Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Article of the Day: Nuclear power—Why the panic?

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 19, 2011

Today’s article is about the reactions to the recent meltdown in Fukushima. It discusses how people react too strongly to rare accidents, which is a widely observed phenomenon. People worry more about dying from a shark attack than about drowning, even though sharks only kill about five people per year while about ten people drown per day. Sensational or outlandish events have a tendency to stick in our minds, while more mundane occurrences are forgotten.

When it comes to power plants, human psychology works no differently. Pollution from coal causes more deaths than nuclear radiation and nuclear meltdowns put together. But on the rare occasion when there is a meltdown, it is spectacular. It’s on every news channel and quickly gains international attention. This is a serious problem because it actually causes people to make seriously poor decisions. Policymakers who decide to shut down nuclear power plants are wasting huge amounts of money. Nuclear power is quite safe and one of the cheapest alternatives to fossil fuels. We should probably be building more nuclear power plants, and we certainly should not be shutting them down.


5 Responses to “Article of the Day: Nuclear power—Why the panic?”

  1. Arjan Stoffels said

    That’s a rather lame and illogical conclusion. I’m not dying from CO2 pollution (yet 🙂 but there are these nuclear powerplants in the vincinity that are apparently not safe. No one knows when an accident might occur, but when it happens, the results are enormous and influences hundred thousands of lives instantly. The amount of old nuclear powerplants is huge. So it’s just accidents waiting to happen. And they are not rare. In France a yesterday (18mar2011)leaked report made clear that in 2010 over a 1000 accidents happened in just 58 nuclear powerplants. That’s 3 accidents a day. That’s got nothing to do with irrational fear, but with a healthy sense of danger.

    • The only accident that has caused significant deaths is the Chernobyl accident. It is estimated that

      Can you provide a source for your claim about the 1000 nuclear accidents? I can’t find any source that says there have been that many accidents. It looks like there have been only 64 deaths from nuclear power plant accidents.

    • Matthew said

      You’re not dying from CO2 pollution or from nuclear power plants, but pointing that out is like saying “Well I’m not hungry so those starving African kids should quit being such wussies.”

  2. Bill said

    The xkcd blag has a nice chart putting radiation levels in context.

  3. Arjan Stoffels said

    For numbers you’ll have to do some simple research, for instance at Although it’s a rather long and sometimes technical report you might want to read When reading it is wise to consider the difference the iaea makes between incidents and accidents.

    But my major point is not the comparison of direct lethality of one form of energy harvesting to another. The point is that a Life Cycle Analysis (don’t dare to ask, just google it yourself) will show that the impact of a serious accident is not included in the cost of nuclear energy. Looking at Chernobyl and Fukushima a 30 kilometer radius will be uninhabitable for more or less as long as our generation will live.

    The economical short term brings benefit but, considering all known 441 nuclear reactors, the probability of an accident happening and this remark quoted from the above mentioned report [“Of the 441 reactors currently operating around the world, many were built in the 1970s and 1980s, with an average lifespan of around 35 years. Their decommissioning peak will occur from 2020 to 2030 which will present a major managerial, technological, safety and environmental challenge to those States engaged in nuclear decommissioning.” page 12], the long term costs of nuclear energy are staggering and in complete unbalance with the benefits.

    It is a simple observation of human behaviour that leads me to the following prediction:
    Several governments will not have or want to spend the money necessary to renovate, dismantle or rebuild their reactors. They will consider it safe to elongate the usage of the current reactor(s) with just the bare minimum of maintenance. In the next decade (2012 – 2022) we will therefore have at least one or two major nuclear accidents, with ‘somewhere in Europe’ as a likely location.

    To prevent misunderstandings: I reject both fossil and nuclear and think that our energy future is with solar, wind, geothermal, sea-movement and similar kinds of energy production. Our earth does simply not contain enough oil or uraniumfluoride/plutonium to last another 100 years with the current use of energy. Coal might last for a very long time, but steers us apparently into the direction of a climate diasters. The simple fact that nuclear enery is produced with almost no CO2 exhaust is welcome, but cannot be an argument for nuclear energy. It is, at most, an argument against fossil energy.

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