Saturday, April 09, 2005

Nukes Are Green

Kristof is urging that we look at Nuclear power as a greener power as it doesn't emit any greenhouse gases. Although I am not convinced on the dire predictions of global warming (yes, I think greenhouse gases warm the earth, no, I am not sure that scientists can accurately predict the future warming amount (it seems like this is as hard as predicting the weather, so as soon as they can tell me what the weather will be like tomorrow with 99% accuracy then I will trust them), and no I am not sure a warming earth will definitely be bad for humans or life on earth though there will definitely will be regional global climate change winners and losers) I agree with his basic thesis regardless of the greenhouse gases because of this part:

Is it safe? No, not entirely. Three Mile Island and Chernobyl demonstrated that, and there are also risks from terrorist attacks.

America's biggest power source is now coal, which kills about 25,000 people a year through soot in the air. To put it another way, nuclear energy seems much safer than our dependency on coal, which kills more than 60 people every day.
Although I am not sure where he gets the 25,000 number from (do they put "soot" as the cause of death on the death certificate?), I would not be surprised if the number was in that ballpark. And yet people are not worried about coal energy because it happens in such a diffuse way that the media can't turn it into a story, and if it isn't a story in the media people don't see it as the threat it is (in the excellent book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz has a study that shows the frequency of newspaper coverage and the respondents' estimates of the frequency of death were almost perfectly correlated). Likewise, no one would ever fly an airline that had 35,000 deaths a year and yet none of us think twice to drive in a car where that many deaths happen a year in the US.
Radioactive wastes are a challenge. But burdening future generations with nuclear wastes in deep shafts is probably more reasonable than burdening them with a warmer world in which Manhattan is submerged under 20 feet of water.
I wish he would have quantified the nuclear waste issue a little more. Not really sure how bad things are if terrorists were able to blow some up. Ironically, if we switched from coal to nuclear and there was one nuclear accident a year that killed 12,500 people, that would still be 1/2 the death rate of coal, but I doubt anyone would find that consoling.

I also don't see the impact of rising sea levels being the worst in Manhattan. I am pretty sure they would be able to adapt with dikes ala the Netherlands where coincidentally the lowest point is 6.7 m (22 ft) below mean sea level, immediately to the northeast of Rotterdam. But I bet Bangladesh would be totally screwed.

via New York Times

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