Most of the afflictions wrongly attributed to nuclear power can rightly be attributed to coal. I was struck by this thought when I saw the graphics published by Greenpeace on Friday, showing the premature deaths caused by coal plants in China. The research it commissioned suggests that a quarter of a million deaths a year could be avoided if coal power there were shut down. Yes, a quarter of a million.

Were Greenpeace to plot the impacts of nuclear power on the same scale, the vast red splodges depicting the air pollution catastrophe suffered by several Chinese cities would be replaced by dots invisible to the naked eye.

This is not to suggest that there are no impacts, but they are tiny by comparison. The World Health Organisation's analysis of the Fukushima disaster concludes that "for the general population inside and outside of Japan ... no observable increases in cancer rates above baseline rates are anticipated". Only the most contaminated parts of Fukushima prefecture are exposed to any significant threat: a slight increase in the chances of developing cancer. Even the majority of the emergency workers have no higher cancer risk than that of the general population. And this, remember, was caused by an unprecedented disaster. The deaths in China are caused by business as usual.

By George Monbiot

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