#UK Here’s the surprising truth about nuclear power safety

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nuclear power demonstration

Futurist Peter Thiel recently wrote an op-ed for “The New York Times” urging us to adopt more nuclear power, if only for one reason: It’s safer than burning coal.

That might sound surprising, since nuclear power is often criticized for its safety. The world also won’t soon forget accidents like Fukushima, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island.

But it turns out burning coal for power is actually a far more serious problem than nuclear power, Thiel argues.

“Fewer than 50 people were reported to have died at Chernobyl; by contrast, the American Lung Association estimates that smoke from coal-fired power plants kills about 13,000 people every year,” Thiel writes.

There’s hard data to back up Thiel’s claim, too, since a 2013 NASA report reached a similar conclusion:

“[W]e found that despite the three major nuclear accidents the world has experienced, nuclear power prevented an average of over 1.8 million net deaths worldwide between 1971-2009,” the report reads. “This amounts to at least hundreds and more likely thousands of times more deaths than it caused.”

Nuclear power also prevented about 64 gigatonnes of carbon from being released into the atmosphere between 1971 and 2009. In other words, according to the report, it cut about 15 times more emissions than it has created.

Still, nuclear power is far from perfect. It also comes with a powerful stigma that’s proven unshakable thus far.

Scientists are working on cheaper and safer reactor designs that might make it possible to scale up nuclear power. Molten-salt reactors are a leading candidate, since they promise to destroy existing nuclear waste and wouldn’t melt down like current fission reactors do (should we stop tending them for whatever reason).

Until those designs pan out on an industrial scale, however, we’ll have to deal with a growing amount of radioactive waste and the higher likelihood of a nuclear-environmental catastrophe.

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