Social Enterprise

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Explode those nuclear myths

Corrupted perceptions and inverted logic contaminate public perceptions about nuclear energy…

Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant

Possible deaths from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant's failure will almost certainly be dwarfed by the 25,000-plus fatalities caused by March's tsunamiPhoto: daveeza

Written in a Chelsea coffee shop on a cool grey morning and dispatched to silicon.com via a free wi-fi service.

Logic can solve complex problems and help in making assessments and considered decisions. But we often see other factors clouding the picture.

When we find ourselves in a life-threatening situation, with no time to make a rational decision, our instincts keep us alive. On balance, that instantaneous reaction when driving, climbing a mountain, or defending a position in a battle, really pays off.

Yet what I find most curious is that the converse is not true for the more complex and detailed stuff of life. Just give emotion and ignorance one chink of an opportunity and it all goes badly wrong.

Whether you give people as much time to consider, research and think, it doesn't seem to matter. Established opinion, fears, folklore, hearsay, tradition, bigotry and fashion all come into play and the facts are ignored and wrong decisions made.

Here is a topical example - where I perhaps should state that I have no particular axe to grind. I am but a member of the human race who has seen the tragedy of errors that harm families and communities as people shift from one dumb opinion to another, and continue to do so.

Ask anyone about the risks of nuclear power and nuclear bombs and the reaction is predictable. Now tell them that more people die from coal-fired power stations per year than all the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and since. They will not believe you. But today, coal-fired deaths produced by pollution alone in the USA number over 13,000, and the EU is similar, while in China it is over 500,000.

I can't find any figures for the rest of the world but I think it would be reasonable to assume that they will be big. But let's just stay with a modest number of between 500,000 and 600,000 deaths induced by pollution from coal-fired power stations per annum for the sake of argument.

So how many deaths related to nuclear bombs have there been in total over the past 66 years? Worst estimates vary between 150,000 and 250,000 on the detonation day with perhaps the total death toll to date as high as 350,000.

There is a huge variance in the estimates published, and I have tried to use the most reliable sources. At a stretch - admittedly on the wild side - there are some who state as many as 450,000 to 500,000 deaths related to blast and radioactivity up to the present day.

What did these two bombs, and all those atmospheric tests, plus all the big nuclear accidents do to the background radiation on this planet? According to...

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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