Nuclear power is often promoted as a low-carbon source that mitigates fossil fuel emissions and the resulting health damage and deaths caused by air pollution. But is it possible to provide estimates and actually quantify these effects?
A new paper from NASA’s Goddard Institute authored by Pushker Kharecha and James Hansen in the journal Environmental Science and Technology purports to do just that. Hansen is well known as one of the founders of modern global warming science. The authors come up with the striking figure of 1.8 million as the number of lives saved by replacing fossil fuel sources with nuclear. They also estimate the saving of up to 7 million lives in the next four decades, along with substantial reductions in carbon emissions, were nuclear power to replace fossil fuel usage on a large scale. In addition the study finds that the proposed expansion of natural gas would not be as effective in saving lives and preventing carbon emissions. In general the paper provides optimistic reasons for the responsible and widespread use of nuclear technologies in the near future. It also drives home the point that nuclear energy has prevented many more deaths than what it has caused.