Lies, Damn Lies, and Visions of Nuclear Catastrophe

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What, exactly, is a catastrophe? We hear the word all the time, but not often enough in a relative context. As a result, we are not adept at comparing catastrophes; each one appears as equal in magnitude. Some are implicitly deemed more catastrophic than others. Because we have no common coin to compare them, whatever catastrophe conventional wisdom considers the worst is the one that dominates.

In the energy field, the nuclear energy catastrophe dominates. This needs to be submitted to a comparison.

In December 1952, a catastrophe befell the city of London, England. From December 5 to December 9, a yellow coal-burning smog settled into the city, killing between 3,500 and 4,000 people. During the next three months more than 8,000 additional deaths were attributed to the smog, bringing the death toll to 12,000.

But the number of deaths from coal and other fossil fuels has been much greater than that. Many millions of people, and their lungs, have been exposed to airborne particulates from the burning of coal, petrol, and diesel, day in and day out. Researchers have estimated that 8.7 million people worldwide died from this cause from 2012 to 2018.

Their deaths amount to a global catastrophe.