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Mar 20 2011

The statistics on deaths related to nuclear power generation are wrong.

Or at the very least, extraordinarily misleading.

There’s a really good reason I call Stephanie Zvan “Our Lady of Perpetual Win”. Pretty much every time the woman sits at her keyboard, she writes something great, and usually in a much more timely and topical fashion than I ever manage. (When’s the last time I wrote about breaking news like Libya’s invasion, or the nuclear crisis in Japan, while it was happening? Yeah, exactly.)

At the risk of sounding like I’m merely her fan club, you really should check out her latest post, where she tackles the repeated comments in blogs and forums everywhere anyone talks about nuclear power in a less than flattering light. Her best posts are about eviscerating the astroturfing nonsense, and this one is no exception.

I’m still already tired of people telling me how safe–safe, I tell you!–the nuclear power industry is. Some of that is people reacting to any complaint about the industry or the passing along of the scanty news coming out of Japan as though someone were saying the sky is falling, and putting out fatal doses of radiation in the meantime.

Some of it, however, is the reliance of a particular type of information telling me that nuclear energy is as safe as it gets. For example, I’ve been referred to this set of numbers frequently:

Deaths per TWh for all energy sources

Coal – world average: 161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
Coal – China: 278
Coal – USA: 15
Oil: 36 (36% of world energy)
Natural Gas: 4 (21% of world energy)
Biofuel/Biomass: 12
Peat: 12
Solar (rooftop): 0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
Wind: 0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)
Hydro: 0.10 (Europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
Hydro – world including Banqiao: 1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
Nuclear: 0.04 (5.9% of world energy)

There are quite a few things that bother me about these numbers.

Me too but I’m not nearly as insightful as Stephanie! Suffice it to say, the dogmatically pro-nuke commenters really need to learn how to read statistics, and make sure they’re all measuring the same damn thing, before they spout off the way they do.

1 comment

  1. 1
    Troythulu

    This reminds me of a common skeptical theme: that people are intuitively horrible at judging probability, that being one of the reasons we had to invent statistics.

    Steve Novella mentioned a problem in terms of the statistical tests used in some scientific fields, including medical research, with the use of ‘p-value’ statistics when they should be using Bayes’ Theorem instead, a problem which was highlighted by the recent ruckus about Daryl Bem’s claims of psi.

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