A Study by Anil Markandya and Paul Wilkinson, Electricity Generation and Health [Markandya Wilkinson]

The Lancet, in which the study was published, is a reputed British scientific medical review within the scientific community. Anil Markandya is the scientific director at Bilbao’s Basque Centre for Climate Change. His work deals with climate change, resources, environment and economy. Paul Wilkinson is a professor in environmental epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine specializing in climate change and pollution effects on health. According to this study,

nuclear energy is the source with the lowest impact on C02, before hydroelectricity, wind, solar and biomass, and far ahead of gas, oil and coal.

The authors also focused on accidents, accidental deaths and diseases related to pollution caused by the various energy sources. Mortality was related to the amount of energy produced. Figures 5.6 to 5.8 give the results. Lignite, which is a poor- quality type of coal, appears separately. These energy sources, together with oil, are responsible for the highest rates of deaths and diseases. Nuclear energy appears as the least harmful of the compared energies, but it is true that biomass is the only renewable energy to be considered. Of course, this study, dating back to 2007, takes Chernobyl’s consequences into account but not Fukushima’s, which will not actually result in different orders of magnitude.

According to the figures from this study, the production of electricity would be responsible for 37 deaths per year in France if it were 100% nuclear, 1,410 deaths if 100% produced from gas, 2,315 deaths if 100% produced from biomass, 9,215 from oil and 28,670 if from coal.

Deaths due to pollution per 100 TWh of electricity produced in Europe. (From

FIGURE 5.7 Deaths due to pollution per 100 TWh of electricity produced in Europe. (From: “Electricity generation and health”, Anil Markandya and Paul Wilkinson, The Lancet, 2007, vol. 370, pp. 979-990 [Markandya Wilkinson].)

Serious diseases due to pollution per 100 TWh of electricity produced in Europe. (From

FIGURE 5.8 Serious diseases due to pollution per 100 TWh of electricity produced in Europe. (From: “Electricity generation and health”, Anil Markandya and Paul Wilkinson, The Lancet, 2007, vol. 370, pp. 979-990 [Markandya Wilkinson].)

A Study by Rabl and Spadaro, Les Coûts Externes de l’Électricité [Rabl Spadaro]

In 2001, the authors published a summary of the European Union’s ExternE - external costs of energy - project. This study dealt with the financial costs and damage related to the pollution generated by various electricity production methods. The reduction in life expectancy, expressed in lost years of life per TWh of electricity produced, is shown in Figure 5.9. Wind energy is the least deadly, followed by nuclear energy. Fuel-oil, i.e. petroleum, and coal are clearly the most dangerous, although I have only represented the most recent technologies. It used to be worse, obviously.

Number of years of life lost per TWh of electricity produced. (From

FIGURE 5.9 Number of years of life lost per TWh of electricity produced. (From: A. Rabl & J.V. Spadaro, “Les couts externes de l’electricite” [Rabl Spadaro].)

A Study Conducted by Kharecha and Hansen: Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power [Kharecha Hansen]

This study was published in 2013 in Environmental Science & Technology, a widely recognized scientific review. Its authors, who have accounted for the consequences of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters, consider that nuclear energy has helped avoid 1.8 million deaths in comparison with electricity production which would have been generated by fossil energies. They also consider that the development of nuclear energy could prevent from about 420,000 to 7 million deaths by the mid-21st century.

I think it is important to highlight the fact that I have not omitted any study with opposing conclusions.

Nuclear Energy

The Cartesian, scientific and rational reasoning I am trying to stick to leads to the support of nuclear energy. The matter is so divisive that some readers may get angry with me, accusing me of having a conflict of interest, of being in the terrible nuclear lobby's pay.

I have absolutely no financial interest directly or indirectly in nuclear energy. I am only interested in standing up for my future, and even more so my children’s future, as they are likely to have to live in a more challenging world with less available energy. When I was 14 years old, I would wear a “Nuclear? No thanks” campaign badge. When I was 20 years old, I was thinking about the necessity to find something else. Today, I think that no solution comes without drawbacks and that we just have to opt for the least harmful choice.

The drawbacks of nuclear energy [Basdevant], particularly its waste and the risk of a disaster, are real and well known, widely covered by the media. They are often seen as more frightening than a shortage of energy or the impact of fossil fuels. And yet, a shortage of energy is a potential disaster for human beings, and fossil energies are clearly more dangerous.

Radioactivity frightens people, but it does exist in nature, in France and particularly in such popular French areas as the Breton tourist-appealing Granit Rose Coast, the green and wooded Massif Central and the Vosges mountains or Corsica. Cosmic rays are radioactive. In nuclear medicine, radioactive products are voluntarily administered to patients. Food stuffs - particularly strawberries - are commonly irradiated for better preservation and to avoid the use of pesticides. Many food products are naturally radioactive: bananas, for example, are sufficiently radioactive to be detected by customs services. Human beings are naturally radioactive, with around 8,000 becquerels in adults.

As a matter of fact, radioactivity is not necessarily harmful. It depends on the type of radiation concerned, and, of course, on its dose. The debate about hazard thresholds shall always be raging, but it seems absurd to me to see radioactivity as hazardous whatever its dose, as some associations do, alarming people by putting forward the fact that a higher than “normal” radioactivity rate has been observed. The level of radioactivity can be largely higher than naturally “normal” w'ithout exceeding standards and being a problem. Nuclear energy may obviously be dangerous, but the true question is to know whether it is more or less hazardous than other options. Compared with the typical drawbacks of fossil energies and a looming energy shortage, the benefit-to-risk ratio is likely to be in favour of nuclear.

The type of pollution generated by nuclear waste, when concentrated, wrapped, confined, known about, managed and with a long life span, is preferable to the kind of pollution from fossil energy sources, which is scattered, uncontrolled and with an infinite life span. Mercury, for example, is a poison that is largely released by the combustion of coal. It is eventually to be found in oceans and in the flesh of the fish we eat, and its life span is infinite.

In France, within the scope of the Cigeo project, nuclear waste is about to be stored 500 metres underground, in an impermeable argillaceous rock layer chosen for its confinement properties over very long time scales and because of its 150-million- year-long geological stability. I find this solution reasonable and absolutely harmless for the people living in the area. Of course, it does not please antinuclear activists who are hence deprived of their popular argument saying that “nobody knows what to do with nuclear waste”.

Fifteen nuclear reactors have been fully dismantled across the world. The reactor of the Maine Yankee Power Plant in the United States, witli a 900-MW pow'er, comparable to most French reactors, was dismantled in eight years for a reasonable cost of 500 million dollars. Today, cows are peacefully grazing in the area where the power station used to be and I would drink their milk without fear. It is therefore wrong to claim that the dismantling of nuclear reactors is impossible.

The risk of a new nuclear disaster cannot be completely ruled out in spite of the extensive precautions that are now' being taken. There will always be points of controversy about the consequences of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters. According to WHO, the Chernobyl disaster was responsible for several thousands of dead [WHO Chernobyl], but coal kills hundreds of thousands of people every year. Accounting for the number of dead, fossil energies amount to several hundreds of Chernobyl disasters every year! Radioactive waste due to Fukushima’s nuclear disaster wall obviously have an impact on health but the WHO website notes that “the expected risks are low for the whole population inside and outside Japan”. The report produced in 2013 by the United Nations’ Scientific Committee about the effects of ionizing radiation [UNSCEAR][GEO] confirms that “no death or serious disease related to radiation w'as observed following the Fukushima accident”, and that “no perceptible radiation-related consequence is to be expected among the people exposed or their descendants”, “the Fukushima accident is responsible for no victim, death or disease due to the radiation emitted and that, in the future, the consequences of this radiation wall be too weak to be discernible”. This report, written in 2015 by 80 experts from 18 countries, was largely ignored by the media.

Whoever is doubtful about these rather too official information sources can check them on Wikipedia [wiki Fukushima] where it says that 45-55 people died because of the accident or the evacuation from the Fukushima area, not more than 20 people were seriously injured or irradiated, fewer than 1,000 people were slightly injured or irradiated. It is obviously too many, but it is also insignificant compared to the diseases caused by other energy sources.

I will probably be told that these reassuring reports originate from people wdth conflicts of interest, under the influence of the famous nuclear lobby, and that other reports have conclusions accounting for much more dreadful consequences. But these other reports more often than not originate from antinuclear activists whose objectivity is not to be taken for granted as they endeavour to show' the dangers of what they struggle against. Their associations w'ho fight against nuclear energy would lose all interest, hence funding and jobs, if they started confirming official figures.

I think that the figures provided by UNSCEAR and WHO, w'hich are from the United Nations, are the most reliable. As Jean-Marc Jancovici points out, the IPCC also originates from the UN and, apart from some hardliner climate sceptics, few' people question these figures. Considering that fossil energy lobbies are unable to stop the IPCC from declaring their harmful effect on climate change, it is rather difficult to imagine how the nuclear lobby, w'hich is far less powerful than the other, w'ould manage to have an important influence on the UN’s reports.

Anyway, so serious as they are, the consequences of Fukushima - the evacuation of residents and radioactive pollution - have to be considered in the context of an earthquake and a tsunami which killed no less than 15,000 people and sent tons of various items and pollutants into the sea: cars, household debris, machines, hydrocarbons, solvents, acids, pesticides, medicines and other toxic pollutants, the consequences of which are not quantifiable. By the way, this earthquake provoked the rupture of the Fujinuma hydraulic dam causing several deaths. Several tens of thousands of people died because of hydraulic dam ruptures during the 20th century, but they also killed more people than nuclear accidents, and yet no one calls for the production of hydroelectricity to be stopped.

Around 100,000 people had to be evacuated from the Fukushima area, i.e. less than 20% of the people who lost their homes because of the earthquake and the tsunami. The construction of China’s Three-Gorges dam, which is also used to produce electricity, caused the evacuation of more than ten times as many people as the Fukushima nuclear power station. The evacuated area is 370 km2, while the exploitation of opencast coal mines in Germany destroyed more than 500 km2 of countryside.

After the disaster, Japan shut down its nuclear power stations which produced 28% of Japanese electricity. This lack of production was very marginally compensated for by electricity savings but largely by increased gas, fuel-oil and coal-produced electricity, which involved emissions of CO, and various pollutants [Livet]. The proportion of coal in the production of Japanese electricity went up from 27 to 33% and gas from 28 to 39% between 2010 and 2015 while consumption dropped just by 10%. It is highly probable that the consequences of these emissions on health are going to be worse than the impact of radioactivity following the Fukushima accident. Bernard Durand is a fossil-fuel geochemist, the former director of the Geology- Geochemistry unit of Institut Franca is du Peirole et des Energies Nouvelles and former head of Ecole Normale Superieure de Geologie. In 2018, he explained that “on a planetary scale, air pollution represents a mortality risk about ten times as high as radioactivity, including the contribution of Chernobyl and Fukushima”, and that

we observe that living for 50 years in Paris, where fine dust particles are permanently as high as 50 pg PM 2.5 per m i.e., currently, in places located by the main highways, is more risky than living for 50 years in the Fukushima areas where 50-mSv radioactivity doses are currently received every year and which were consequently evacuated.


A parallel can be drawn with a comparison between transport means: aircraft are more frightening than others because air disasters are spectacular, but they are the safest of all, statistically.

The countries which are currently managing to produce electricity from sources other than polluting fossil energies are the ones that have developed nuclear power and/or are lucky to have geographic characteristics allowing for hydro-electricity, such as France, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Austria, Brazil and Canada [Mix]. According to some people, the collapse of our societies is inevitable in the years to come. Human beings would not then be able to manage nuclear power stations, which would become an enormously looming danger. An oil shortage, for example, would make it impossible to use the civil engineering machines required for the construction, maintenance and dismantling of nuclear power stations. Society might even be so disorganized that the management of all this would be made impossible. I have not reached the point of such pessimism. I think the most important thing is to have some energy available to avoid the collapse of our society, the required construction machinery eventually running on the electricity produced by the power stations. I think that, in France, this industry is more closely watched than any other [Barre] [Kuo], particularly by the Autorite de Surete Nucleaire - the nuclear safety authority - whose commissioners are indefeasible for the six years of their mandates, are reputed to be strict and are granted the authority to shut down a power station. The nuclear industry is also under the careful watch of antinuclear associations who never miss an opportunity to broadcast stressful messages when the slightest dysfunction occurs, supported by the media who love to relay them with shocking headlines meant to generate a maximum number of clicks on the web. For example, in July 2019, the Association pour le Controle de la Radioactivite - the radioactivity control association - in Western France, which has several employees, gave an alarm concerning the presence of tritium - a radioactive element - in river waters and in the drinking water network supplying millions of people. Their stressful messages were taken into account by the Commission de Recherche et d’Information Independantes sur la Radioactivite, (CRIIRAD, a commission in charge of independent research and information about radioactivity employing 14 wage earners) and by the media. The highest value mentioned, 341 Bq/L, was 29 times lower than the drinking water threshold set by WHO (10,000 Bq/L). People would have had to drink at least 40 litres of water to receive the amount of radioactivity contained in one banana! The press did a good job mentioning that the levels recorded were extremely low, but the damage had been done: crazy rumours had spread, thousands of people refused to drink tap water, which contributed to the addition of more lorries on the road to transport plastic bottles.

Brice Lalonde, an environmentalist and an Environment Minister from 1988 to 1992, declared in the newspaper La Voix du Nord in January 2016:

I would like to appeal to ecologists to take into account that nuclear energy releases no

C02 emissions and is safe in our countries. I used to be a fierce antinuclear activist, but

this technology should not be banned when an energy transition towards a clean energy

is to be implemented urgently.

Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace, admitted, in the German daily Die Welt in 2008: “Today, I am absolutely convinced that the campaign against nuclear energy was stupid. We were wrong to tar with the same bush nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, as if anything nuclear were bad”. The confusion between civil nuclear and military nuclear is actually kept alive by some people. Very few' technologies would be used if the ones used by armies were to be banned!

Of course, nuclear energy does not account for a large part of the world’s energy currently - about 2% of final energy - but it does better than w'ind or solar energy

- about 1% and 0.5% - but it is no indication of the part these technologies might play in the future.

In my opinion, there will be fewer problems with nuclear energy than without it. Out of the 1,200 scenarios recorded by IPPC, only 8 claim that global warming could be limited to 2°C without using nuclear energy. The International Energy Agency estimates that, since 1971, the use of nuclear energy has avoided an equivalent of a two-year amount of the world current CO, emissions [WEO], in a report published in May 2019 [IEA nuclear power], the International Energy Agency recommends an 80% increase of the world production of nuclear energy by 2040 and expresses concerns about a decline of nuclear power: “without an investment in nuclear energy, a sustainable energy system will be a lot more difficult to implement”,

in case no complementary investment is provided for by advanced economies in order to extend the lifespan of existing nuclear power stations or develop new projects ... gas and coal, to a lesser extent, would play an important role to replace nuclear energy. Total C02 emissions would rise by 4 billion tons by 2040, which would only make emission objectives even more difficult to meet.

However, I would not claim that nuclear energy is free from any drawback or that it will be the magic remedy to the energy issue. It would certainly be better to use neither any fossil nor nuclear energy, but only renewable ones. Is it possible? The following developments might help form an opinion.

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