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Question:
At a lunchtime discussion a colleague mentioned a statistic he thought was a fact, yet could not remember the source. The context was beneficial uses of nuclear reactors: "Chernobyl, the worst reactor accident, claimed about 2500 lives to date. Yet in the USA alone, 60,000 lives are lost a year to pollution related illnesses caused by combustion of oil products." Is anyone familiar with this or a similar quote?



Replies:
This probably came from a popular news magazine like Newsweek or US News and World Report, which do fine as far as bringing you the news, but may overlook facts from time to time. Yes, Chernobyl killed around 2500 to 3000 people, but you have to remember, that is a figure which counts the people who died in the initial explosion and subsequent deaths due to exposure to ionizing radiation. The town of Pripyat, about 25 km away from Chernobyl, was not evacuated until several hours after the radiation plume had passed overhead, exposing around 45 000 people. We do not know what kinds of cancer related deaths will increase in number due to this exposure. Now, as far as other OPERATIONAL NPC's, there is always a certain degree of stray radiation, and studies all over the world are being conducted on the effects this has on human life as well as the ecology of the surrounding environment.

Petroleum products, on the other hand, pose other problems. Hydrocarbon poisoning is pretty nasty, and is being blamed for health problems suffered by, among others, returning soldiers from the Persian Gulf War, who complain of chronic dizziness, nausea, and confusion. Inhalation of gasoline fumes has been linked to birth defects via genetic mutation of parental sex cells. Inefficient burning of petroleum products produces the precursor compounds for acid rain. And, of course, burning of gasoline produces toxic carbon monoxide. So you see, you have a mixed bag. One source of power is not necessarily worse than another. One of the big issues in our society today is whether or not the benefits of ready, easy to generate power are worth the price we pay in attempting to protect the environment (and in particular, ourselves) from ourselves. Think about it and write me a report for next week. *grin*

Wordsworth



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