Nuclear Power is Too Safe
If you don't purse safety in a way that is cost effective, you are killing people.[David Okrent]
We know the litany. Nuclear power is too slow. Nuclear power is too expensive. I propose another more grievous fault. Nuclear power is too safe, way too safe.
It is easy to show that, if society wants to be efficient in avoiding deaths, the amount of resources devoted to avoiding the marginal death in all hazardous activities should be the same. Otherwise we can shift resources from the activity in which the cost of avoiding a death is high to activities in which the cost of avoiding a death is low, and end up with less lives lost at the same overall cost.
Figure1. Range of Effectiveness of Life Saving Measures
So how are we doing? Horribly, according to a joint study of six major public health centers.This study estimated the marginal cost per life-years saved of 587 measures, Figure 1. Instead of being clustered around a single, common, marginal cost, the results varied by over a factor of a billion. At the low end were hygiene, vaccinations, and the like. The cost per life-year saved was $10 or less. Toward the low end, we find measures like mandatory seat belts, motorcycle helmets, and smoke detectors, with numbers in the $100 to $1000 per life-year saved range. Some construction safety standards come in between $1000 and $100,000 per life-year saved. Near the very top we have nuclear radiation standards with estimates ranging from one million dollars to several billion dollars per life-year saved.
Bernie Cohen was a bit more conservative. He estimated that nuclear power was spending 2.5 billion dollars per life saved on the margin.For that money, we could have had 125 million pediatric MMR vaccinations. Nuclear power safety is scarfing up billions of dollars that would be far better spent on cleaning up impoverished areas, childhood inoculations, and disease control. This is reprehensibly wasteful and regressive.
And if that's not enough, think about this. If nuclear plants were still being built to the AEC rules of the 1960's, nuclear electricity would currently cost less than 3 cents per kWh. Coal would have been phased out a long time ago. Aaron Cohen et al estimate that 100 million healthy life years are lost to particulate pollution every year.. According to reference , the great bulk of this harm was due to fossil fuel combustion. We don't know how much of this is coal as opposed to gas and oil, but let's conservatively assume it is only 20%. Then over the last 50 years, something like one billion healthy life years that were lost to coal pollution would have been avoided. Not to mention, more than 300 gigatons of CO2.
These benefits will not come for free. Let's do a back of the envelope. There are approximately 2100 GW's of coal plant currently operating. Let's imagine that starting 50 years ago, these coal plants were all replaced with 1GW nukes. That's 105,000 reactor years. We've experienced one Three Mile Island or larger release of radioactive material roughly every 4000 reactor years. So we are talking something like 26 additional releases.
In three of the four big releases we've had so far, we've seen no detectable public Lost Life Expectancy due to radiation. At Chernobyl, the hundreds of thousands of public cancer cases confidently predicted by the LNT-worshipping establishment have failed to develop. A Harvard Medical School study of Ukrainian cancer mortality, 30 years after the release, found no statistical difference between the mortality rates in the districts adjacent to the plant and those far away.The only radiation related, detectable public Lost Life Expectancy seen so far has been to children that drank I-131 contaminated milk. We may eventually see as many as 200 premature deaths, perhaps 8000 life-years lost. Most of this harm could have been avoided by dumping the contaminated milk. But for now let's assume we do no better than we actually did in those additional 26 releases. If so, if we had replaced coal starting 50 years ago, we are looking at less than 100,000 nuclear lost life years, roughly one ten-thousandth of the coal lost years.
Nuclear power's safety is it greatest sin.
Tengs, T. et al, Five Hundred life Saving Interventions and their Cost Effectiveness, Risk Analysis, Vol 15, No 3, 1995, p 369-390.
Cohen, B. The Nuclear Energy Option, Plenum Press, 1990, page 142.
Cohen, A. et al, Estimates and 25 year trends of the global burden of disease attributable to ambient air pollution, Lancet, Vol 389, No 1, 2017, p 1907-1917
Vohra, K. et al, Global Mortality from Outdoor Fine Particle Pollution generated by fossil fuel combustion, Environmental Research, Vol 195, 2021.
Leung, K. et al. Trends in Solid Tumor Incidence in Ukraine 30 years after Chernobyl, Journal of Global Oncology, August, 2019
Why is it that the corrupt and incompetent mainstream media considers every "release" of "radioactive gas" from a nuclear power plant to be newsworthy? That certainly has an negative effect on public perception of the risks of nuclear power.
Many years ago I subscribed to an excellent newsletter called "Access To Energy" by Petr Beckmann, who was also the author of a great book called "The Health Hazards of Not Going Nuclear."
I'll never forget an amusing article he wrote, discussing a newspaper article about a "radioactive cloud over Denver" due to a release from a nuclear power plant. He did a quick little analysis, and concluded that the readers of that newspaper article probably got more radiation exposure from the ink on the newspaper while reading the article than they received from the "radioactive cloud"!
Good stuff. Reminds me of a brilliant book I read... good lord... 41 years ago: Petr Beckmann's The Health Hazards of Not Going Nuclear.