I read recently (don’t recall where, but I will look) that the amount of people killed during construction of windmills world-wide has far exceeded the amount of deaths attributed to nuclear accidents from operating plants.
Your recall correctly PFR88. It isn't hard to make such a statement because no one has ever died, or, arguably, even injured, anywhere, any time, as a result of the radiation produced at a commercial nuclear facility - about as perfect a safety record as has ever been compiled by electrical generation technology. Why should that be a surprise? Nuclear engineers have always known, after losing some brilliant scientists during the rush to build an atomic bomb, and even before that, like the Curies, doing the early experiments leading to eventual use of radiation, that radiation could be lethal. People who work with the technology, and I was one of them, don't want to be injured, and certainly wouldn't knowingly develop technology which could hurt our families.
Dangers from solar and wind? The extemely diffuse energy, by comparison with hydrocarbon or nuclear energy, from solar and wind means massive installations are required to collect usefull quantities. The numbers are staggering. We have pretty reliable accident data for workers who work at heights and at night. We have some numbers, in the hundreds, of those injured and killed who fall from roofs working on their rooftop solar collectors, which always introduce roof maintenance problems, Whether falling from ladders or off of a roof, whether amateur or professional, those people were injured, and some died. From the fifty or so to maintain an operating nuclear plant to the thousands needed to support a small, 36 square mile solar array, and its heat storage, millions of gallons of something equivalent to super heated propyalene glycol, since even sites close to the equator receive less than 7 hours of high insolation (useful flux density) incident solar energy, and that requires tracking heliostats, tens of thousands of them. The deaths aren't as frightening to people as nuclear radiation, but dead or crippled nevertheless.
For wind power, the 70 bald eagles who die each year, when there is a much less expensive alternative is enough for me. The maintenance crew at Altamont, if they dared talk, would tell of tens of thousands of dead birds underneath those turbines. Still, if the power didn't require subsides, a case could be made because the efficiency of U.S. manufacturing, our economy, what's left of it, depends upon competitive energy prices. The entire Middle East survives on our productivity, the West. We could be independent from the Middle East, saving our own oil for the 40% of petroleum products not used for transportation or power generation, if we exploit the safest and cleanest technology - not that we won't some day find a replacement.
Nuclear waste? Commercial reactors extract but a fraction of the fission energy from fuel rods. Uranium has been to inexpensive to make reprocessing economic, or worth fighting the environmental bar (to whom Petr Beckmann dedicated his book, to Ralph Nadar, most of whose income came from tithes within the organization of trial lawyers). But waste is easy to store, nothing like the one hundred train car loads of slag produced each day from a one thousand megawatt coal plant, and will probably have enough value in the future to warrant doing what we do today, store it in pools until risidual heat from spontaneous decay disappates, or reprocess as the economy dictates.
Not only has no one been injured, commercial nuclear plants have produced no air pollution. The tiny amounts of radioactive isotopes released by nuclear plants are dwarfed by the normal release of isotopes from coal plants, which have no way of scrubbing radioactive isotopes. Both oil and natural gas release some radioactivity. After all, oil and gas reside deep underground which is whare uranium, radium, and some radon live. The inadverdent Taiwan study, which should be pursued, but hasn't for political reasons. In the U.S., government controls most scientific research. What congressman dares to tell his constituents that he signed a bill to pursue the health advantages of nuclear power?
Now for Chernobyl. Chernobyl was not a commercial nuclear plant. It was a graphite (read very old design, like the Enrico Fermi's pile under the football stadium at U of Chicago) core reactor, chosen by the Soviets because it produced lots of plutonium useful to weapon manufacturing. Access to the core was through swinging doors. There was no six inch thick steel pressure vessel, no hermetic concrete containment eighteen inches thick. But Chernobyl's most serious source of injury to the public was being off line. Three deaths within a few days to operators was the immediate result. Reports of leukemia incidence from the Ukraine ranged from 20 to 60 over five years following the accident, but there were many cities in the Ukraine with no excess radiation where leukemia incidence was higher, so what to make of the those studies? But the U.S. EPA reports (twenty year old data) that emissions from a thousand megawatt coal plant cause about 200 excess deaths per year. The coal replacement for the melted plant at Chernobyl killed more in a year, twice as many deaths, at least, than the accident. Who are dying at Fukashima? Citizens whose lives have been so shattered by the destruction of their homes by the earhquake and tsunami, and by the loss of jobs related, in part, to the dearth of electrical power and cost of its replacement, that they commit suicide.
Coal is much safer than no power at all. Both solar and wind are, like Solyndra, con jobs to justify directing our money to Democrat bundlers, and make money by creating a synthetic market with subsides. Does anyone still not understand that Al Gore, on the board of Keiner Perkins, would, and probably still will, since California is proceeding with the ripoff while they can, from cap and trade investment funds. He is just their poster boy. It is blatant fraud.
A close friend introduced me to a Czech defector, Petr Beckmann, through a book, The Health Hazards of Not Going Nuclear. Beckmann escaped communism, and was very much aware of the efforts to undermine capitalism he saw as soon as settled in the U.S. He wrote the book thirty five years ago and it remains as valid today as it was then. The copy I saw had been borrowed from the Radiation Laboratory, now Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory library. I might have dismissed it except for the names of the three previous signatures on its sign-out card, Glenn Seaborg, Luis Alvarez, and Ed McMillan, three of the five or six nobel prize winners at The Lab, (and my friend's name). The book was not a serious monograph, but a crudely published, and with a provocative title. The book turned out to be a remarkably clear summary of the risks and benefits of nuclear power, then being attacked for its presumed association with atom bombs and proliferation. Beckmann recognized the Soviet propaganda in those attacks, and little has changed, except that the USSR collapsed.
China, whose senior political executives are scientists and engineers by education, is building nuclear plants as quickly as it can, using a core design begun at Westinghouse, and acquired by Toshiba when politics all but killed our domestic nuclear engineering industry. Goodness knows, Beijing wants clean air, like that in 90% nuclear electric France. China is proceeding to build 125 nuclear electric plants by 2025, and has three plants built, in low power testing, begun in 2008. America's ‘newest’ nuclear electric facility began licensing almost twenty five years ago. If Japan is willing to commit economic suicide by keeping its nuclear plants shut, and if Japan has any credit left, it may be able to purchase power from China, since it has no hydrocarbon or expandable hydro-power of its own.
America is run by lawyers, whose activities consumed much of the profit from investments in nuclear power in the U.S. by suing every private effort to build new plants. The U.S. government, taxpayers, provided funds for lawyers on both sides of the civil challenges. How clever to make laws, like cap-and-trade, to guarantee the incomes of investors and lawyers, by effectively selling rights to air. The public which must pay for the confidence game, and defend from it, to manufacture anything. Clever lawyers, who manufacture nothing, have built a scheme to tax productivity! Environmental legal activism became the principal function of Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and many previously legitimate focii for those most of us who treasure the environment.