Death Rate From Nuclear Power Vs Coal? This May Surprise You

by John Johnston on 03/24/2011

in Earth,Politics,Technology

Death rate from nuclear vs oil vs coal

Seth Godin recently posted this simplified chart, from an altogether more complicated one. He maintains that this is a simple yet non-exaggerated version of the complicated one. The point is that for each person killed by nuclear power generation, 4,000 die from coal. This is adjusted for how much power is produced by each method of power generation.

He also points out that if we were to take into account such things as deaths from environmental impacts yet unmeasured, due to climate change caused by fossil fuel emissions for instance, the chart would skew even more.

His post is actually focused on the triumph of coal marketing, that we are surprised at what this data shows. How come many of us didn’t already know this? I think it is fair to say that most people don’t think coal is that much of a killer, but there you have it.

Many of us even know that we consume mercury from deep-sea species of fish, yet many of us still don’t connect the dots back to coal – at least not consciously.

Having said that, it should also be acknowledged that the number of deaths attributed to nuclear accidents is a source of serious contention. For instance, this recent take-down of the nuclear power industry raises the possibility that the Chernobyl death toll was grossly underestimated by the Soviets and even the international community. Alternatively, there are also reports claiming the death toll from Chernobyl was over-estimated. It’s all quite confusing isn’t it? How are we to know how accurate the data is?

Personally, as well as other renewables, I’m becoming a bigger and bigger fan of solar technology, and the potential it holds for us all.

  • evanhadkins

    Stats can be difficult. What if the death rate was compared to people in the industry? Would this be different?

    As Seth wrote a book called All Marketers Are Liars I am hardly likely to take any chart of his as trustworthy!

  • DeanWhitbread

    the difference being that unlike coal, nuclear waste remains deadly for 250,000 years..

  • David Koopmans

    Hmmm…Evan, not sure that makes sense. Why would you compare to people in the industry? Can you explain what you mean. Also, the stats he uses are not his: If you read his post he quotes his source:

    This quote made it a little more clear to me: “Air pollution from fossil fuel (coal plants and oil used in cars and trucks) and developing countries burning wood or coal inside their homes are one of the biggest causes of all kinds of death and illness.”

    As a side note, Seth Godin’s book, “All Marketers are Liars” doesn’t actually say that marketers are liars, merely that people want to be told what they want to hear…

  • DeanWhitbread

    “We know just enough to light these fires, but we don’t yet know how to put them out. ” David Byrne on Nuclear Power – Alternatives

  • jjprojects

    Good point Dean, that is a long, long time to look after the waste. There is the possibility of a tech innovation that could help that, but we can’t count on that.

  • jjprojects

    Yes, and on another side note, I was reading about “The Great Smog” or “Big Smoke”. A thick layer of coal pollution covered London in 1952. It’s considered the worst air pollution event in the history of the UK. It led to the Clean Act of 1956. Some say that’s when the environmental movement really began.

  • jjprojects

    We’re on a ride to nowhere.
    Come on inside.
    Takin’ that ride to nowhwere
    We’ll take that ride.

  • jjprojects

    Compare to people in the industry? You mean the death rate of just people working at the power plants and mines etc?

  • DeanWhitbread

    Yes, nice dystopic warning in a chirpy guise. Byrne is more optimistic now than he was then..

  • Anonymous

    Wow, that is very surprising to me.

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  • itibiti

    Ah, yes. The specter of radiation raises it’s ugly head. Try to remember that low level radiation lasts for a long time and high level radiation for a short time. Iodine-131 has a half life of 8 days while Uranium-238 has a half life of about 4.5 billion years. Which is worse? Iodine-131 by far. It might also be of concern to realize that coal fired power plants produce mercury, arsenic and uranium in their emissions. Long term effects? Try the thousands of tons of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere which, regardless of what we do now, has altered the climate of our planet and will continue to do so. There is not a single source of energy that we can commercially produce that does not have some sort of detrimental side effect. The doping for PV panels is extremely toxic. Not to mention the embodied energy needed to produce them. Wind has its issues with siting and a lot of expensive maintenance and its embodied energy for production of the components. What we might try to do is to look at what we might do to increase efficiency by reducing consumption and try to take a thoughtful and long term outlook on how to supply the energy needs with the least harm to the environment which most likely is in the form of renewable energy.

  • Urban Hillbilly

    The disaster at the Fukashima Diiachi complex forced me to reexamine nuclear power. Fukashima Diiachi is as bad as it gets. When you compare that to buisness as usual for coal, it doesn’t look bad at all.

    Chernobyl was a special case. The Soviets played fast and loose with fire. We will not see new reactors of that design. The remains of #4 are a constant safety reminder to the opperators of the other three reactors at that complex.

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  • Nick3

    You will get more radiation from drinking a glass of milk each day for 45 years than you will from living directly next to a reactor for a full year.

  • Mike Adams

    Even considering the events in Japan and at Chernobyl, please tell me – which fuel source has killed more people, nuclear or coal? Which fuel causes more cancer, nuclear or coal? Which fuel pollutes the atmosphere more, every day, nuclear or coal? Which is more radioactive, coal ash or nuclear waste? Is it true that for each person killed by nuclear energy generation four thousand are killed by coal energy production? Coal fired power plants produce mercury, arsenic, and uranium in their emissions, nuclear does not. The millions of tons of carbon dioxide dumped into our atmosphere by coal powered generation has already altered the climate of our planet and this can never be undone. The one single largest source for the greenhouse effect, for climate change, for changing sea levels and temperatures is coal, not nuclear. Please tell me, what is so good about coal?

  • Paul Duncan

    Think a moment about what you’re seeing there. How surprised are you? Not so much? Quite? VERY? If youre surprised in any way, that’s how much you should be asking yourself why you believe what you see on TV and read in the news. That’s how angry you should be about being mislead. 

    But dont take one websites word for it. 

    Do research. Find actual facts and figures instead of propaganda and spin. Find out for yourself, that Nuclear, even in its most deadly era (by far) was far, FAR less deadly than that of oil or coal.

  • carlw

    Important to note the sources of different opinions on Chernobyl deaths: the World Health Organization, an arm of the United Nations vs. Greenpeace. Greenpeace relied heavily on local sources which had much to gain by overstating casualties (to many sources to list; google “chernobyl fraud”), not to mention their longstanding anti-nuclear bias.

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  • CoalPortal

    The investment into alternative power generating technologies such as nuclear energy may need to be measured against the potential cost when things turn against you as unfortunately happened this year  in Japan. The use of thermal coal (steam coal) that is mostly burnt for power generation may be valid for other countries who may not be able to allocate resources and funds to alternative and more greener sources of power.  Coal  newsletters and coal statistics show developing economies are more likely to increase their investment into & their use of thermal coal & metallurgical coal in coming years because of coal’s affordability and ability to quickly meet increasing demands for electricity and steel.

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  • Claude

    Fukushima death toll so far: One stress related heart attack.
    Deaths from radiation in the worst possible event conceivable for a reactor with a containment system: zero.
    Expected deaths from radiation: zero.
    Anticipated cancers, above normal rates: negligible. Far less than coal emissions.
    And this is with an outdated, 30 year old reactor stressed far beyond it’s design limits.

  • Anonymous

    We know how to deal with radioactive waste – boost it to orbit and kick it toward the biggest nuclear reactor of all.

    Actually doing so, of course, is expensive, not 100% foolproof in the boost phase, and thusly, a big target for the overconcerned. You’ll remember the hysteria surrounding the launch and slingshot passed of NASA’s Galileo mission to Saturn.

  • Darkfield5000

    I think the death rate from solar, much of which is manufactured in China from coal-derived energy is higher than nuclear

  • Munii123


  • Nukes

    @1e00559d8ae02cbbbb9f31e9b8877117:disqus  Lies.
    Fukushima death toll so far: 3
     deaths from radiation: 600,000
    cancer deaths: 4,000 (from one alone)

  • People for a Nuclear America

    The 600,000 from Chernobyl were people exposed to radiation, not the deaths, and that was a freak problem caused by soviet tests, only 4000 people died, along with the 4000 cancer deaths, not to mention with your version of power, the mining for the last century of coal in the USA has resulted in over 100,000 deaths. Many more have been in other countries, and thousands have died at plants, and have had many accidents. Also pollution form all these other sources have greater exceeded the results from nuclear power. (Chile mine accident, BP oil spill, Exxon-Valdez)

  • Britney Barkdoll

    stop….. stop….. stop……. stop…. nuclear power plants

  • EgadsNo

    Coal burning plants release over a thousand times the amount of radiation that nuclear power plants do.  Radon gas gets embedded in the coal which would normally allow its relatively safe decay with a 3 day half life.  Burning it causes plumes of radioactive to cover continents- if coal power plants had the same regulation as nuclear power plants for radiation emission there would not be one single coal plant in operation today.

  • EgadsNo

     You are absolutely right- people often neglect to think of how the rare earth materials required for photovoltaics are mined and processed.  They almost always come along side toxic impurities that get blown out of smokestacks at a refinery.  A surprising amount of fish sold in the US comes from the waters off china that meets the lowest FDA standards and full of toxins.  Major chains would rather buy cheaper fish then raise the price to meet inflation.

  • EgadsNo

     Good intentions are nice- but not great.  The same regulation spawned to protect people by setting limits are a double edged sword.  It also sets an often arbitrary and insider made standard which sets an acceptable level of harm.  It strips recourse through the court system through property and personal rights by making its death and destruction a legal act.

  • Carmen

     It is incredibly short-sighted to say that no one suffered any illness or death from radiation released by the 4 damaged reactors at Fukushima. Sadly, cancers will take years to develop… Radiation is still spreading and accumulating due to this on-going disaster. Please watch this video and do your homework on Chernobyl because at this point it is irresponsible, if not criminal, to continue to support such a deadly form of energy. My heart goes out to the Japanese people.

  • Michael

    Excuse me what about the Japanese nuclear catastrophe where 20,000 people were killed, missing or made ill per Wikipedia?  Plus nuclear plants are potential terrorist targets.  If we teach the developing world to use nuclear what happens when a dictator steps in like Iran?  Coal is by far a better alternative to Nuclear.  Plus clean coal liquid technology is remarkable.  Everyone loves wind and solar but they are in infant stages.  Three generations of my family live in a town that burns coal and we’ve never had a single health related issue nor have any of our thousands of neighbors.  Coal is the best option and with the economy in the toilet there’s no time to talk fantasy.  Millions of jobs are involved in our nations tradition of making reliable home grown energy.

  • Dan

    5 people were killed at the nuclear plant in Japan, all from the tsunami or the explosion. None from radiation. 20,000 people were killed by the nuclear “catastrophe” but by the earthquake. You’re getting disasters mixed up.

    Also, if we develop and expand nuclear power as an energy source, we will make it SAFER. Current designs (not the 30 year old kind at Fukushima) automatically seal themselves and cool down in the event of a meltdown.

  • Dan

    Just mentioning Chernobyl makes your argument invalid. The Soviets were playing with fire with no concern for safety 60 years ago. Did you know that 0 people in the U.S. have died from this “deadly form of energy”? If proper safety measures are taken, nuclear power is almost completely harmless. Please do your homework on current reactor designs.

  • Michael

    Coal is dog with least flees.  Wind and solar are great but are in infant stages.  What happens when dictators get their hands on technology to enrich uranium?  Thats what will happen if we teach the world to go nuclear.  Plus nuclear plants are potential terrorist targets and radioactive spent rods need to be transported across country and buried in mother earth.  Nuclear plants emit plenty of radiation as well. Coal puts millions to work that are laid off or about to be laid off, when unemployment goes down every American benefits, we’re all in this slow economy together.

  • Cian Moriarty

    Greenpeace are completely hysterical about anything and couldn’t write or sponsor an objective report on what sort of cake to buy for morning tea

  • Cian Moriarty

     So you are saying that 4000 times the deaths is somehow better?

  • Anon

    The plant catastrophe didn’t kill 20,000 people. The quake and tsunami did.

  • Bravo

    52% of power in the U.S. is from coal.

  • Steve

    If you want something else to worry about. How about natural gas, and all of the old pipe
    networks that do not stand up well to earthquakes or anything else that can cause a leak, and ignition.

    Doesn’t anyone care about the birds (some rare) that are killed by wind turbines?

    Not building powerplants will not keep people from building bombs. there are too many people that know how. That is the reason we need to keep some of our own. we would be better off to use old bombs and warheads to be converted to fuel for powerplants. Then build a lot of power plants to replace oil, and coal fired plants. Natural gas should also be used in power plants and LGN Vehicles, and not be piped into our houses. We can store waste instead of weapons, until we shoot it into the sun.

  • steve

    Sorry about my error in my last post. I used LGN in place of LNG, for liquid natural gas.

  • david burns

    In Eastern Oregon, however, they are planning to run 115 carloads of coal each day to barges on the Columbia. It will then be shipped to countries such as south Korea. They don’t use scrubbers and don’t have an EPA. Therefore it gets burned much dirtier thus killing more people and adding that much more to the global atmosphere. Is that a win or just another disguised loss?

  • John Johnston

    Trouble is, the rather conservative and respected International Energy Agency has recently calculated that, due to escalating climate change, two thirds of the already proven fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground. That’s not looking great for continued coal burning anywhere. That reality will hit home sooner or later.

  • chris

    i did an essay on nuclear power and it is safe. there is no problem as long as they keep up with regular maintenance. also its renewable and does not produce any waste. even radioactive rods after use just sit in a pool in a concrete bunker under ground

  • John Johnston

    We can guarantee that nothing can happen to those cooling rods, right? When the earthquake and tsunami hit in Fukushima, there was obviously great concern about the radioactive rods leaking water from the pools.

  • Chris S

    Your an idiot first off. Well if terrorists ever get one of the worlds most gurarded weapons, then a couple million poeple are most likely, going to die. we are not teaching third world countries about going nuclear. we are trying to prevent it. A study found that a nuclear power plant is the best place for a terrorist attack due to the fact that an american power plant can stop a 767 boeing commercial airliner at the best possible speed to hit a target accurately on the ground and the plant would still contain the material. The japanese catastophe was caused, if you didnt know, by a huge earthquake and tsunami. Also the japanese nuclear disaster did not kill anyone. One man did die but he was 60 and it was not due to radiation. guess what, if we stop coal, then those workers are put on wind, solar, and nuclear jobs so stop saying bullshit. sadly dude, we are the country that pretty much has to lead the world so, if we went as green as we could, i gurantee that western countries would follow and that would cause the world to follow as well from international pressure. Lastly look up coal deaths and injuries. Employees in coal mining are more likely to be killed or to incur a non-fatal injury or illness, and their injuries are more likely to be severe than workers in private industry as a whole, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. facts are what matter dude. not what you think is true

  • Aj from India

    Sustainable development is what the world is speaking but that is difficult considering the growing population, the ever increasing electric gadgets with much smaller shelf life and the maddening spiking energy requirement. One long term solutions is to change the education system around the world to teach to learn without wanting for too many things, second to have countries like China and India have a control on their population growth and third, by trying to invest more on renewable resources of energy. None of these solutions may have an immediate effect but our grandchildren will live in a much better world and more importantly, as better world citizens.

  • Arthur Yagudayev

    Coal releases radiation via fly-ash and people who live near coal plants die from cancers form the radiation and children a born with mental retardation and other birth defects because of the very high levels of mercury and other toxins that coal plants emit. We should switch over to Thorium which has absolutely no risk of ever melting down since the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor is well, liquid and you can’t melt a liquid. Please go to the link and sign the petition to support LFTR reactors for a future where there is no more climate change and we all breathe cleaner air.

  • Michael Mann

    No, the toxins in coal are deadly forever, you make a good point nuclear waste continuously decays away getting less radioactive over time. You did know that the longer the half life, the less radioactive something is

  • Anonymous

    1. It does not remain deadly, just more radioactive than the background. The radioactivity is only dangerous if you get very close to it.
    2. Decades ago the USA developed a technology to eliminate nuclear waste by burning it in a nuclear reactor called the ‘Integral Fast Reactor’ – IFR. The Green-influenced Democrats closed down that project in 1994, 3 years before a prototype was ready. Maybe just to make sure that long-lasting nuclear waste would continue to fester?

  • Anonymous

    The WHO estimate that most of the harm suffered from radiation is due to radon. Coal power pumps out radon routinely. Nuclear reactors do not give off radon.

  • emy
  • fareeda
  • Rob Hughes

    The earthquake and tsunami were natural events that started the chain reaction (pardon the pun) to the events that unfolded. Although they were the root cause of the events that unfolded, the reactor damage and other such events were man made. That is, had the owners of the plant, the nuclear commision having oversight, and the governments done their jobs, this catastrophe could have been avoided. Please read the report located here:

  • Anonymous

    Breaking News: Recently the UN reported no radiation deaths or injuries will occur from the Fukushima accident. If there are injuries, the report said, “…they will be too small to detect.”

    Why the huge outcry, especially from “environmental” organizations like Friends of the Earth against nuclear? Every opportunity is taken to attack nuclear and get communities with an atomic power plants back on fossil fuel – which is what automatically happens.

    Is Big Fossil Fuel involved behind the “environmental” organization curtain as Big Tobacco was knocking down the link between cancer and cigarettes?

  • Anonymous

    Mike, Not even Saddam Hussein reached for the nuclear bullet. It just has not been the case that more nations opt for A bombs.

    New nuclear technologies are waiting to be built and these make it nearly impossible to build a bomb. Like LFTR molten salt Thorium reactors.

    But they can’t get built due to the opposition of mainly environmental organizations who ironically force us to remain on earth-killing fossil fuels.

  • Tim

    And replace…..replace….replace…..replace them with what?

  • tim

    Nuclear waste is controlled, stored or recycled. Waste from coal is dumped into the environment as a matter of normal operation. Mercury from coal plants is poisonous for, let me see here…….oh yes….Forever!

  • Mouhamed Adawi
  • abology

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