The importance of numbers, from John McCarthy's sustainability of human progress siteIn another part of his site McCarthy quotes figures from Bernard Cohen demonstrating that nuclear energy can supply human needs for billions of years into the future. Although there is no reference to Bartlett type exponential growth here (which is not maintained in real life indefinitely, anyway) the calculations do demonstrate that there is no scientific reason to fear an energy deprived future.
The fission of an atom of uranium liberates about 10 million times as much energy as does the combustion of an atom of carbon from coal. I fear that to many people, the impression made by saying 10 million is about the same as if I had said 10 thousand or 10 billion.
One cannot understand policy issues without taking numbers seriously. If the number were 10 thousand, we probably could not afford nuclear energy. If the number were 10 billion, there would be no need for a significant uranium mining industry, and the waste problem would be trivial.
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