[ RadSafe ] Coal-burning vs. nuclear fission - health effects on the public

S L Gawarecki slgawarecki at gmail.com
Tue Apr 9 15:01:57 CDT 2013

 Life-saving case for nuclear

03 April 2013

A landmark study has put the figure of 1.84 million on the number of lives
saved by the worldwide use of nuclear power instead of fossil fuels. The
report co-authored by former NASA scientist James Hansen presents a
dramatic new case for nuclear energy.

It begins by taking historic generation data from the nuclear sector and
estimating emissions from fossil fuels that would likely have met the same
generation role if nuclear had not been used. Nuclear plants with poorer
performance below 65% capacity factor were swapped for gas generation while
higher performers were swapped for coal, which worked out as a mix of 95%
coal and 5% gas replacing nuclear.

The results are projected total emissions that would have probably led to
the deaths of 1.84 million people between 1971 and 2009 based on average
mortality estimates from fossil combustion pollution. This is probably an
underestimate, said Hansen and co-author Pushker Kharecha, noting that the
life-cycle mortality estimates are the biggest source of uncertainty in the
report: Some coal units produce three times more dangerous pollution than
the average they have used. The higher estimate for lives saved by nuclear
energy was over 7.5 million - and these figures do not count a range of
serious respiratory illnesses, cancers, hereditary effects and heart

In the recent time period of 2000-9 nuclear power plants avoided pollution
which would otherwise have caused around 76,000 deaths per year, said the
report. Entitled *Prevented mortality and greenhouse gas emissions from
historical and projected nuclear power*, it was published as a 'just
accepted' peer-reviewed paper in *Environmental Science & Technology *on 15
Lifecycles and beyond

The report takes a figure of 4900 as the potential deaths caused by the use
of nuclear energy in the period 1971-2009, explaining at length that this
"could be a major overestimate relative to empirical value (by two orders
of magnitude)." The figure is based mainly on presumed "air
pollution-related effects" and only 25% on documented cases of occupational
accidents and their effects on the public, notably the Chernobyl accident.

The report states: "The absence of evidence of large mortality from past
nuclear accidents is consistent with recent findings that the 'linear
no-threshold' model used to derive the nuclear mortality factor might not
be valid for the relatively low radiation doses that the public was exposed
to from nuclear power plant accidents."
Global impact

Until his retirement this week, Hansen had been head of the NASA Goddard
Institute for Space Studies and a leading climate change scientist. That
topic featured in the report: "It is important to bear in mind that our
results for prevented mortality are likely conservative, because the
mortality factors... do not incorporate impacts of ongoing or future
anthropogenic climate change. These impacts are likely to become
devastating for both human health and ecosystems if recent global
greenhouse gas emission trends continue."

Nuclear power has served to buy time and make climate mitigation far more
feasible. The emission of some 64 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide
equivalent have been avoided by nuclear power - almost two years' emissions
at today's rate of around 34 billion tonnes per year. Considering a goal to
limit carbon dioxide concentrations to 350 parts per billion by the end of
this century, the report said that only 500 billion tonnes of carbon
dioxide would be 'allowable'. If the nuclear sector performs to the
expectations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it stands to
avoid the emission of between 80 and 240 billion tonnes (based on IAEA's
low and high nuclear scenarios and whether this replaces gas or coal). This
future contribution from nuclear could instead come from other low-carbon
sources. Nevertheless, the report concludes, "achieving these [climate]
targets emphasizes the importance of retaining and expanding nuclear power,
as well as carbon-free renewables, in the near-term global energy supply."

Found at

**Susan Gawarecki*

ph: 865-494-0102
cell:  865-604-3724
SLGawarecki at gmail.com

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