Many experts, however, will point out that although nuclear accidents are indeed dangerous, they have resulted in fewer deaths than other energy-related disasters, including explosions at coal mines and oil refineries. Statistics show that nuclear power is safer than coal power plants in terms of deaths per unit of electricity generated. And some researchers have estimated that living in a large polluted city can be more harmful to a person’s health than working as a Chernobyl clean-up worker.
The decline of nuclear power
How nuclear energy will fit into the future energy mix is unclear. Having fallen out of favor in some countries, the total amount of electricity generated by nuclear plants has dropped from a high of 18% of the worldwide total in the mid-1990s to only 10% today.
This decrease is due to several factors. In addition to the public’s wariness over nuclear accidents, nuclear power plants are very expensive. The electricity produced by these plants costs $112 to $189 per megawatt hour (MWh) compared with $36 to $44 per MWh for solar. Also, building new nuclear plants can take decades. Meanwhile, many of the existing plants are old and near the end of their useful lives. Additionally, most countries that use nuclear power still don’t have long-term plans for dealing with the radioactive waste generated by nuclear power plants.