Fusion Energy League

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Fossil Fuels Are Nuking Our Planet

Rezwan Razani - August 25, 2013

[Related:  See “Energy Supply Habeas Corpse-Off”]

Fossil Fuels Nuking the Atmosphere

Global Warming traps excess heat in our atmosphere.  David Holmes, in Four Hiroshima bombs a second: how we imagine climate change, converts this excess heat into nuclear bomb equivalents.  The result?

“The maths of this is quite disturbing. The equivalent of the heat released by 345,600 Hiroshima bombs is absorbed by the earth every day, or four bombs every second. Ninety per cent of the heat released by those bombs is going into the ocean.”

“Or you can go even more nuclear to discover that the entire world stockpile of 24,300 nuclear weapons (2009 figures) is 25,000 Hiroshomas short of the daily global warming, but closer to the amount being absorbed by the oceans alone.”


Our daily Fossil Fuel heat footprint is bigger than that of our entire nuclear war arsenal.  Who’s nuking whom?

Fossil Fuels Nuking People

People died in a horrible conflagration when we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.  Measuring the heat from the bombs in Hiroshima units for some Global Warming scare tactic is offensive, you say.  It’s not like Fossil Fuels are killing people at a massive Hiroshima level.

Actually, it is. 

Per Wikipedia, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed from 90,000 to 166,000 people.

If you round this up and count 200,000 people killed as One (1) Hiroshima, then air pollution kills at a rate of about 15 Hiroshimas each year.  That’s over 3 million people. Each year.  Dead.

This is based on the World Health Organization report: Exposure to Air Pollution, a Major Public Health Concern (pdf)

Indoor air pollution from solid fuel use and urban outdoor air pollution are estimated to be responsible for 3.1 million premature deaths worldwide every year and 3.2% of the global burden of disease.  More than half of the global burden of disease from air pollution is borne by people in developing countries. Air pollutants have been linked to a range of adverse health effects, including respiratory infections, heart disease and lung cancer.

Much of the air pollution comes from fossil fuels.  How else do fossil fuels kill?  Consider other risks such as collapsing mine shafts and exploding oil rigs and exploding trains

If only someone would add up all those deaths and compare it to renewables and nuclear power. 

Luckily, someone has. Many thanks to @NextBigFuture

In Deaths Per TWH by Energy Source he compares the fatality rate of various energy sources, keeping the amount of energy output (a Terrawatt Hour), constant. The results are as follows, death rates in bold:
Deaths per TWh:  Energy Source        

100: Coal (elect, heat,cook –world avg) (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
60:  Coal electricity – world avg (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
170:  Coal (elect,heat,cook)– China  
90:  Coal electricity-  China
15:  Coal – USA  
36:  Oil (36% of world energy)
4:  Natural Gas (21% of world energy)
12:  Biofuel/Biomass
12:  Peat  
0.44:  Solar (rooftop) (0.2% of world energy for all solar)
0.15:  Wind (1.6% of world energy)
0.10:  Hydro (Europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
1.4:  Hydro - world including Banqiao) (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
0.04:  Nuclear (5.9% of world energy)

Check it out!  Nuclear power is at the bottom of this list.  The least lethal.  How can that be?  For more jaw dropping facts about how safe nuclear power is, and how much its reputation has been maligned, see Pandora’s Promise.  Immediately.

Fossils Nuke People.  Nuclear Energy doesn’t.

As you can see from the Next Big Future collation above, globally, coal kills 100 people per TWh, while nuclear power kills 0.04 people per TWh.  This means that for the same amount of energy produced, coal kills 2500 more people than nuclear power.  It’s worse in China.  Coal kills 170 people per TWh - 4,250 times more lethal than nuclear power. 

The death rate for nuclear energy includes the estimates of people who will die prematurely from cancer due to radiation exposure in nuclear accidents.  Chernobyl, Fukushima, they are in there.  And still don’t hold a candle to fossil fuels. 

The WORST that could happen with nukes isn’t nearly as bad as what ROUTINELY happens with fossil fuels.  Let’s visualize.

What irony.  Nuclear power has the “N” word in its name.  Nuclear is “Nukes.”  And yet it is thousands of times safer than fossil fuels.

Consider.  The worst possible scenario for nuclear fission is playing out right now at Fukushima.  People are worried about the radiation leaks and possible cancers in the upcoming decades.  How many cancers?  A hundred?  A thousand?  Spread out over several decades?  Meanwhile, three million more people will die this year from good old fashioned - you can see it in the air all around you - fossil fuel generated air pollution.  Three million this year, and each and every year to come, if we don’t act.

Fossil fuels are nuking us.  Are we going to stand for that?  No!  Let’s nuke fossil fuels!

But…that can’t be right

The Death Rate Per Watt graphic above comes from Seth Godin’s blog.  The post is actually about marketing, about which Seth says,

This chart unsettles a lot of people, because there must be something wrong with it. Further proof of how easy it is to fear the unknown and accept what we’ve got.

I think that any time reality doesn’t match your expectations, it means that marketing was involved. Perhaps it was advertising, or perhaps deliberate story telling by an industry. Or perhaps it was just the stories we tell one another in our daily lives. It’s sort of amazing, even to me, how much marketing colors the way we see the world—our reaction (either way) to this chart is proof of it.

Does that help? 

No, you say.  Fossil Fuels may be nuking our planet, but nuclear power is still nukes!  No nukes!  I want solar.

Nuclear Energy Nukes less people than Solar Energy

Solar is great.  By all means unite and conquer and keep solar in the mix, deploying it where it is best deployed. 

Just keep in mind that by the numbers, nuclear is safer than solar.  Looking at the chart again, we see that Solar energy comes in at 0.44 deaths per TWh.  This is eleven times more deaths than nuclear energy’s 0.04 per TWh.

How are these numbers calculated?  For nuclear power, nuclear accidents and radiation induced cancer deaths over time are included.  For Solar power, deaths from falling off a roof while installing solar panels are included, as are deaths from exposure to chemicals in the manufacturing process, which cause cancer and other ailments.  More from the Grist.

It may come as a surprise that nuclear power, with accidents like Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima included, is ten times safer than solar power.  That’s where the advantage of energy density kicks in.  Each nuclear power plant keeps pumping out a steady supply of energy, lighting up cities, hospitals, schools, factories and homes without incident, year after year.

Comparing solar to nuclear in terms of safety is like comparing driving to flying. 

Feel free to search through mortality and fatality data.  There will be other studies.  The numbers will vary.  There will be margins of error.  The main takeaway is that, whatever the specific numbers, the actual risk of nuclear power is on par with solar power.  If you vilify nuclear, you vilify solar.

Solar proponents, be glad.  You probably want to nuke fossil fuels as much as anyone.  With actual nuclear power as your ally, you can pull it off.  Don’t feel threatened. It’s not like we want to nuke solar power.  Solar power is knowledge based energy.  We’re fans.  Plus the energy challenge is bigger than all of us.  There will be room for growth in every knowledge based energy field.  Fossil fuels, on the other hand, are resource based.  And a valuable resource, to boot.  It’s a waste to burn it for energy.  Let’s stop the burning.  Coal first.  Sorry Ernie.

Are We Going to Stand For This?

Fossil fuels are nuking our planet. 

Nuclear energy can make it stop. 

The course of action is clear.  Join the Fusion Energy League.  Help launch the Big Hairy Nuclear Power Goal.  Let’s switch to nuclear, cool down the atmosphere, invigorate the economy and save millions of lives. 

Let’s do it. Let’s Nuke Fossil Fuels.