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Since the construction of the first civilian nuclear plant in 1954, there have been 3 major nuclear disasters. Officially, the Chernobyl accident directly resulted in the deaths of 53 people from the meltdown in 1986. The Tokaimura and Mahima accidents in Japan killed 6 in 1999 and 2004. The SL-1 accident in Idaho Falls resulted in the death of 3 in 1961. The Three Mile Island accident resulted in 0 known deaths. And though 21 employees at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have been exposed to seriously high levels of radiation, no one has died so far. That means that in 56 years since the opening the first civilian nuclear plant, officially 62 people have died as a result of nuclear accidents. That is a global average of just over 1 fatality per year. In China alone, an estimated 8,000 die in coal mining accidents each year.
Thousands of people still suffer sickness and cancer from the Chernobyl accident and some unofficial studies suggest that as many as 1 million deaths might be attributed to the accident. The American Lung Association estimates that particle pollution from coal-fired power plants is responsible for 13,000 deaths each year in the U.S. alone. Internationally, deaths are estimated to number more than 1 million per year, about 1 fatality every 30 seconds.
In Europe, it is estimated that about 25 people die from pollution for every terawatt hour of electricity produced from coal, whereas .05 people die from pollution for every terawatt hour of electricity produced from nuclear. Moreover, coal produces 1,290 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour while nuclear produces 30 grams.
Since the Fukushima disaster, the highest level of radiation seen in Tokyo so far has been 0.109 microsieverts per hour, about 3 times Tokyo’s normal level. The U.K. Health Protection Agency estimates that the typical Briton receives about 0.251 microsieverts per hour from natural background radiation. Chennai in Southern India has the highest recorded average of natural background radiation level at 3.42 microsieverts per hour, about 34 times that of Tokyo’s highest level since the disastrous earthquake and tsunami that likely killed over 23,000 and displaced 400,000.
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The U.S. and China account for 40% of the world’s total CO2 emissions and 40% of the world’s total energy consumption. Moreover, the two countries combine for 50% of global coal use. Nearly 50% of energy produced in the U.S. is from coal burning while China’s energy comes from 75% coal. About 20% of U.S. electricity generation comes from nuclear power plants.
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Toxic Air: Time to Clean Up Coal-Fired Power Plants. American Lung Association. April, 2011.
Friendman, Julio. Green China Rising. The Atlantic Monthly. March 31, 2011.
Brown, David. Nuclear Power is Safest Way to Make Electricity, According to 2007 Study. Washington Post. April 2, 2011.
Torres, Katherine. Breathing Easy: Respiratory Protection in Coal Mines. EHS Today. March, 2006.
Nuclear and Radiation Accidents. Wikipedia. April, 2011.
Biggs, Stuart. Radiation from Cornwall to Hong Kong Beats Tokyo Amid Nuclear Plant Scare. Bloomberg. April 1, 2007.
Caldicott, Helen. How Nuclear Apologists Misled the World Over Radiation. The Guardian. April 11, 2011.