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Risk awareness, really?

Kim Ford | Thursday, March 24, 2011

GreenMan,

I’m perplexed by some of your statements in “Nuclear catastrophe, risk awareness” (Mar. 23).

First, yes, nuclear power and fossil fuels all provide risks to human health. But to say that “nothing about the wind or sunshine is by its nature damaging to the human person” is clearly false. I hail from Tornado Alley, so I am quite aware of the wind’s power to do damage. The U.S. has an average of 1200 tornadoes each year. We have an average of 80 deaths and 1500 injuries each year due to tornadoes. That’s not many, but they are proof of the wind’s ability to damage people.

To say that sunshine does not harm people is even more mistaken. My environmental chemistry textbook tells me that UV-B “causes human skin to sunburn and suntan; overexposure can lead to skin cancer, the most prevalent form of cancer.” It goes on to say that higher amounts “adversely affect the human immune system.” Malignant melanoma affects 1 in 100 Americans. Other, slower types of skin cancer affect 1 in 4 Americans. The eyes are also damaged by exposure to UV light.

Furthermore, you acknowledge that the construction of windmills sometimes involves workplace accidents. Solar panels have their own risks as well. Production of photovoltaic cells involves the use of cadmium, one of the worst heavy metals for health purposes. Lead and mercury are also used in the production of the panels. Please, Notre Dame, don’t lash out at me, I know that solar panels are still far greener than fossil fuels, I’m just trying to ensure that GreenMan is not “risk-oblivious” himself.

I considered launching a large-scale defense of nuclear power here, or maybe a slightly less large-scale defense of not always preparing for the worst-case scenario, when the odds are so long, but instead I’ll say this: as an environmental science major, I theoretically like the idea of your commentary. However, environmentalists must be careful not to make ignorant or rash statements which then discount the weight of their ideas.

Kim Ford

senior

Farley Hall

Mar. 22