6 Earth Day facts

On Earth Day, here are some fun facts about the Earth, the environment, and nuclear energy. 

1)  What could be more green than energy the Earth has made itself?  Believe it or not, 17 sites in Africa have had their own functioning fission nuclear reactors in the earth.  They left evidence of their existence in the form of the safe natural nuclear waste they left behind.

2)  The sun produces light and heat through nuclear fusion.  Almost all of the energy on Earth that drives climate systems, ecosystems, hydrologic systems, etc., originates from the sun.  Solar energy is created at the core of the sun when hydrogen atoms are fused into helium by nuclear fusion.  So, solar energy is in reality a derivative of nuclear energy!

3)  The Earth's core is warmed by nuclear decay.  The vast majority of the heat in Earth's interior—up to 90 percent—is fueled by the decay of radioactive isotopes like Potassium-40, Uranium-238, Uranium-235, and Thorium-232 contained within the mantle. These isotopes radiate heat as they shed excess energy and move toward stability.  So, geothermal energy is also a form of natural nuclear energy.

4) I am radioactive and so are you.  In fact, the Earth is radioactive, and so are every carbon-based plant and animal.  Being around granite or eating a banana elevate your radiation exposure in a natural way at low levels.  A banana is around 0.01 mrem of dose.  Being within 50 miles of a nuclear plant for a year would give about 0.01 mrem, or a banana.  Being within 50 miles of a coal plant is equal to about 3 bananas.  Being in the Vatican for a year is estimated to equal to about 80,000 bananas-- because of all the granite/marble.

5)  Nuclear energy produces 2/3rds of the emission- and carbon-free power in the United States.  It doesn't dam up any waterways for fish and it doesn't disrupt migratory pathways for birds and bats!  And, of its rated power, it produces over 90% of the time (it is around 10-30% for wind and solar).

6)  Since all life on Earth was formed or evolved around earth's natural or "background" radiation, it is natural and even healthy for function.  In fact, inhabitants in a city in northern Iran (Ramsar- pictured at right), receive an annual natural radiation absorbed dose up to 260 mSv, over 13x higher than the 20 mSv permitted for radiation workers- and have possibly lower rates of cancer.  These are levels above evacuation thresholds set in many industrial countries, and Ramsar is hardly a nuclear wasteland!  In fact, Ramsar was the city where international wetland conservation treaties were signed.



  1. Great post. Ramsar is a spa town: people deliberately and consciously travel to it to get healthy. And good point about the sun: the solar photons that our eyes detect here on earth began life as high-energy gamma photons produced in the fusion reactions you mention, as well as in the neutron-to-proton decays that formed deuterons in the first place.

  2. I like to describe nuclear (fission) power as "geothermal's big brother". The heat from the Earth is radioactive decay; fission is a way of amplifying and improving that same energy.

    The energy source that doesn't fit into either solar or supernova power is tidal. This captures the energy of the rotation of the Earth as perturbed by the Moon's gravity.

  3. Excellent article! You can make an even bigger impact/contrast by mentioning the rad readings around Fukushima!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  4. 1 banana = 0.01 mrem
    Annual radiation in Ramsar = 260 mSv

    When you mix and match scales like this, people get confused. If it seems difficult, people don't pay attention. I would suggest your blog adopts a single scale (mSv) and stick to it.


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