Like anti-nuclear activists we are all concerned that every death leaves a grieving family and nobody's life should be put in danger. Yet we daily choose activities that are dangerous enough to kill more than a few U.S. citizens every year.
If Yucca Mountain takes 20 years to fill, with a loss of 31 lives during accident-free transportation, that would be less than two deaths caused per year. If we use emotional appeal instead of logic, we should immediately stop any activities likely to cause two or more deaths per year, such as driving (42,000 deaths per year), using electricity from coal-fired power plants (30,000), keeping household poisons, climbing ladders, enjoying water sports, or working at virtually any job. The risk of this plan, of course, is that we would all die of starvation, if not from boredom.
Living involves necessary risks, which we should seek to minimize. Suppose nuclear power were expanded by 250 new plants in the next 20 years, enough to replace all of today's coal-fired plants, and suppose this would fill up two more Yuccas in twenty years, causing three more deaths per year. Could we justify this? Saving 30,000 lives per year, by eliminating coal smoke, seems like a good candidate. Emotional appeals, which dramatize the horrors of a one-sided view, are no substitute for reasonable risk assessment. Contrary to their very good intentions, anti-nuclear activists sometimes become proponents of sickness and death. Even nice people can sometimes be blind guides.