28 March 2011

No Whales! Save the Nukes!

I'm just joking, of course. We should probably also save the whales, if we have any time after setting the record straight on nuclear power.

George Wallace gives that record a good straightening this week in Blawg Review #304, hosted at his Declarations and Exclusions blog. He considers the disconnect between the publicly-perceived risks and the actual risks of a nuclear accident:
It is a simple fact: Radiation scares us, and not without reason. And yet, it is worth recalling that although the phrase "Three Mile Island" haunts the policy landscape as a threatening rhetorical spectre, the number of deaths attributable to the actual Three Mile Island radiation release is generally accepted to be . . . none at all. Long-term health impacts from Three Mile Island are generally (albeit not universally) agreed to have been negligible. Even the far more serious 1986 Chernobyl disaster —the 25th anniversary of which will arrive on April 26, 2011—was deemed responsible for fewer than 50 actual deaths by 2005, although its long-term consequences also include at least 4000 diagnosed cases of thyroid cancer (99% of them non-fatal, however, by 2005). Radiation is, in short, nasty stuff and not to be trifled with, but perhaps not nearly so threatening as we may bring ourselves to believe.
The widely-shared fears about the dangers of nuclear energy, due in large part to the very dissimilar incidents at Three Mile Island (the anniversary of which is the occasion for this Blawg Review) and Chernobyl, certainly won't be eased by the events at the Fukushima plant these past couple of weeks. Nonetheless, Wallace puts on his insurance counsel's cap and tackles the realities of risk and the biases which have made nuclear liability uninsurable in the standard market.

Amongst the highlights of this week's review are posts on the personal and policy decisions which leave considerable portions of Japanese losses in the recent earthquake uninsured, on casually-dismissing jury trials as an unnecessary cost, and on the constitutionality of kinetic military actions.

George Wallace is a hard act to follow, and he should know — he'll host next week's Blawg Review #305 at his personal blog, A Fool in the Forest.

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