Nuclear power has ‘saved millions of lives’

Researchers claim that nuclear power has saved nearly two million lives by cutting out fossil fuels. In a new report NASA scientists Pushker A. Kharecha and James E. Hansen calculate […]

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By Vicky Ellis

Researchers claim that nuclear power has saved nearly two million lives by cutting out fossil fuels.

In a new report NASA scientists Pushker A. Kharecha and James E. Hansen calculate an average of 1.84 million human deaths were prevented by world nuclear power production from 1971-2009.

The research which was published in the Environmental Science & Technology magazine in March, suggests an average 76,000 deaths were prevented ever year between 2000 and 2009.

Citing figures from the World Health Organisation, the report states that outdoor air pollution – due largely to burning fossil fuels – is estimated to have caused over 1 million deaths a year worldwide during the past decade.

In contrast, the number of deaths caused by nuclear appears to be much smaller. The report goes on: “Our estimated human deaths caused by nuclear power from 1971-2009 are far lower than the avoided deaths. Globally, we calculate 4900 such deaths, or about 370 times lower than our result for avoided deaths.”

They further predict that over the next four decades, replacing coal with nuclear power could save between four and seven million deaths while replacing gas could save 420,000 and 680,000 around the world.

The researchers looked at the countries with the highest carbon emissions between 2009 and 2011 – China, the USA, India, Russia and Japan. They worked out what emissions would have been produced by fossil fuels like coal and gas if nuclear power had not been used instead.

To cross-check historically prevented deaths with GHG emissions, they compared data for electricity generation with mortality rates with emissions per unit of electricity generated.