Just looking at the statistics, I think the most obvious lesson of the Tōhoku earthquake and the resultant tsunami (i.e., the disasters that caused the Fukushima accident) is that it's more dangerous to live by the beach than it is to live by a nuclear plant. The earthquake and the tsunami (which caused most of the casualties) left a death-toll of around 10,000 people, while the nuclear accident has not officially killed anybody (although two workers are missing who may have been killed in an explosion). Yet the lesson that so many anti-nuclear activists and ordinary Americans will take away from the disaster is not that beachfront property may be a poor investment, but that nuclear power is dangerous and bad. In fact, even in light of the 230,000+ deaths caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, I think most people would still like to own a home by the ocean.
|Three Mile Island|
To prove my point about relative risk, let's begin by approximating how many people may have been killed by nuclear power. Since I couldn't possibly guess how effective Soviet medicine was in the 1980s, we'll just count all 4,000 potential cancer cases caused by Chernobyl as fatalities. Thus, an upper limit of 4,063 people may have been killed by nuclear plant accidents since 1961, with the vast majority of that number being questionable. If we divide that number by 57 years (the number of years that have passed between now and 1954, when the first nuclear reactor to provide power for an electrical grid came online) we end up with an average number of approximately 71 deaths per year due to nuclear power plants. Remember, this number was boosted by an estimated number of cancer cases that might have been incurred by the Chernobyl disaster. If we only use confirmed numbers then the average number of deaths per year drops to about 1.
|A lot more deadly than any nuclear reactor|
|Electricity: Threat or menace?|
|Windmills of DEATH|
|Don't breathe too deep|
The point I'm trying to make is that human life is full of risks but that many people seem to be confused about what risks they should worry about. Even if the Fukushima accident turns out as bad as the most extreme estimates suggest (estimates which are almost invariably developed by anti-nuclear organizations), the number of deaths that could be caused by radiation sickness and radiation-induced cancer would be far exceeded by the number of auto deaths that occur in the United States in a single month. Yet most of the Americans who are stocking up on iodine tablets probably don't think twice about getting into a car (and I'd bet a good percentage of them don't even bother to put on a seatbelt). Although I spend every work day in close proximity with nuclear materials and energy, I know that the most dangerous part of my day is the drive to and from work.