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I See Dead People:  Energy Supply Habeas Corpse Off

Rezwan Razani - October 25, 2013

I See Dead People

Energy decisions have major consequences for human life and welfare, and yet many of our decisions are based on misinformation.  We step over the bodies of people who are actually suffering and dying, but quake before a softly glowing phantom menace. 

Do you know the real, physical effect on human life of your preferred energy supply?  Do you know how it holds up to other energy supplies?  Do you know which is the safest, which is the most fatal?  Do you know to what extent which of your fears are unfounded and which are fully justified? 

Do you want to know?

Energy fatality rate by source ought to be a relatively simple side by side comparison.  And it is.  In Deaths Per TWH by Energy Source @NextBigFuture 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)

Update: Need to add deaths from cooking. And consider the wonderful world we can live in with more clean energy for cooking, and washing machines for every family.

In new estimates released this week, WHO reports that in 2012 around 7 million people died as a result of air pollution exposure. This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk. The biggest culprit was indoor air pollution that results from cooking over open fires. Each year, some 4.3 million people die prematurely because of the poisonous air inside their homes. Furthermore, exposure tends to be extra-noxious for women and children in the developing world since both spend more time around cook stoves and fires.

See also “Fossil Fuels are Nuking Our Planet.”  As noted in that post, Seth Godin took this information and made the simple infographic below.  Given that the fatality rate for nuclear energy is 0.04 deaths per TWh, and for Coal, it’s 100, the ratio is 100 to 0.04. That means coal kills 2500 times as many people as nuclear power - for the same amount of energy delivered to the consumer.  Which energy supply is cheaper now?  What is human life worth?

The ratio of Solar:Nuclear is 0.44:0.04.  Thus Solar kills 11 times as many people per unit of energy as nuclear.  It’s all those roofs people fall off of when installing, and the exposure to chemicals from making the panels.

Imagine these squares as the pile of thousands of bodies they represent.  What the post and this chart make clear is that all energy has risks.  Also that nuclear power, FISSION, using today’s technology, and including major breakdowns such as Chernobyl and Fukushima - is the safest energy in the world.  It has the smallest pile of bodies. 

For all that you fear radiation leaks - that is the LEAST of your worries from an energy supply.

Consider the implications.  Do you see how there are thousands of times more dead people from the other energy sources?  Sources we don’t question?  Routine deaths?  Do you see how over-hyped the risk of nuclear energy is?  Could it be your radiation fears are phantoms?

Are you having a hard time coming to terms with this information?  There are two possibilities here.

  1. The first is that this is a lie, and there has been a coverup. Our facts are wrong. Or we’re not properly accounting for radiation impacts.  It could be there are a lot more dead people from nuclear power, and this article is misleading.  If this is what you think, all the more reason to get to the bottom of the actual numbers without distortion.
  2. The second is that this is true, and we are behaving as fools and criminals. Fools because our biggest asset, nuclear energy, is effectively sidelined, while we dither and ineffectually whine about enormous, catastrophic, looming environmental disasters and poverty.  Criminals because in choosing not to use the nuclear power, we are paying an opportunity cost: we are using the more deadly forms of energy and PEOPLE ARE DYING.  Do you see the dead people?  Every day that goes by, MORE PEOPLE DIE.  And we remain criminally negligent.

We can waive criminal negligence for past ignorance, but now that you’ve seen this information you can’t claim ignorance.  You need to act. 

If you accept this information as true, your responsibility is to help exonerate nuclear power, embrace it and expand its use. 

If you don’t accept it is true, slander from the sidelines will not do. Consider this the filing of a Habeas Corpus petition for nuclear energy and be prepared to show due cause.

Habeas Corpus

It’s Latin for “you have the body.”  Per the Center for Constitutional Rights:

Habeas corpus, or the Great Writ, is the legal procedure that keeps the government from holding you indefinitely without showing cause.  When you challenge your detention by filing a habeas corpus petition, the executive branch must explain to a neutral judge its justification for holding you. Habeas corpus prevents the King from simply locking up subjects in secret dungeons and throwing away the key.

On that note, I would like to challenge those energy organizations that are holding nuclear power down indefinitely without showing cause.  Likewise, I challenge folks who write spurious articles about nuclear energy.  I’d like to see you prove that there are, indeed, a lot of dead people from nuclear that haven’t been counted and, failing that, I’d like to see a full apology to nuclear energy and to the world for keeping us from it. 

New Jersey Nuclear Habeas Corpus

Habeas Corpus is usually applied to government, so let’s start with the great State of New Jersey.  The most recent “Energy Master Plan (EMP)” effectively dismisses nuclear energy in the first paragraph of the executive summary:

Recent global events have reminded the world that there are no easy options in confronting our dependence on oil, nuclear power, and the mining of coal.  BP’s deadly explosion and oil spill at the deepwater Macondo platform in the Gulf of Mexico, the release of radiation at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plants in Japan, and the tragic loss of life at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia underscore the reality that technology choices present risks to society and the environment.

The EMP then goes on to unveil New Jersey’s “aggressive” renewable portfolio standards (RPS).  The goal?  22.5% RPS target by 2021. 

Great State of New Jersey, here is step one of the Habeas corpus process.  Take that first paragraph from the summary and let’s do a “corpse off” between the deepwater Macondo spill, Fukushima and the Coal Mine.  Compare those events side by side.  How many were killed in each incident related to the power source?  Spoiler alert - no one died at Fukushima from the accident. 

Radiation!”  I hear.  Of course.  I was getting to that.  In addition to the death toll from the accidents, add the risks to human health from the energy used - the cancer and lung disease risks from burning the oil and the coal, compared to the cancer risks from leaking Fukushima radiation.  Spoiler alert - take a look at the chart above again. Radiation is the LEAST of your health worries.

Are you getting the picture? Nuclear has no business being in the same category as oil and coal.  Oil and coal are stone cold, evil killers.  The Executive Summary implies that nuclear energy is on par with oil and coal, some terrible evil we’re “dependent” on.  It is, in fact, our cleanest, best energy asset, and should be ranked with the renewables as our salvation.  Indeed, it should rank higher than the renewables because of that scalability factor, and how little space it takes up

New Jersey EMP, are you justified in maligning nuclear power?  If not, adjust your executive summary accordingly.

This brings us to step two.  22.5% RPS?  You call that “aggressive”?  Let’s say that the real goal is “green house gas free energy.”  Nuclear power is already supplying 48.4% of New Jersey’s electricity, green house gas free.  So the EMP’s 22.5% RPS is an additional renewable goal. 

The executive summary insinuates that nuclear is something we’d like to get weaned off of.  Thus the 22.5% RPS would, in part, displace some of the nuclear power.  But they are both green house gas free, so that’s just treading water.  Now, look what happens when you ADD the energy supply, instead.  48.4 + 22.5% would bring NJ up to 70.9% green-house-gas free electricity.  Suddenly, going for 100% green house gas free electricity seems so simple.  A few more nuclear power plants, and we’re set.  That’s a goal I can get behind.  Then, beyond 2021 - we’ll go for surplus nuclear power to make inroads into the transport sector.  More electricity enables more electric vehicles - and let’s us make that switch from liquid fossil fuel to nuclear, green house gas free electric fuel. 

What a difference nuclear exoneration makes.

How much nuclear energy is required for this goal?  Let’s do it.  Big Hairy Nuclear Energy Plan time.  You’d need…how many more nuclear power plants?  If you don’t use nuclear power, how many acres of wind and solar are required for the same amount of energy?  And what’s the ideal mix that New Jersey residents would prefer?  Let’s use a tool like Community Planit to get people to design their ultimate energy back yard. 

Exoneration: What’s at Stake

As a consumer and citizen, I’m tired of nuclear power’s reputation being maligned and slandered.  Nuclear power is a great asset.  I would like to see it released from this unnecessary detention, exonerated from the false accusations, so that we can quickly get to work leveraging it for the greater good of the planet.  Green house gas free energy and prosperity for all. A better world and backyard for me to live in.

Unfortunately, people still shy away from nuclear power like the plague, or like children who are afraid to go into the basement because of the bogeyman.  This whole time, the basement is a wonderful den and we could have been having great parties in it.  Or more urgently, the basement is precisely where you need to go, given the impending global warming/poverty tornado.

But there’s no way around it.  Those phantom fears are out there, and we have to go over it again and again, shining a strong light in the basement.  Here’s a start: 

Facing the Radiation Phantoms

If you haven’t studied the matter, you will naturally, be concerned that there is a real and terrible danger from nuclear energy. You’ll get that impression from articles, such as Fukushima - A Global Threat That Requires a Global Response - in which Kevin Zeese informs us:

There are three major problems at Fukushima: (1) Three reactor cores are missing; (2) Radiated water has been leaking from the plant in mass quantities for 2.5 years; and (3) Eleven thousand spent nuclear fuel rods, perhaps the most dangerous things ever created by humans, are stored at the plant and need to be removed, 1,533 of those are in a very precarious and dangerous position. Each of these three could result in dramatic radiation events, unlike any radiation exposure humans have ever experienced.  We’ll discuss them in order, saving the most dangerous for last.

Read his post side by side with this post from Slate.com and decide for yourself.  Fukushima’s Worst-Case Scenarios: Much of what you’ve heard about the nuclear accident is wrong

See also: 28 fallacies about the Fukushima nuclear disaster’s effect on the US West Coast

Suggest more links below.  Pro or con.  The only way out is through.

Direct Health Consequences of Nuclear Fear Mongering

Not only are nuclear radiation dangers overstated, there are consequences to the fear of radiation that are, in themselves dangerous.  As David Ropeik notes in Fear vs. Radiation: The Mismatch

...Leading health scientists say the radiation from Fukushima has been relatively harmless, which is similar to results found after studying the health effects of Chernobyl. With all that evidence, why does our fear of all things nuclear persist? And what peril does that fear itself pose for society?

...But nuclear accidents have provided strong evidence that those fears have dramatic health consequences of their own. The World Health Organization’s 20-year review of the Chernobyl disaster found that its psychological impacts did more health damage than radiation exposure did, and a principle cause of the population’s debilitating stress was “an exaggerated sense of the dangers to health of exposure to radiation.”

Epidemiologists are already seeing the same things in Fukushima, where radiation exposures were far lower than at Chernobyl. Radiation biologists say the increased cancer risk from Fukushima will be so low it won’t change general cancer rates for that area, or Japan generally. (The World Health Organization predicts minor increases in rates of some cancers, for some ages and genders, in small pockets of more highly contaminated areas near the plant.)

Neutrality

Habeas Corpus requires that you take the prisoner before a neutral judge.  The Nuclear question needs to be decided on by people with neutrality.  After tweeting Mr. Zeese to Chillax and read the Slate post, I was reminded of the need for a neutral body.

Aside from Michael Moore - who would you nominate as a neutral judge of the matter?

I suppose I must recuse myself.  Even though the Fusion Energy League is not funded by the nuclear industry, we do have a strong point of view in favor of nuclear power.  As for Mr. Zeese, he is not neutral either. Activists like Zeese get their funding from donors.  It’s easiest to fundraise when your message is one of urgency about something horrible.  And what is more horrible than a mushroom cloud?  Radiation is a villain straight out of central casting, perfect for a multitude of fundraising appeals.  Often, a tactic of demonizing radiation is just what you need to make payroll. 

I’m all for people using shorthand and oversimplifying a problem to raise funds for an otherwise good organization.  But in this case, the results of vilifying nuclear power in the real world are that it keeps delaying the adoption of nuclear energy, which means THE BODY COUNT from other energy sources is RISING.  On top of that, the fear mongering itself it creates real world health consequences, as noted in the New York Times post above.

Do you see the Dead People?

This is not a simple disagreement among people who want one industry to thrive, or who want to raise funds for their activist nonprofit.  This is an issue that has life and death consequences for human beings.  It may be hard to see it, but you must focus. Do you see the dead people? Do you understand the data?  Some words from FlowingData:

This reminded me of Joseph Stalin’s well known quote, “One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.” It’s a horrible thing to say, but when it comes to data visualization and analysis, it’s true a lot of the time. We have a huge dataset and we have to extract information from it. In the process though, we forget that every one of those numbers has real non-numeric value to it. There are emotions and feelings. Life is complex. Data represents life…

Honor the dead.  Take action.