Friday, January 05, 2007

Coal and Oil vs Nuclear

There's alively discussion about the pros and cons of nuclear energy and Indian Point going on here and here.

Being an engineer, I tend to focus on facts. Here are some facts provided by organizations that are not "pro-nuclear".

It is not a choice of wind, solar, and hydro instead of coal, oil, and nuclear. Renewables just won't cut it, no matter how much anti-nuclear folks wish it were true. The real choice is deciding how much coal and oil we want to off-set by nuclear. Here are some more facts (not even considering the global warming arguments):

  • Air pollution from burning coal in the USA causes 24,000 deaths per year, including 2,800 from lung cancer. The number is much higher in nations with lower emissions standards.
  • Over the last 10 years, coal mining deaths have averaged 33 deaths per year in the USA, and more than 6,000 per year in China.
  • In the entire history of the nuclear industry the total number of fatalities, even with highly inflated Chernobyl death estimates, is ~16,000 deaths.
  • Tons of uranium released to the atmosphere by coal plants in the USA: >800 tons per year.
  • Tons of uranium released to the atmosphere from nuclear plants in the USA: 0 tons per year.

Coal plants release 100's of times more radiation to the atmosphere than do nuclear plants. The coal and oil energy cycles claims thousands of times more lives per year than the nuclear fuel cycle.

Last week "hundreds" of people were burned alive when an oil pipeline caught fire. More than 1000 people have died there in the past year from similar pipeline fires. Outside of Nigeria (where it occurred) no one seems to care. It was but a blip on the media's radar screen. However, if a trashcan catches fire in a nuclear plant, it's an international event, even if no one is injured!

To me the answer is a "no brainer." That's why I choose to work in the nuclear industry. If I didn't believe in it I would take my engineering degree and 25 years of experience elsewhere.