For the Coal Miners

When I began looking a decade ago at how coal and nuclear power compared, I expected it to be six of one, half a dozen of the other. I started out with this prejudice in part because it’s in the air that nuclear power kills (but not how many) and in part because I grew up in an area where newspapers covered coal-mining accidents.

More than 130 coal miners recently died in China. More coal miners have died in Ukrainian coal-mining accidents since Chernobyl than are expected to die from Chernobyl by the high estimate. China in 2004 went through a Chernobyl (high estimate) of miners every 8 months (official statistics) or 2.5 months (unofficial).

Black lung is a bigger killer of coal miners. In the US, perhaps some 35 miners yearly die in accidents, while more than a thousand die yearly from pneumoconiosis and other diseases. We go through a Chernobyl (high estimate) of US coal miners every 3 to 4 years (it used to be much faster).

I grew up poor. I’ve always seen it as a class issue that the problems of miners are neglected when the public compares pros and cons of various energy sources. I’ve always seen it as a class issue when the public worries about nuclear energy and ignores that particulates alone from fossil fuel pollution kill more than 15 Chernobyls (high estimate) of Americans yearly — this disproportionately affects people in the lower classes and with other health problems (eg, minorities).

For a long while, I held in my mind and my heart the forgotten tens of thousands of Americans, hundreds of thousands worldwide, who die yearly from fossil fuels while people debate whether nuclear power, whether Yucca Mountain, will ever be safe enough.

I eventually became more aware of the importance of climate change and see why there is more focus on it than on direct death through pollution. But the number of mining accidents in recent months has reminded me of my old concern.

Perhaps you can join me in a little prayer of remembrance for the many millions of people who die from fossil fuels, from coal, from coal mining, unnoted, because their deaths and lives don’t trigger our notice.

Comments that go beyond praise and nays In the previous post, Michael goes into some detail as to why the ability to change our outlook is not sufficient to assure that we can wade throught the complexities.

2 Responses to “For the Coal Miners”

  1. James Aach says:

    Readers interested in energy issues may wish to check out, which links to a techno-thriller novel about the American nuclear power industry. Written by a longtime nuclear engineer, it provides an entertaining and accurate portrait of a nuclear power plant and how an accident might be handled. There is no cost to readers.

  2. Rick Brooks says:

    Thanks for the blog, Karen.

    I still live where I grew up, in Chelsea, OK. It was the site of Oklahoma’s first oil well and had survived for most of it’s existence on the coal and oil industries.

    Much of the land around Chelsea was strip mined before reclaimation laws. I flew over Chelsea once in a small plane and the view looked like a target, with rings of pits and mounds surrounding the bullseye of the town.

    My Dad worked in the oil field for one company for 30 years until he was laid off because of his age. I later watched the economic devistation of the town as the oil and coal were depleted.

    I know intellectually some of the problems of global dependence on fossil fuels. I have first hand knowledge of the results of dependence on a local level.