By Paul Lorenzini
Mr. Benjamin Sovacool claims my earlier article misrepresents his works and contains factual errors. Let me respond. He states:
First, and most important: Paul has misstated the actual conclusion from my original study. It never advances the conclusion, as he claims, that “nuclear power causes more bird kills than wind.”
Au contraire. The 2009 articles states the claim pretty clearly:
“This article argues that conventional electricity systems, namely those combusting fossil fuels and fissioning atoms, present their own acute risks to wildlife and birds, risks that are far greater than those from wind energy”.
The abstract states:
“This article highlights that nuclear power and fossil-fueled power systems have a host of environmental and wildlife costs as well, particularly for birds”. Then, “Within the uncertainties of the data used, the estimate means that wind farm related avian fatalities equated to approximately 46,000 birds in the United States in 2009, but nuclear power plants killed about 460,000 …”
The second article sends the same message, estimating that “wind farms killed approximately seven thousand in the United States in 2006 but nuclear plants killed about 327,000.”
I will concede that Mr. Sovacool includes numerous caveats to his analysis, but he nevertheless purports to make estimates that have enough legitimacy to draw these sorts of conclusions, even if “preliminary”. Those conclusions are finding their way into the literature, being cited authoritatively for this proposition on Wipikedia – the citation that first got my attention – and hyped by wind advocates, as in “Why coal and nuclear plants kill far more birds than wind power”. We can’t know what was in his mind when he published these articles, but we can read what they say and observe how they are being interpreted by others. I believe my characterization was correct.
He also challenges another claim:
“… he writes that I confuse a uranium mining operator in Colorado with one in Wyoming.”
He’s correct here – I incorrectly implied he located the Canon City mine in Wyoming. He correctly stated it was in Colorado. However the same paragraph goes on to refer to “open pit mines in Wyoming” stating “it is not uncommon for these pits to kill 300 birds per year” without citation. He makes a similar claim in his 2012 article on p. 261: “Abandoned open pit mines in Wyoming have formed lakes hazardous to wildlife … one of these pits killed 300 birds during a single year”. Here he makes a citation to a 2008 US Fish and Wildlife report which states:
“In 1995, the Berkeley Pit proved lethal to over 300 snow geese which used the pit lake as a migratory stopping place.”
The Berkeley pit mine is located in Montana. As far as I am able to tell after reconstructing Mr. Sovacool’s analysis, there are only two mining locations that form the basis for his analysis in the 2009 article, one in Colorado and one in Montana, and only one in the second, the Berkeley Pit in Montana – an abandoned copper mine. Thus, while he makes reference to mines in Wyoming, none of the mines he used were in Wyoming.
That, however, is a rather trivial matter. Where they are located is not important. What is important is that Mr. Sovacool extrapolated from one-off data that was not at all relevant to uranium mining today, misused the data, and drew conclusions about avian deaths from nuclear power that have no basis at all. He takes a single incident from an abandoned copper mine and draws the conclusion that “it is not uncommon for these pits to kill 300 birds per year” based on one event in a single year, then extrapolates and applies this across the board to the entire uranium mining industry throughout the world. It is simply breathtaking. It is no escape to say they were just “estimates” or that they were “preliminary”. The underlying assumptions do not justify calling them either.
I wrote about Mr. Sovacool’s work for two reasons: first, it was being cited authoritatively for the proposition that nuclear plants kill more birds than wind power. I assume from his response he does not support that conclusion. Second, I felt he badly misused data and his underlying assumptions did not support his estimates. I see nothing that alters my conclusions.
PS From Rod Adams I’m encouraged by the recent flurry of requests from talented writers to publish their material on Atomic Insights so that it can reach an engaged and active audience. I hope you do not mind hearing from a wider variety of voices with differing points of view about the incredibly important topic of intelligently choosing how we empower the people that live on our shared planet.