Fact File: Safety

Deaths, Illness and Accidents

There have been several recent studies on occupational deaths in mines, oil rigs and power plants that include fatalities indirectly related to power generation – such as those caused by air pollution or radiation.

These have all shown that energy generated from fossil fuels, in particular coal, comes with the highest death toll by a huge margin – and that the safest way to power the planet is with nuclear energy.

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Graphic by Ben Gilliland

At Fukushima, two workers were killed in an explosion caused by a build-up of hydrogen and several hundred died as an indirect result of the disaster. But so far there have been no reports of radiation-related deaths, although the highest estimates show up to 1,000 people could be at risk. The latest conclusions from UNSCEAR (United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation) finds that 

no discernible changes in future cancer rates and hereditary diseases are expected due to exposure to radiation as a result of the Fukushima nuclear accident; and, that no increases in the rates of birth defects are expected.

People are rightly concerned about the impact on their health and their children’s health,
said Carl-Magnus Larsson, Chair, UNSCEAR.
Based on this assessment, however, the Committee does not expect significant changes in future cancer statistics that could be attributed to radiation exposure from the accident.

For marine ecosystems, the possibility of effects on flora and fauna was limited to the shoreline area adjacent to the power station, and the potential for effects over the long term was considered insignificant.

At Chernobyl – the nuclear industry’s worst disaster – two people died in an explosion and another 28 perished as a result of radiation exposure in the months that followed the 1986 meltdown. The most pessimistic estimates predict that up to 33,000 premature deaths will be caused by emissions over the long term.

But in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese cities where America dropped atomic bombs in 1945, researchers tracked 120,000 residents to study long-term mortality rates. By 2000, more than 42,000 of the residents had died – but only 822 of those deaths were deemed to be related to radiation exposure.

Compare this with the 3million lives that pollution from coal-burning power plants claims every year.

Add that to the six coal miners that die every day in China alone and you’ve really got to ask: Why do we honestly think energy extracted from coal is safer?

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Graphic by Ben Gilliland