In a new study, James Hansen pushes nuclear power as saving more lives than it has harmed

This is sure to get some enviros in a tizzy.

Fukushima I nuclear power plant before the 201...

Fukushima I nuclear power plant before the 2011 explosion. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From Chemical and Engineering News of the American Chemical Society:

Nuclear Power Prevents More Deaths Than It Causes

Climate Change: Study estimates that nuclear energy leads to substantially fewer pollution-related deaths and greenhouse gas emissions compared with fossil-fuel sources

By Mark Schrope

Using nuclear power in place of fossil-fuel energy sources, such as coal, has prevented some 1.8 million air pollution-related deaths globally and could save millions of more lives in coming decades, concludes a study. The researchers also find that nuclear energy prevents emissions of huge quantities of greenhouse gases. These estimates help make the case that policymakers should continue to rely on and expand nuclear power in place of fossil fuels to mitigate climate change, the authors say (Environ. Sci. Technol., DOI: 10.1021/es3051197).

In the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, critics of nuclear power have questioned how heavily the world should rely on the energy source, due to possible risks it poses to the environment and human health.

“I was very disturbed by all the negative and in many cases unfounded hysteria regarding nuclear power after the Fukushima accident,” says report coauthor Pushker A. Kharecha, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in New York.

Working with Goddard’s James E. Hansen, Kharecha set out to explore the benefits of nuclear power. The pair specifically wanted to look at nuclear power’s advantages over fossil fuels in terms of reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Kharecha was surprised to find no broad studies on preventable deaths that could be attributed to nuclear power’s pollution savings. But he did find data from a 2007 study on the average number of deaths per unit of energy generated with fossil fuels and nuclear power (Lancet, DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61253-7). These estimates include deaths related to all aspects of each energy source from mining the necessary natural resources to power generation. For example, the data took into account chronic bronchitis among coal miners and air pollution-related conditions among the public, including lung cancer.

Read more here

Prevented mortality and greenhouse gas emissions from historical and projected nuclear power

Pushker A. Kharecha and James E Hansen

Environ. Sci. Technol., Just Accepted Manuscript

DOI: 10.1021/es3051197


In the aftermath of the March 2011 accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the future contribution of nuclear power to the global energy supply has become somewhat uncertain. Because nuclear power is an abundant, low-carbon source of base-load power, on balance it could make a large contribution to mitigation of global climate change and air pollution. Using historical production data, we calculate that global 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. Based on global projection data that take into account the effects of Fukushima, we find that by mid-century, nuclear power could prevent an additional 420,000 to 7.04 million deaths and 80 to 240 GtCO2-eq emissions due to fossil fuels, depending on which fuel it replaces. By contrast, we assess that large-scale expansion of natural gas use would not mitigate the climate problem and would cause far more deaths than expansion of nuclear power.

Full paper: Hi-Res PDF


newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Paul Mendez

I know that this is not an original observation but it bears reprinting: No existing technology can prevent death.


“In the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, critics of nuclear power have questioned how heavily the world should rely on the energy source, due to possible risks it poses to the environment and human health.”
NB this is a “disaster” in which nobody suffered permanent harm :
“But he did find data from a 2007 study on the average number of deaths per unit of energy generated with fossil fuels and nuclear power (Lancet, DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61253-7). These estimates include deaths related to all aspects of each energy source from mining the necessary natural resources to power generation. For example, the data took into account chronic bronchitis among coal miners and air pollution-related conditions among the public, including lung cancer.”
i.e he accepted the usual wild over estimate stated without a reasonable estimate of errors….

Berényi Péter

I agree with Hansen on that. Not necessarily on their death count, but nuclear is certainly the way to go in the long run.
Not these Cold War plutonium factories of the past of course, which may provide some energy as a by product, but advanced designs with passive cooling and next to no radioactive waste (and no raw material for bombs), sustainable until the Sun blows up.


Setting aside the hallucination that anyone at all has died from CO2 emissions, let’s talk about Fukushima radiation:
In 1961 and 1962, the US and the USSR conducted hundreds of above groun nuclear tests prior to the atmospheric test ban treaty in late ’62. More anthropgenic nuclear radiation, by far, went into the atmosphere in ’61 and ’62 than in all of History’s other nuclear detonations and accidents combined. Is there any evidence of a spike in cancers or other diseases in people born between, say, 1957 and 1966, with particular focus on people who were infants, newborns, or in wombs in ’61 and ’62?

Was going to read the paper, but they require registration with personal details.
And the page has messed up Chrome’s auto login or WordPress login.
I recommend you avoid the site.


Oops! It’s Sabertooth, dang it.
Hacked again by my evil twin.

John R T

?! What?? prolong and enrich the lives of billions of persons – maybe even our own grand-children!
April Fools’ was yesterday.


Is this information new? WUWT has in the past posted up information showing more people died from the coal industry, no???
Anyway, here is another of their heroes going mad for dirty nuclear and horrid methane fracking. Methane………………a more powerful greenhouse gas than co2. Is Lovelock a fossil fuel funded shill? Does he pocket nuclear cash? I don’t know but I know that Al Gore has pocketed big oil and tobacco cash.

Dr. James Lovelock:
Nuclear power is the only green solution
“Gas is almost a give-away in the US at the moment. They’ve gone for fracking in a big way. Let’s be pragmatic and sensible and get Britain to switch everything to methane. We should be going mad on it.”

The fact that the Fukashima accident harmed no one except for a few workers who had very minor injuries, plus the fact that apparently the public is unaware of this and that it led Germany to
close their nuclear plants and build new coal generating plants, proves the complete incompetence of the world’s mainstream media. Nor does anyone seem to know that fast reactors (and also Thorium reactors) can burn nuclear wastes or that the amount of energy in our current stock of nuclear wastes that can be extracted by such reactors can provide all the energy this country needs for the next 1000 years. Or that a solar farm large enough to equal a current generation nuclear plant would require 80,000 acres of land. The idea that the greenies have rejected nuclear power is an indication of their mental incompetence and bizarre logic. I might add that the costs of nuclear power became the cheapest back in 1999, when it became cheaper than coal. China plans on having 600 reactors by midcentury and 1600 by the end of the century and
can build them without any help from the West. Russia is also a very strong competitor in the nuclear build arena and matches or exceeds our technology.

I’m not rich enough to pay for such ‘research papers’ but I gather that they didn’t include water vapo(u)r as a greenhouse gas. H2O is after all, the (apparently non-functioning) amplifier to produce “tipping-point” climate changes resulting in catastrophic global warming.
A nuclear power plant with cooling towers puts out about the same amount of water vapour via those towers as any other thermal power plant with cooling towers and the same generating capacity.
I gather that James Hansen still doesn’t understand psychrometrics. Adding water vapour to the air near the surface improves the ability of the air to cool the surface and it moderates the air temperature … a double-whammy because the heat transfer to the better “heat sink” is more effective the cooler the heat sink. The result is a cooler surface and cooler air above it. It’s not magic; simply the result of the water vapour’s heat capacity.
There are alas, far too many pro-nuclear enthusiasts who are using the mythical CO2 calamity as a reason to adopt nuclear power. Their credibility hangs on the myth being reality.

First time I ever agreed with James Hansen. We should turn more to nuclear, but not the current high pressure system; instead lets build Thorium reactors. That is the answer. Thorium, because it makes good sense. This has nothing to do with the silliness about CO2; it is not a pollutant.

Rattus Norvegicus

Hate to break it to you, but Hansen has always supported, sanely in my view, nuclear power as part of the solution.
Reply: There is nothing to “break” to us here John Sully. No contrary claims were made. Some low information econuts will find it unsettling news though. – Anthony

Too much dumb to deal with. However, nuclear is inevitable. We can, and we will. Windmills will be abandoned and regretted. Solar will find its niche but never be significant on the whole. Coal will continue, and gas for a while. But nuclear is forever and will account for nearly all power generation eventually. Sooner will be better.
Coal doesn’t kill as many as lack of power. Never has and never will. We must have power. Nuclear will provide that power.

Is Hansen now in the pay of “big nuclear”? Just asking. I thought he was anti-human and wanted us all back in the stone age.
If he’d made pushing nuclear a priority over trashing everything else to do with power (non-green), he might have made more friends. What does Big Al think about this?

Lonnie E. Schubert at 5:54 pm
Amen to that! Well said!

Kharecha was surprised to find no broad studies on preventable deaths that could be attributed to nuclear power’s pollution savings.
Scientific American published just such a study in the late 70’s showing that coal is likely to kill more people than nuclear. Probably about the time 3 Mile Island melted down which, which goes to show that timing is everything.

It gets funnier – Hansen throws renewables under a bus
From the article:-
Because large-scale implementation of renewable energy options, such as wind or solar, faces significant challenges, the researchers say their results strongly support the case for nuclear as a critical energy source to help stabilize or reduce greenhouse gas concentrations.

Paul Mendez says:
April 2, 2013 at 3:57 pm
No existing technology can prevent death.
good health is the slowest known way to die.


This is not new. When Hansen visited Australia some years ago, he rejected the concept of clean energy and recommended Australia became nuclear, as we had a huge coastline and could utilize sea water to cool the reactors. As we are short of fresh water even subterranean (that is not renewable as people think) if sea water was a reliable source he reckoned we should adopt it.Problem is a reactor requires 200,000,000 liters of water to cool it each day. Where does the water go afterwards, is it contaminated? What push it back into the sea? I’m not an expert but one poster said nuclear ships and submarines use sea water? But they are small in comparison to the energy output of land nuclear generator. Personally I think what Sir Mark Oliphant stated years ago, he worked on the Manhatten project you will remember and was scientific adviser to the Australian government. Go Solar Thermal, as could oil countries with heaps on uninhabited areas and deserts. Problem was and still is being considered, how do they continue generating electricity at night, they were thinking of utilizing methane gas. I just feel that to have a large thermal generator (50 acres big or larger) is vulnerable to attack or accident too.
Right now they are studying and building one in Newcastle, NSW but it receives very little funding from the government of course, but even a Greens spokesman and politician spoke to us and thought solar and wind only made manufacturers rich and were doubtful as far as reliability etc. He said go solar thermal. They have ceased geo thermal in S.A. because of funding. Wave, well that is years away too. I must say I wouldn’t be happy with a nuclear station near where I live. What do other Aussies think?

Ha! Hansen just jumped the shark! Oh, he’s right that nuclear power is eminently safe, but the True Believers of the Cult of Gaia will NEVER except the Heresy that he has just uttered! NO ONE is allowed off the reservation, not ever! They aren’t going to want him around, so it looks like its time for him to just slowly fade into a well deserved obscurity.
In 20 years or so, he’ll just be the answer to a trivia question on Jeopardy, topic “Great Hoaxes of the 20th century”.
btw, as I’m sure others will point out, water being run through a nuclear reactor isn’t made radioactive or “dirty” in any way. It just gets warm, so it’s not a problem to take it from the sea and return it to the sea. The biggest problem I can see with seawater is salt and other dissolved materials precipitating out in the heat exchanges and slowly clogging the entire cooling system until it was plugged. That’s why manufacturers ask you to use distilled water + antifreeze in your cars coolant system.


bushbunny says: April 2, 2013 at 7:49 pm
With the vastness of our coastline I doubt that there’d be any need to site a nuclear plant near suburban concentrations or even isolated settlements. The Japanese don’t seem to have a problem of NP in their densely populated country, why should we ?
Solar thermal ? I don’t think that the applicability of the technology has been adequately thought through … just like all of these beatniks pushing wave generation, well the abandoned rusted hulk in the breakers at Newcastle is a testament to that experiment.
With the economy of coal and the advancement of modern coal fired generation technology, we are idiots to not be expanding coal fired generation … the greenie Germans don’t have a problem so why should we ?

After getting trapped at a paywall, I finally managed to download the paper.
The paper pulls in estimates from a variety of sources (i.e. it’s a meta-study) and calculates statistics for “deaths prevented” (ludicrous terminology, but English seems to be a casualty of “statistics”). I’ll leave it to others to follow the references. The lack of applicable data hasn’t stopped the authors from extrapolating available estimates to regions of no data.
Similarly, the authors don’t appear to include “upgrade” analyses for coal and gas in countries where mortality rates are high. That could be a substantial oversight especially wrt China which has been upgrading it’s coal-fired fleet of power stations, closing down many small inefficient (and actually-pollution) ones with a few, large, very efficient power stations. Over the coming decades, mortality rate per TWh would tend to that of the best new stations in Western Europe.
The author’s analysis of “plausible” replacement and future development by nuclear excludes any economic factors. Their inherent assumption appears to be that it is always economically possible. Societies develop by exploiting the highest density source of energy that they can afford.
A conventional “reactor off the rack” is still 3 to 5 times more expensive than coal-fired. vis UAE’s 4 new reactors (to be built and operated by KEPCO) which have a lifecycle average cost of electricity production of about 5.5 c/kWh

Sanertooth on April 2, 2013 at 4:21 pm
Or Sabertooth as you corrected. The answer to your question is “yes”. I have references on my computer but it isn’t at hand. There is fairly clear correlation claimed between atmospheric nuclear testing and increases in cancer according to a number of researchers. The old ones among us will remember the Strontium 90 in milk issue. Baby boomer dilema.

What do other Aussies think?
I”d be delighted if they replace Perth’s coal fired power stations with nuclear. Cheap, clean and we have plenty of space. so it can located well away from people.
I’ve just discovered the current coal fired power stations use brackish ground water, which is then piped to the ocean. Which means nuclear power stations can be located pretty much anywhere within 100kms of the coast.


A few Greens, such as Stewart Brand (in a book he wrote), have endorsed nuclear. Hansen has gone further, being very dismissive of Amory Lovins’ green energy schemes.


As he has always said, I think.
BTW, does anyone know how many people have actually died from nuclear accidents? I know people from Chernobyl, for example, and they can’t put a high figure on it at all, around 80 in all (at a guess from them).
Are there any actual figures? Most people I talk to about it believe it to be thousands, but most people have no idea about the facts, and get their ‘ideas’ solely from the MSM. For example, none of them (not a single one, even those with strong views) have ever known anything about the ‘banana’ unit of radiation, ie the amount of additional radiation you are exposed to by eating a single banana, let alone how that relates to actual worker and emergency personnel levels of radiation.
My view is that I know very little, but almost everybody I talk to about it obviously knows much less.

Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTRs) will, IMHO, be what powers the world’s future.
It’s really the only power source that seems to fulfill all the necessary requirements: proven technology (test LFTR at Oak Ridge Labs ran perfectly from 1964-69), safe, clean, reliable, efficient (can’t beat E=MC^2), cheap (theoretically costing $0.03/kWh), abundant (virtually inexhaustible supply of the stuff; it’s everywhere and in huge quantities), low plant construction cost (costs about the same as Natural Gas Power Plant to build), very scaleable, minimal nuclear waste (99% less than conventional solid fuel reactors), no special processing of Thorium 232 is required, etc.,
The ONLY thing holding this technology back is the lack of will from politicians to establish the regulation, standards and permit process to build these.
While the West continues to waste $100’s of Billions (if not $Trillions by now) on expensive/ low-energy density technologies like wind and solar, China has 700 PhD physicists working on building their first LFTR test reactor, which should be online in a few years.
Time is running out. If China is allowed to get a jump in implementing LFTR technology before the West gets it head out of the sand, then a gigantic second wave of production will flood to China to take advantage of the cheapest energy on the planet.
And so it goes….until it doesn’t….

It is really worrying when one discovers that one even slightly agrees with something that Hansen has said!


Jer0me says:
April 3, 2013 at 12:19 am
BTW, does anyone know how many people have actually died from nuclear accidents? I know people from Chernobyl, for example, and they can’t put a high figure on it at all, around 80 in all (at a guess from them).
There is a comprehensive report on Chernobyl here:
Well worth reading on the health impacts, (or lack of), is here, with the numbers:
The Real Chernobyl Folly by Zbigniew Jaworowski (former chairman of UNSCEAR)
Chernobyl related controls on sheep were only lifted in Wales and Cumbria last year –

About China’s nuclear power plans; 600 more reactors contributes significantly to their reactor-years or GWatt-years Pareto Distribution, which is to say that their accident becomes inevitable. Inexpert discussions of reactor safety is a bit like bicyclists mentioning p*nct*r*s, cyclists that go thousands of miles are reticent to brag knowing that all streaks end.
About LFTR; there is sufficient experience (some recent) with liquid metal/molten salt cooled reactors to obviate any hypothetical advantage of adding fluorine and thorium to the witches brew.
There is a plethora of inherently safe nuclear reactor designs, some are even advocated by experienced reactor engineers, how many have been built? Currently the demonstrated safest designs belong to the U.S. Navy, being light water PWR. They are not large, they are expensive and safe.
If it was easy then anyone could do it.

On the health effects of low level radiation exposure, the ‘nuclear shipyard worker study’ – NSWS – is the most thoroughly disappeared public document that I know. It tracked 70,000 shipyard workers program health to discover radiation hormesis.
Matanoski, G.M. (1991) Health effects of low-level radiation in shipyard workers final report, June 1991, DOE, DE-AC02-79, EV10095.


The problem with Fukushima is that it is on the wrong side of Japan. On the west side it would not be facing the tsunamis generated by the subduction zone earthquakes to the east. Nothing wrong with nuclear power when correctly used.


dennisambler says:
April 3, 2013 at 3:38 am

thanks, I’ll have a read!

The difficulties in siting illustrates perfectly the failure of inductive inference in forecasting. Avoiding one Black Swan exposes the site to another. Better antifragile than robust, better robust than fragile.
Someone earlier, maybe in some other thread, made a crack about chaotic complexity reduced by empiricism. That is, I believe, oxymoronic. It is connecting the dots on a epistemological mapping that must be so dimensionally reduced as to be nonsense but for the narrow path of deduction..


Wow! Something Hansen and I both agree on!


Richard A Muller (Energy for Future Presidents) has always advocated nuclear. He also wrote the famous Wall Street Journal article “The Panic Over Fukushima”:
If the Linear Hypothesis is correct, all the radiation leaked from Fukushima will result in an additional 24 cancer deaths among the 360,000 people exposed. I’m not saying that 24 deaths is not a tragedy; it’s twice as many people as died in the Aurora, Colorado shooting. But these 24 deaths will be undetectable among the 72,000 cancer deaths normally expected in a group of this size.

Doug Huffman–
It seems you don’t quite understand how LFTRs work, so I’d suggest you visit the following site for some basic information on LFTRs for your edification:


Petr Beckmann’s book, “The Health Hazards of NOT Going Nuclear”, was written in 1977.


Fukushima Medical University is monitoring the radiation effects of the reactor leak.
Ultrasound thyroid screening of 94,975 participants from April 2012 to January 2013 found that 18.5% had thyroid disorder, with cysts greater than 3.1mm.
By way of comparison, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists estimates that 20% of the US population may be hypothyroid.
The AACE guesstimate of 20% is obviously a total thumb-suck. I couldn’t find any large-scale studies in other countries to compare with the Fukushima Medical University survey. It’s impossible to conclude if the Fukushima thyroid disorder rate is above normal and if so by how much. (It’s also impossible to conclude that there is no variation.)
A couple of years ago I was involved in the renewable energy bidding process initiated by NERSA, the National Energy Regulator of South Africa. My client was a major Japanese manufacturer of wind turbines.
Nuclear comes in at roughly four times the cost of coal-fired power. Wind and solar are over eight times as expensive.
I’m sure that other readers will quote alternative figures showing a much smaller cost premium for “clean” energy. I’ll stick to my figures because they don’t come from theoretical studies. They were generated by commercial enterprises that need at least to break even to stay in business.

This is hardly a secret. Hansen has been vocal about his endorsement of breeder and thorium reactors for years. From what I’ve read, this represents the majority position among climate scientists with physics background.

Steve Dekker says: April 3, 2013 at 9:05 am “Doug Huffman–
It seems you don’t quite understand how LFTRs work, so I’d suggest you visit the following site for some basic information on LFTRs for your edification:”
I can’t imagine what you found, particularly in what I wrote here, that indicated my understanding, or lack of understanding, of reactor workings. I directed a number of initial criticalities, assisted more and decommissioned still more reactor plants.
For you, here is a recent article, Thorium: Not a near-term commercial nuclear fuel (doi: 10.1177/0096340212459125 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists September/October 2012 vol. 68 no. 5 33-44 ).
Bigotry and prejudice are postgraduate certificates from the School of Hard Knocks. I am fully prejudiced against thorium Pi in the sky.

Oldfossil– LFTRs are by far much cheaper than solid fuel reactors because: thorium is much cheaper, thorium just has one natural isotope that doesn’t require any special processing, 99% of thorium is burned in LFTRs as opposed to just 0.5% in solid fuel reactors, there is 90% less nuclear waste with LFTRs compared to LWRs, LFTR’s nuclear waste have very short half lives, transuranics in LFTRs can be removed chemically during operation, construction costs are 1/10th of liquid fuel reactors, personnel/maintenance costs are much lower, etc.
LFTRs can produce electricity for about $0.02~0.03/kWh, making the cheapest form of energy production currently available.

Laurence Clark Crossen

Choose green energy and you will get nuclear energy. Whether nuclear energy is a good choice or not, the decision to choose green energy is a decision to choose nuclear energy. Because nuclear energy is by far the most economical green energy, the voter will choose nuclear energy. The belief in AGW is in the process of overcoming environmental opposition to nuclear energy.

@ Dekker, at which LFTR plant was this production experience earned?


oldfossil says:
April 3, 2013 at 8:35 am

If the Linear Hypothesis is correct…

I discover that the Linear Hypothesis has been challenged.
Also known as the Linear No-Threshold Hypothesis (LNT), it assumes that radiation doses accumulate across whole populations.
A 25,000 milliSievert (mSv) dose of radiation is believed to create a 100% chance that you will get cancer. The LNT assumes that if 25,000 people each receive 1mSv radiation, this will induce one extra radiation death.
Although Richard A Muller supported the LNT in his 2012 essay, “The Panic Over Fukushima,” and I think that Muller is pretty damn good, the LNT could be bad science.


Steve Dekker says:
April 3, 2013 at 11:31 am

Oldfossil– LFTRs are by far much cheaper than solid fuel reactors

Steve, please forgive me for appealing to the yukk-word “consensus,” but none of the articles I’ve read think that Lifters will be operational and uploading sparks to the grid before 2030.

If I may quibble with my senior; LNT establishes a dose-damage response from high dose bomb survivor studies that is assumed to be harmful right down to zero. Radiation hormesis is based on the observation that life and humans evolved in a radiation field.

The Matanoski study found a positive correlation between some levels of radiation exposure and general good health. My interest in it is as an extreme datum, with ~3 REM WBE occupational.


I wrote a paper on the subject of health effects of radiation for the NWMO, Canada, some years ago. I preceded the main subject with primers so that those who were interested could understand what it was about. It is long, and boring for those with little interest in the subject, but it covered all of the main detail, especially in the appendices, where the major studies are summarized.
The paper is here:


I don’t trust Hansen, first it was a coming ice age, then AGW, now go nuclear. I would like to know if nuclear reactors are any more safer than solar thermal, certainly more reliable, but as some posters have suggested – we in Australia would have to import nuclear technicians, and they don’t come cheap unless we import them from Japan or China. Or America, who will obviously have a financial interest to expand this industry and the safety we demand. Also in Australia our population is dispersed mainly around the coast line. But – a mixture of coal and nuclear might be the answer.