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Over Time, Nuclear Power Would Kill Fewer People Than Petroleum

• Rebecca Boyle via

Using nuclear power for energy instead of coal has prevented almost 2 million pollution-related deaths around the world, and could save millions more lives in the future, according to a new paper. It’s the latest publication from James Hansen, NASA’s fiery climate change scientist, who is retiring on Wednesday after 46 years with the space agency.

The paper argues that policymakers should increase nuclear power, rather than continuing dependence on fossil fuels. The 2011 disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant should not deter governments from expanding nuclear power, according to Hansen and its lead author, Pushker A. Kharecha of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University Earth Institute. On the contrary, nuclear power will prevent further deaths from air pollution, they argue.
Even taking the disaster at Fukushima into account, they calculate that global nuclear power has prevented about 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths since 1971, and will prevent another 420,000 to 7 million deaths by the middle of this century. (The death range depends on which fuel nuclear power will be replacing.) Nuclear power has already prevented 64 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions, and would prevent the equivalent of another 80 to 240 gigatons, again depending on which fuel it replaces.

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