge). But they would have to be way WAY off for the lives saved by nuclear power to be less than the 5000 they estimate to have been lost to it (from accidents and radiation).

Nuclear power is not perfect. But, of the realistic alternatives we have right now, it is the least harmful to the environment. It should be at the heart of any discussion about the future of energy.

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  1. AlexInCT

    And the technology keeps getting better and better:

    TVA is teaming with Babcock & Wilcox on a project that may produce the nation’s first operational small modular reactor.

    The potential of this device to make nuclear power cheaper and more readily available excites proponents, but worries those who don’t think wider availability of nuclear power is such a great thing.

    The smaller, simpler design of modular reactors makes it possible for a power company to scatter them in more sites — maybe even a decommissioned coal plant — or to cluster them to get the effect of a full-sized reactor, proponents say.

    Of course the anti-nukers are never going to like this stuff.

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  2. pekka

    The problem I have with nuclear technology is the shit it leaves behind. I can live with the risk to *us* – that’s a cost-benefit tradeoff like with any other technology. But nuclear waste remains dangerous for thousands and thousands of years. It’ll eventually drip out of whatever containers you put it in. You’ll have to look after the facilities constantly. You essentially need a fully functioning country, and technologically advanced society to keep a lid on the stuff – and who’s to say that’s going to be around every second for the next, what, 10,000 years? As things stand right now, the waste is always going to be an active, highly dangerous threat. It’s not ethical to put a burden like this on your fucking grand-grand-grand-grand-grandchildren.

    Science may find a way to contain the problem eventually. I hope it does. But acting like that’s going to happen with 100% certainty is no different from drawing up budgets that assume huge windfalls over the next twenty years.

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  3. AlexInCT

    The problem I have with nuclear technology is the shit it leaves behind.

    The newest reactors have the capability to burn the feul so completely that what is left isn’t much worse than naturally occuring background radiation. They are more pricey to run and maintain however and lose efficiency as they keep burning feul that degrades, which has meant that they have not seen much use, yet.

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  4. Hal_10000 *

    Good point, Alex. Hey, that’s twice we’ve agreed in one week! But the irony of the anti-nuke movement is that they are preventing old reactors from being replaced by much safer reactors. Part of me thinks they don’t want nuke energy to be safe. Remember the reaction of the greens to cold fusion: many proclaimed that cheap limitless clean source of energy would be a catastrophe.

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  5. HARLEY

    exactly how much radiation is released by the worlds total coal plants? compared to nuke plans? any one got solid numbers?

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  6. Mississippi Yankee

    exactly how much radiation is released by the worlds total coal plants? compared to nuke plans? any one got solid numbers?

    The answer is “42”
    :-)

    Alex,as I’ve mentioned before my eldest som isin in the reactor rebuilding business. The cost, to me anyway, is astronomical but he says much of it is because it is so labor-intensive work. He’s rebuilding one in South Florida right now and it’s been going on for 2 years now.

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  7. Hal_10000 *

    Alex,as I’ve mentioned before my eldest som isin in the reactor rebuilding business. The cost, to me anyway, is astronomical but he says much of it is because it is so labor-intensive work. He’s rebuilding one in South Florida right now and it’s been going on for 2 years now.

    Interesting. Is is the complexity or the safety factors that drive the work?

    Harley, I have no idea how much radiation coal produces. I suspect it is not a small amount since we’re talking about ores that include heavy elements. Also not to be ignored — the devastating toll coal mining takes on the miners.

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  8. Mississippi Yankee

    Interesting. Is is the complexity or the safety factors that drive the work?

    From what he is allowed to talk about just removing the old core and all that entails is the real bitch. Of course the complexity OF the safety factors are probably paramount.

    As a note, his mother (my first wife) was part one of the first clean-up crew at 3 Mile Island in 1979. Thirty years later my son headed the crew that install a new low emission reactor there.

    Rebuilding any nuclear reactors anywhere were for the most part the sole propriety of the Fwench until 2004-2005.

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  9. AlexInCT

    Good point, Alex. Hey, that’s twice we’ve agreed in one week!

    I think we agree on a far more things than we disagree about, but it discussing what we disagree on is afar more fun, dude. :)

    But the irony of the anti-nuke movement is that they are preventing old reactors from being replaced by much safer reactors. Part of me thinks they don’t want nuke energy to be safe.

    .

    You just won the internet nuke debate with that statement, sir.

    I wholeheartedly believe that is exactly what they want. They have an irrational fear of nukes, and they will be damned if they allow progress or technology to provide answers that show said irrationality exists and is a hindrance to progress. The campaign has and remains to keep nukes from being build or replaced, especially with any newer technologies that basically obviate the usual list of concerns & complaints used to justify the fear of nukes as rational objection, and to make it so expensive when someone manages to overcome these barriers and still build a new nuke plant that it isn’t worth anyone’s time or effort.

    Remember the reaction of the greens to cold fusion: many proclaimed that cheap limitless clean source of energy would be a catastrophe.

    Luddites that want to take us back to living in harmony with Gaia and with less than 10% of the current world population left alive would believe cheap, clean, and abundant energy is a catastrophe.

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  10. AlexInCT

    Interesting. Is is the complexity or the safety factors that drive the work?

    My ex-brother in law was also in that line of business, and I did some contracting at a plant here in CT back when (disclaimer; I wrote software and didn’t do anything else), and as MY already pointed out, by far the largest cost factor – by orders of magnitude – are tied to bureaucracy masquerading as safety regulations.

    Don’t get me wrong; this stuff needs some serious safety rules because we are dealing with something that when mismanaged will kill, but these rules & regulations need to be based on real science and common sense. The stuff we have today is insane and mostly political, intended to make it so prohibitively costly that most plant operators will never innovate or upgrade, and are likely to just decommission plants like they did in CT.

    The laws are so stupid that you are left scratching your head. For example, take a look at the requirement that killed Yucca mountain. You know, the stupid law the anti-nukers passed stating that Yucca mountain had to somehow put out less radiation than the natural occurring background radiation from granite mountain the storage facility was supposed to be housed in. There is a ton of that in the current regulation, and they claim it is for safety.

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