Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In coal's defense, it is a wonderful source of mercury

From Michael Froomkin (via DeLong):

The little tiny box is “nuclear.”

I knew this, and the chart still is effective. And my kids were at first very skeptical last week when I tried to tell them that so far coal had killed far more people than nuclear power. (Of course the very worst case scenario for a nuclear plant is much worse than the very worst case scenario for any coal-fired plant; but the very worst case scenario for coal plants aggregated is…global warming.)


  1. How is this actually measured? Is it number of deaths in coutries that have nuclear power? Or is it deaths in all countries that use coal? Or deaths in all countries that use coal and nuclear? What is the time frame? Ever or per year?

    Is it really fair to compare the safety of coal in third world countries against the safety of nuclear in first world countries?

  2. It's odd but it is worth noting that coal plants actually expose residents to more radioactivity than nuclear plants. Add in particulate pollution (asthma!) and you may end up with a lot more deaths attributable to coal.

    Now, a poorly constructed nuclear plant might end up doing more damage than coal plants. So it is an open question for third world countries. But first world countries (especially in geologically stable regions) might consider nuclear as an option.

    Hydro is technically safer than even nuclear. But it is also subject to tail risk (consider Banquio dam with 171,000 deaths due to a dam failure). But that doesn't mean that first world countries with good safety standards should abandon Hydro electic generation.