In 2007, The Lancet published a seminal study on the health impacts of electric power generation. The results should have been stunning, and should have forced at least a rethink of Germany’s ideologically driven nuclear phaseout. As it was, they were totally ignored. Germany pressed ahead with the phaseout, and doubled down on it following the Fukushima meltdowns of 2011, which to this day (April 27 2023) have yet to produce a single human casualty.
Remarkably, the abstract writer for the Lancet piece ignored the very evidence the paper was based on, and treated urban legends about nuclear as if they are that very evidence, citing, for example, “understandable fears about nuclear accidents, weapons uses of fissionable material, and storage of waste” as good reasons to hesitate to bring it into the carbon-fighting arsenal.
Nonetheless, in every category where risk factors of nuclear were compared with those of other power generation types (Table 2, p. 981; Figure 2, p. 982; Figure 3 plots A and B, p. 983 in the article), nuclear’s were by far the lowest.
That result agrees fully with the multi-study review that the World Nuclear Association compiled in 2019. The plot below is based on WNA‘s chart. As you can see, we had to use a logarithmic scale on the x-axis in order to get the nuclear figure to even display on the chart; the figure (which is less than 0.01) is so tiny compared with solar, etc. that otherwise the nuclear bar would appear to represent no data.
The province of Ontario uses about 140 billion kWh of grid electricity per year. It would take roughly 7 years for Ontario to use one trillion grid kWh. Ontario also uses about 250 billion kWh of natural gas, and 200 billion of gasoline. By the *WNA* numbers, Ontario could expect 1.6 deaths from natural gas accidents per year. We pray that the Wheatley Ontario gas leak, unresolved to this day, does not contribute to this.
To sum up the plot in words, nuclear is:
- An order of magnitude (i.e., ten times) safer than solar PV.
- Two orders of magnitude (one hundred times) safer than onshore wind.
- Three orders (a thousand times) safer than offshore wind, and
- Four orders (ten thousand times) safer than each of
- natural gas
Today, sixteen years since the Lancet piece was published, those numbers hold, at least for nuclear. As mentioned, the only “incident” involving unintended release of nuclear power–related radionuclides into the environment was the Fukushima meltdowns. Nobody has died from any of these releases.
Nuclear is, by far, the safest way to decarbonize the economy. It’s not even close.
Nuclear shows similarly dramatic advantages over other power generation technologies when you compare other criteria, such as:
- CO2 emissions,
- air pollution emissions,
- land footprint per installed megawatt,
- waste footprint,
- medically valuable materials manufactured per kWh, and
- electricity system inertia per installed megawatt.
Stay tuned. We’ll show those comparisons in upcoming articles.