The 2011 Fukushima disaster seemed at first to confirm old fears: Nearly 16,000 people were killed by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. But nobody in Japan died from radiation, and in 2013 United Nations researchers predicted that “no discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected.”
Critics often point to the Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union as an even more terrifying warning against nuclear power, but that accident was a direct result of both a faulty design and the operators’ incompetence. Fewer than 50 people were reported to have died at Chernobyl; by contrast, the American Lung Association estimates that smoke from coal-fired power plants kills about 13,000 people every year.
Only recently has climate anxiety challenged nuclear fear. Just as the impact of coal smoke dwarfs the effects of radiation from Fukushima, global warming is predicted to be far worse than mere pollution. The problem is so big that some prominent environmentalists have already declared defeat.