Every year, there are reminders of the anniversaries of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Some of the reminders come from those who do not want to forget the technical lessons learned, some come from people who were directly affected, and some come from those who point to those accidents and claim that they are evidence that nuclear power is inherently too risky to consider for future power sources. Many of the people who constantly recall TMI and Chernobyl claim that “clean natural gas” is a far superior fuel to use as a bridge to that utopian future when we will get energy for free simply by collecting natural flows like solar, wind, wave, and tidal power.
One of the reasons that nearly everyone can recall at least something about TMI and Chernobyl is the constant reminders. However, between the two famous nuclear events, less than 60 deaths have been proven to be a direct result of the accidents. That is a tragic number, but not unprecedented in terms of industrial activity. In fact, more people died during an explosion at a sugar factory in the US state of Georgia in 2008 than died in nuclear power plant accidents outside of the Ukraine in more than 50 years of reactor plant operation.
Today, December 23, 2008, it is appropriate to take a moment to remember the 260+ people who were killed on December 23, 2003 (five years ago) as a direct result of a blowout of hydrogen sulfide at a natural gas extraction point near Chongqing, China. Also as a result of that accident, more than 9,000 residents were hospitalized for treatment of various painful injuries from exposure to the deadly gas. (Note: The link provided points to a BBC story soon after the accident, before the complete death toll was available.)
Please join me in a moment of silence to remember those innocent villagers who perished as a result of a nearby venture to extract “clean natural gas” from underground. Please do not let their deaths be forgotten as we all work towards determining the best choices to power modern society. Take a look at BBC’s gallery of pictures related to the accident. Determine for yourself if the event is virtually unknown compared to TMI and Chernobyl just because those had more memorable imagery or if the real answer is the sheer repetition to which we have been exposed.