Death Rate Per Watt Produced

Seth Godin has the dramatic chart.

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.)

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13 Responses to Death Rate Per Watt Produced

  1. Vic says:

    This “chart” is meaningless without knowing what “death rate” means and how it is calculated. For example, does coal include coal miners killed while mining and later from black lung? Does nuclear include those who died from the atom bombs (which really must be included, if one is including mining deaths, since that work was just as significant for it)?

    You’re a lawyer – you know this chart is just another meaningless-as-is image meant to appeal to the emotions, while appearing to be an intellectual exercise. Trial lawyers do this all the time – it’s kind of a specialty.

    And you’d think the last year of “global warming” news would have convinced everyone that we just don’t know WHAT’S going on – but it’s nice to see there’s always a few who don’t read the memos and show up in a toga anyway…

    • I am certain that nuclear doesn’t include the war work, just as coal doesn’t include deaths from the discovery of fire. I don’t know about this chart, but other estimates I have seen do count deaths from mining as well as estimates from lung cancer due to mining and air pollution from burning coal. These certainly should be counted. I suspect the nuclear number slightly under-counts the actual increase in cancer rates due to increases in background radiation, since governments tend to not acknowledge the consequences of leaks like at Sellafileld. Even so, the orders of magnitude seem about right.

      (I am persuaded that the vast preponderance of the evidence supports the claim that global warming is real. The so-called evidence to the contrary is almost entirely froth.)

    • Bangon Kali says:

      Lol! Dude, you immediately said “how it is calculated”, i doubt you haven’t read the original source where it came from. This illustration is legit. And by God it’s very obvious! Why would companies still be building nuclear power facilities if it kills so much people!!! Haven’t you watched Discovery Channel and National Geographic, they sometimes even say, that a worker in a nuclear reactor is safer than a person walking in the street! Most of the incidents that are attributed to nuclear are often only caused by Natural Disasters and sometimes pure human error! Now, in the subject of coal power, in coal mines, have you been to one? I don’t think you would last 5 minutes. Additionally, the fact that you suggested to include Nuclear as weapon only gives us a hint how clueless you are in the entire nuclear power industry! For Christ’s sake, nuclear as a weapon is so much different from Nuclear as a source of power! Do your homework dude! The only reason why Coal power still persist today is because it’s the cheapest among them all! But in exchange for detrimental environmental implications! Lastly, tell me, have you got any idea, that America has in fact floating nuclear power plants roaming around the world, policing it 24/7?

      • Vic says:

        When exactly did I say I was pro or anti nuke?

        All I am saying is this chart is completely meaningless without knowing the metrics behind it. One can make a graphic to prove absolutely anything you want to prove – all using the same numbers. Every lawyer (at least every trial lawyer) should know this.

        This is just meant to appeal to one segment of society emotionally, not educate.

  2. Just me says:

    In this context, mining deaths do not compare to deaths from atom bombs. Mining deaths instead compare to deaths caused to nuclear power plant workers during melt downs.

  3. tib says:

    Yes, if you ignore deaths from cancer (as this chart does: “the cause and effect becomes more tenuous.”) then very few people die from nuclear generated watts of power. Also, from the same data set, solar power is 10 times more dangerous than nuclear power per watt.

    And if you believe that then I have some great property in Fukushima prefecture I’d like to sell you.

    • I haven’t been able to find any estimates of what those would be.

      Cancer rates are up, but part of that is thought to be due to the elimination of other things that would kill you first. Then there’s the effect of all the other carcinogens we are exposed to. So it’s hard to separate out.

      The study with the very highest estimates I’ve been able to find doesn’t scream credibility to me, and even if we take it as writ, many of its claims are that it measure harms from radiation (from all man-made sources including nuclear testing) not just power plants.

      So there’s likely something to what you say, but I remain highly uncertain as to the magnitude.

    • endorendil says:

      Actually, any reasonable estimate for cancer deaths, no matter how tenuously related to nuclear energy, would still leave nuclear energy vastly less dangerous than coal. Deaths related to coal-based energy production exceed 1 million per year worldwide (WHO estimate, half of them in China, 30,000 of them in USA). Even if every nuclear plant in existence would fail right now in the most cataclysmic way its design allows, you wouldn’t get those kind of death rates.

  4. J.V. Dubois says:

    To all who comment – do you know that burning coal realeases more radioactivity than nuclear power plant? Average coal plant actually releaseas about 5 pounds of uranium directly into the air, as uranium (and other radioactive materials) are present in very small quantities in the coal.

    Also coal produces lots of other things causing cancer, such as sulfur dioxides (also causing acid rains) and so forth. 100 Watt light bulb running on coal electiricity for the whole year thus generates 5 pounds of Sulfure Dioxide, 5.1 pounds of Nitrogen Oxids (smog and acid rain) and 1852 pounds of greenshous gasses.

  5. ex-PFC Chuck says:

    “Watts Produced” is a meaningless oxymoron in this context. Power plants produce watt-hours (actually measured as kilowatt-hours at the residential consumer level. Their capacity is expressed in watts, or more typically megawatts for utility-scale plants. Some clarification is needed here.

  6. Mike says:

    If Indian Point in the NYC and metro area experienced an earthquake greater than the design quake (greater than magnitude 6) and the same situation as in Japan occurred, the health/lives and property of 14 million people within a 50-mile radius (the evacuation zone recommended by the U.S. in Japan) would be affected. Forget evacuation, especially those located south of Indian Point, including NYC. I don’t htink people would accept the NY State Spt. of Health saying the radiation levels “shouldn’t be a problem”. How good are seismic statistical predictions? The plant in Japan operated 40 years without a quake exceeding the design quake.

    And what about cost? I’ve read the value of all property on Long Island is around $2 trillion, so property loss on the order of $8-10 trillion for NYC and the metro area could be lost, and this is just property not acute and chronic health costs. There was concern about the American economy when only a small portion onf NYC was affected by 911; making the entire area uninhabitable and non-productive might tank the U.S. economy.

    • J.V. Dubois says:

      And now do you think that similar industrial incident affecting let’s say a reffinery, oil pipeline, chemical factory would be withou effect? Or what about something like this happening near one of the major US cities? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhopal_disaster

    • endorendil says:

      Indian point provides up to 30% of the energy used in NYC. How much would property be worth in New York if electricity was only available 16 hours per day?

      More importantly, if you replaced the 2 nuclear reactors with coal-fired reactors, you’ld put some 10 tons of uranium in the air every year (including almost 150 pounds of radioactive U-235), and some 25 tons of thorium (which has a half-life of 14 billion years).

      What you’re advocating is replacing the remote possibility of slightly elevated exposure to radioactivity with the absolute guarantee of it. It makes absolutely no sense at all.

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