"Even when nuclear power plants go horribly wrong, they do less damage to the planet and its people than coal-burning stations operating normally."—George Monbiot.
Notes: Longer excerpt:
"Even when nuclear power plants go horribly wrong, they do less damage to the planet and its people than coal-burning stations operating normally.
"Coal, the most carbon-dense of fossil fuels, is the primary driver of human-caused climate change. If its combustion is not curtailed, it could kill millions of times more people than nuclear power plants have done so far. Yes, I really do mean millions.
"The Chernobyl meltdown was hideous and traumatic. The official death toll so far appears to be 43 – 28 workers in the initial few months then a further 15 civilians by 2005. Totally unacceptable, of course; but a tiny fraction of the deaths for which climate change is likely to be responsible, through its damage to the food supply, its contribution to the spread of infectious diseases and its degradation of the quality of life for many of the world's poorest people."
Monbiot's comparison, of course, does not take into account other risks associated with nuclear power, such as waste storage and nuclear proliferation. But those risks are very difficult to quantify. Of course, on the other side of the ledger, it is unlikely that we are capable of reliably identifying, much less quantifying, the many complex long-term risks associated with changing earth's climate.
Update 7-26-13: Monbiot is in good company. Check out "Jim Hanson Presses the Climate Case for Nuclear Energy" on Andy Revkin's NYT DotEarth blog.
Bite Source: George Monbiot, "Japan nuclear crisis should not carry weight in atomic energy debate," The Guardian, 3/16/11.