Living Near Nuclear Power Plants Part 2

Anne and Paul Ehrlich in part 2 of a discussion about the problems associated with living near nuclear power plants.

| July/August 1978

  • Part 2 of a series on the dangers of living near nuclear power plants.
    Part 2 of a series on the dangers of living near nuclear power plants.
    Photo by Fotolia/

  • Part 2 of a series on the dangers of living near nuclear power plants.

Part 2 in a series on the danger of homesteaders living near nuclear power plants. These experts share their thoughts on the subject.

Read part 1 of this series on nuclear power plants: Living Near Nuclear Power Plants.

Living Near Nuclear Power Plants Part 2

Paul Ehrlich (Bing Professor of Population Studies and Professor of Biological Sciences, Stanford University) and Anne Ehrlich (Senior Research Associate, Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford) are familiar names to ecologists and environmentalists everywhere. As well they should be. Because it was Paul and Anne who — through their writing and research — gave special meaning to the words "population", "resources", and "environment" in the late 1960's. (They also coined the term coevolution, and did a lot to make ecology the household word it is today.) But while most folks are aware of the Ehrlichs' popular writing in the areas of ecology and overpopulation (most of us — for instance — have read Paul's book The Population Bomb) . . . far too few people have any idea of how deeply the Ehrlichs are involved in ecological research (research of the type that tends to be published only in technical journals and college textbooks.) That's why it pleases us to be able to present — on a regular basis — the following semi-technical column by authors/ecologists/educators Anne and Paul Ehrlich.

Is it Safe to Live Near a Nuclear Power Plant Part

Editor's Note: In their last column, Anne and Paul Ehrlich talked about the general design of nuclear power plants and the types of accidents such plants are most likely to experience. Below, the Ehrlichs discuss reactor safety studies and their implications for nuclear power development.

The very first Atomic Energy Commission study of reactor safety — known officially as WASH-740 — was completed in 1957. This study estimated the consequences of a hypothetical accident at a small (200-megawatt) nuclear power plant located about 30 miles from a large city. Such an accident — the report's authors concluded — could cause 3,000 to 4,000 immediate deaths from radiation exposure, 50,000 delayed deaths from cancer, and $7 billion in property damage.

In addition, an area 15 times larger than the state of Maryland could be contaminated with fallout, making water supplies unusable and bringing agriculture to a halt. As many as half a million people would have to be evacuated quickly (although finding places for them to go would be difficult, because people elsewhere would fear radioactive contamination borne by the evacuees). Additional millions would have to stay indoors much of the time to avoid unacceptable doses of radiation. And to top it all off, the public would (according to the report's authors) probably insist that all nuclear plants be shut down, thus adding to the disruption caused by the accident.

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