The folks at Next Big Future did an analysis of deaths per unit energy produced back in 2008, which was republished recently due to the media’s focus on the Japan reactor. (There is also a many eyes visualization of the data.) World wide Coal kills 4000 times as many people each year as Nuclear. In the US things are a bit better than world wide, and it’s only killing about 1/2 as many as Oil, but it is still a big killer.
I think people are reacting to this safety issue much like they do flying vs. driving. Flying on an airplane is far safer than driving, but if it goes wrong a lot of people all die in one place at one time. The real killer takes us in ones and twos every day in every corner of this country.
(Image courtesy of Seth Godin)
This theme can be found all over the web, especially among security folks. Anyone that can do basic math can work out for themselves their chance of death from terrorists vs. their morning commute, for instance. And yet, the underwear pants on fire guy, who caused no casualties, got weeks of media coverage. Tom Engelhardt provides a good current summary:
Under the circumstances, you would never know that Americans living in the United States were in vanishingly little danger from terrorism, but in significant danger driving to the mall; or that alcohol, tobacco, E. coli bacteria,
fire, domestic abuse, murder, and the weather present the sort of
potentially fatal problems that might be worth worrying about, or even
changing your behavior over, or perhaps investing some money in.
Terrorism, not so much.