Peter Cochrane's Blog: Explode those nuclear myths

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

...all the studies and reports I consulted – zero. The effect has been imperceptible and cannot be measured.

How many people died as a result of the 1979 Three Mile Island core meltdown in Pennsylvania? Not one. How many died during and after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster? Just 65. So, how many will die in the future? Perhaps as many as 4,000.

Without wishing to be callous here, what is the big deal? What about the millions who die from pollution from coal-fired power stations? Why no media hype and uproar? And why all the wild claims about millions at risk every time there is a nuclear blip?

The big problem in stating figures is the difficulty of getting substantiated and accurate facts. The variance on the initial death toll in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is because of the uncertainty of city occupancy and an inaccurate body count because of wartime chaos. The accurate documentation of the fatalities that followed seems even worse.

Anyway, my point is that the true risks from nuclear power run counter to public perception and would be a big surprise for most. So now let's do a mind experiment and try to rank energy supply industries, from best to worst, and then look at the result normalised for number of deaths per terawatt-hour (TWh) delivered per year.

Graph: energy supply industries normalised for number of deaths per terawatt-hour delivered per year

Energy supply industries normalised for number of deaths per terawatt-hour delivered per yearImage: Peter Cochrane/

Surprised? I was. Nuclear turns out to be by far the safest bet for humanity with biomass wind and solar needing drastic improvements to their safety record.

The irrational paranoia and fear about radiation now has resulted in the removal of the words 'nuclear' and 'isotope' from instruments and routine medical procedures. A good example are MRI scanners, which were originally called NMRI scanners. Perhaps we should start calling nuclear reactors just reactors.

Today, the focus is on the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant and those who might die in the future as a result of its failure, rather than on the 25,000-plus who are actually thought to have died in the March tsunami. Judging by far more severe nuclear incidents in the past, deaths caused by the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant will be far fewer than media projections would have us believe. Meanwhile, tsunamis, coal and oil have claimed, and will continue to claim, more lives.