[MCN] Nuclear power scarier than coal? Evaluating comparative risks

Lance Olsen lance at wildrockies.org
Sat Apr 14 14:52:09 EDT 2018

https://grist.org/article/nuclear-is-scary-lets-face-those-fears/ <https://grist.org/article/nuclear-is-scary-lets-face-those-fears/>


Even renewable power relies on people unearthing the cobalt, indium, and other materials <http://www.mining.com/web/clean-energy-shift-plus-mining-think-tank/> for solar panels and batteries <https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/aug/24/nickel-mining-hidden-environmental-cost-electric-cars-batteries>.

There are bits of radioactive material scattered throughout the earth’s crust, and when you excavate tons and tons of rock, you’re going to get exposed to a lot of it. As a result, the people digging up the elements required to make solar panels collectively get a little more radiation than <http://www.unscear.org/unscear/en/publications/2016.html> the people mining an equivalent amount of uranium. Blasting out the iron ore needed to build wind turbines and generate the same amount of power exposes miners to a little less radiation.

There’s no perfect solution for spent fuel, but there’s no perfect solution for any kind of energy waste, Stimson Center’s Vestergaard says.

“We currently have around 400,000 tons of nuclear waste globally,” she says. Compare that to coal power, which produces nearly 100 times that much waste every year in the country of South Africa alone <https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/07/how-to-tackle-the-waste-from-coal-power-generation/>.

These other forms of waste aren’t nearly as well-controlled as nuclear. According to a comparison made in Scientific American <https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste/> by the science writer Mara Hvistendahl, “the fly ash emitted by a power plant — a byproduct from burning coal for electricity — carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy.”

“We are constantly deciding how much information is enough.” (p. 44)

“Once we finally reach a decision we are relieved to have the uncertainly of decision making behind us. 
And now somebody turns up and tells us things that call the wisdom of that decision into question again.” 
(pp. 99-100)

Dietrich Dorner. The Logic of Failure: Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations.
1989 in German by Rowolt Verlag GMBH.
1996 in English by Metropolitan Books, Perseus Books.

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