Nuclear Power Has Saved 3 Million Lives

Going to nuclear power and uranium would be many times faster than replacing fossil fuels with renewables.

There is a constant stream of death and sickness from fossil fuels. Japan and Germany went to more coal.
Renewables can be better but are far from perfect.

Nuclear can be a net gain for the environment and for the health of people. Each year nuclear offsets 2-3 billion tons of CO2 by generating 2500-2600 TWh of clean energy. Even against natural gas without leaks nuclear offsets 1.2 billion tons of CO2.

Nuclear Power has generated about 85000 TWh over about 50 years of operation. Nuclear power has saved about 3 million lives. Coal power was displaced in the USA. Coal power was displaced in China, Japan, Germany and France. The deaths from coal are about 20-100 deaths per Terawatt hour. Although China is building more nuclear power now most of the 50 years of nuclear power has been offsetting coal in the USA, France, Japan and Germany.

Nuclear has been at the 2500 TWh level of power generation for 22 years. 13 years in the range of 2000 TWh. A 14 year ramp up with an average of about 500 TWh.

So nuclear offset 100 to 120 billion tons of CO2. Nuclear power offset 100 million tons of sulfur dioxide. 100 million tons of nitrous dioxide. 2 billion tons of sludge. 2 billion tons of ash. 1000 tons of arsenic.

Natural Gas in the US has a 2.3% Leak Rate, so a Bit Better than Coal But Worse than Diesel

Natural gas does have leaks. One way to quantify the magnitude of the methane leakage is to divide the amount of methane emitted each year by the total amount of methane pumped out of the ground each year from natural gas and oil wells. The EPA currently estimates this methane leak rate to be 1.4 percent. That is, for every cubic foot of natural gas drawn from underground reservoirs, 1.4 percent of it is lost into the atmosphere.

A new study synthesized the results from a five-year series of 16 studies coordinated by environmental advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which involved more than 140 researchers from over 40 institutions and 50 natural gas companies.

All told, based on the results of the new study, the U.S. oil and gas industry is leaking 13 million metric tons of methane each year, which means the methane leak rate is 2.3 percent. This 60 percent difference between our new estimate and the EPA’s current one can have profound climate consequences.

An earlier EDF study showed that a methane leak rate of greater than 3 percent would result in no immediate climate benefits from retiring coal-fired power plants in favor of natural gas power plants.

EDF found that replacing the diesel used in most trucks or the gasoline consumed by most cars with natural gas would require a leakage rate of less than 1.4 percent before there would be any immediate climate benefit.


Renewables like solar and wind need natural gas backup or they need continental scale buildouts and high voltage wire to move power around. They also need a lot more storage on the grid.

Currently, the grids are one way. The solar on my roof that generates power from 10am to 4pm on sunny days sends power to the grid and burns off as heat at the nearest distribution node.

PGE politely runs the power meter backwards anyway. 80-90% of the neighbors who do not get solar have higher PGE bills to compensate as they must still pay for all of the powerplants and grid.

Mining and Other Energy Deaths

Moving a lot of stuff and building a lot of stuff is dangerous.
There are a lot of mining deaths and oil extraction deaths.
Working on roofs is dangerous.
Working on tall windmills is dangerous.
Making cement and steel has quite a few deaths.
There is more cement and steel used for Windmills and solar power than to get the same power from nuclear.

A lot of cement and steel is needed for solar.

Summary of Sergio Pacca and Darpa Horvath 2002 Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Building and Operating Electric Power Plants in the Upper Colorado River Basin, Environmental Science and Technology, Vol 36, No 14, pp 3194-3200. Assume solar is 2 to 3 times better now. It still uses a lot more steel and cement to support the same power generation.

Cement and steel need a lot of oil and coal to create and they are industries with high workplace deaths and injuries.

5 megawatt offshore wind turbine, need 600 of these to equal a single 1 gigawatt nuclear reactor (wind has less operating load factor 30% versus 90%. The wind is not always blowing, but nuclear reactions are always happening).

Oil platform size: dimensions of the platform are 103 x 99 meters.
Wind rotor diameters are about 90-100 meters for the 4-6 MW turbines. So wind rotor diameters are about the same width as an oil platform.

Nuclear power plants built in the 1970’s used 40 metric tons of steel, and 190 cubic meters of concrete, for each megawatt of average capacity.

Modern wind energy systems, with good wind conditions, take 460 metric tons of steel and 870 cubic meters of concrete per megawatt.

Modern central-station coal plants take 98 metric tons of steel and 160 cubic meters of concrete—almost double the material needed to build nuclear power plants.

Solar has a higher carbon footprint than nuclear. About 30-100 grams CO2e/kWh.
Nuclear is at 17 grams. Fossil fuel is at about 800 grams.

The solar pollution figure cannot be factoring in the need for natural gas backup for most solar and wind installations. Otherwise the pollution figure would be higher.

China’s coal mining deaths fell to 375 in 2017. Down from about 5000 per year ten years ago. Coal mining is for 8 billion tons of coal, uranium mining is for 65,000 tons of uranium each year. 100,000 times less target material. Even the amount of rock removed by uranium mining is less. Uranium mining uses acid leaching. Miners do not go underground for uranium.

About 40% of US rail freight is to move coal. A 200 car trainload is needed every few days to keep each of the large coal plants burning. 40% of all rail freight deaths would be someone being killed by a coal train. A lot of trucks and trains are needed move coal and oil. There are transportation accidents. It is clear statistically that moving 700 million tons of coal or 1 billion tons of oil causes a lot of deaths. A lot of the oil is moved by pipeline but there is still a significant fraction that moves by truck and train.

An actual 1.58GW coal plant near Laughlin, Nevada. Note: each coal plant in the united states kills about 30-300 people from the resulting air pollution. Some plants are more polluting than others. The Laughlin coal plant produces 9 million tons of CO2 each year.

The Laughlin plant needs 42,000 train carloads of coal per year. It can take weeks for the coal to go from mine to plant. There can be multiple trains bringing coal to and from the big plants.
A 500 megawatt coal plant produces 3.5 billion kilowatt-hours per year, enough to power a city of about 140,000 people. It burns 1,430,000 tons of coal, uses 2.2 billion gallons of water and 146,000 tons of limestone.

A 500 MW coal plant each year puts out (triple these numbers for the Laughlin plant):
– 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide. Sulfur dioxide (SOx) is the main cause of acid rain, which damages forests, lakes and buildings.

– 10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide. Nitrogen oxide (NOx) is a major cause of smog, and also a cause of acid rain.

– 500 tons of small particles which are a health hazard, causing lung damage.

– 125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge from the smokestack scrubber.

– 225 pounds of arsenic, 114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, and many other toxic heavy metal

– a plant could use 2 tons of Uranium and 6 tons of Thorium to replace this coal plant.

30% of US coal comes from mountain top removal mining. They blow up the entire mountain top to scoop out the coal. The forest on top is destroyed (literally blown to bits). The explosions are near nuclear bomb in scale. About 1000 tons of explosive per day is used while mountaintops are removed for coal mining.

Around 7 billion gallons of sludge gets dammed up. There have been leaks of sludge that have killed all aquatic life in rivers and on one occasion 125 people. Birth defects and cancer rates are about twice as high around the mountain top removal sludge areas.

Sludge ponds are permitted to hold 2.8 billion gallons of toxic sludge, and is 21 times larger than the pond which killed 125 people in the Buffalo Creek Flood.

Blasting at a mountaintop removal mine expels coal dust and fly-rock into the air, which can then disturb or settle onto private property nearby. This dust contains sulfur compounds, which corrodes structures and tombstones and is a health hazard.

I have looked

Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.

Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.

A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts.  He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.

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