Study: Nuke Power Has Saved Millions of Lives. Media Yawns.

By Keith Kloor | April 4, 2013 6:54 am

When James Hansen, the newly-retired NASA scientist talks, people who care deeply about energy and climate change pay attention.

For example, when Hansen says “game over” for the climate if Canada’s oil sands get developed, people take to the streets. When he publishes a study that says global warming has caused recent heat waves and droughts, it’s big news.

So what are we to make of the marginal notice paid this week to the results of an eye-popping paper just published by Hansen and a co-author in the journal Environmental Science & Technology? It finds that nuclear power

has prevented about 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths and 64 gigatonnes (Gt) CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that would have resulted from fossil fuel burning.

Generally speaking, such a finding (from a world-renowned scientist, no less) is headline bait, as proved to be the case at Scientific American and here at Discover. But other than that, I’m not seeing much media coverage (as of Thursday morning). How can that be? After all, as Andy Revkin notes, this is “a significant new peer-reviewed study on nuclear power, public health and greenhouse gases.” (You can read a nice overview of it by Mark Schrope at Chemical & Engineering News.)

How does mainstream media not jump all over the news that nuclear power has apparently saved millions of lives? Then there’s the climate change angle, the massive amount of carbon emissions that seems to have been prevented. This strikes me as big!

I’m not suggesting the Hansen paper should be taken at face value, but I think it’s reasonable to expect it to be reported on, given his stature and the study’s startling claim. Millions of people saved is a lot of people. 

I really don’t know why this study has been ignored. I’m especially surprised it’s not warranting mention in the environmental media. (Or maybe I shouldn’t be? I’m guessing places like Grist would be playing it up if Hansen found, instead, that nuclear power had killed millions of people.) True, there’s been tons of coverage on Hansen’s retirement this week from NASA. Did that announcement trump news of his nuclear paper?



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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets.From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine.In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest.He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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