Killer coal

Fossil fuels have a negative human impact that goes over and above the climate change they cause:

“One million people a year die prematurely in China from air pollution from energy and industrial sectors,” said Stefan Hirschberg, head of safety analysis at the Paul Scherrer Institute, an engineering research center in Switzerland. More than 10,000 Americans a year die prematurely from the health effects of breathing emissions from coal-burning power plants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Those deaths are another element that can be set against the higher cost per kilowatt-hour of electricity from sources like wind and solar.

A similar estimate on the number of deaths caused by coal in the United States was posted on this site in September 2010.

2 thoughts on “Killer coal

  1. .

    Thus the great nuclear dilemma. For the best nuclear safety you need not just good planning and good engineering. You need the sort of society that can produce accountability and transparency, one that can build institutions that receive and deserve trust. No nuclear nation has done this as well as one might wish, and Japan’s failings may well become more evident. But democracies are better at building such institutions. At the same time, however, democracy makes it much easier for a substantial and implacable minority to make sure things don’t happen, and that seems likely to be the case with plans for more nuclear power. Thus nuclear power looks much more likely to spread in societies that are unlikely to ground it in the enduring culture of safety that it needs. China’s nearest competitor in the new-build stakes is Russia.

    Yet democracies would be wrong to turn their back on nuclear power. It still has the advantages of offering reliable power, a degree of energy security, and no carbon dioxide emissions beyond those incurred in building and supplying the plants. In terms of lives lost it has also boasted, to date, a reasonably good record. Chernobyl’s death toll is highly uncertain, but may have reached a few thousand people. China’s coal mines certainly kill 2,000-3,000 workers a year, and coal-smogged air there and elsewhere kills many more. It remains a reasonable idea for most rich countries to keep some nuclear power in their portfolio, not least because by maintaining economic and technological stakes in nuclear they will have more standing to insist on high standards for safety and non-proliferation being applied throughout the world. But in the face of panic, of sinister towers of smoke, of invisible and implacable threats, the reasonable course is not an easy one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *