Friday, June 03, 2011

Risk in Perspective: Who Is Afraid of Nuclear Power

Dan Yurman has published an excellent review of the German government's decision to close down all of its nuclear power plants by the year 2022. The decision's costs to German society and the German people will be incalculable, and once again call to our attention the fact that ordinary humans have no valid perspective on risk.

The chart below comes from an an article out of the Journal of Physicians and Surgeons, in PDF format. Risks from a wide range of events and phenomena are ranked according to days of lost life expectancy. The risks at top are measured in thousands of days in lost expectancy. As you drop down through the chart, lesser risks are measured in days of lost life expectancy. As you can see, risks from nuclear power occupy the very lowest position -- a small fraction of a single day of lost life expectancy on average -- if calculated by government sources.
Journal of Physicians and Surgeons (US) PDF

And yet, Germany's government and much of the entire nation of Germany has panicked itself into a dangerous and expensive restricting of its own future energy resources. Sometimes government can undo damage that government has done previously -- at least in part. Future German governments will curse what Merkel's government has done, but they will deal with it -- and almost certainly return to nuclear power out of necessity.

But they will be forced to buy massive amounts of power from neighboring countries at much higher rates than would have been necessary if they had preserved their nuclear power resources. And when Germany does choose to go nuclear again, it will have to buy reactors and fuels from other countries -- countries which instead of panicking, chose to develop safer, cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable nuclear reactors.

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