1. This paper has now been officially accepted by Physical Review D.

2. This one has been accepted to Astronomy & Astrophysics.

3. The New York Times published my letter to the editor.

Needless to say, the number of readers of #3 will be orders of magnitude greater than the combined number of readers of 1 and 2.

Published by

Ted Bunn

I am chair of the physics department at the University of Richmond. In addition to teaching a variety of undergraduate physics courses, I work on a variety of research projects in cosmology, the study of the origin, structure, and evolution of the Universe. University of Richmond undergraduates are involved in all aspects of this research. If you want to know more about my research, ask me!

2 thoughts on “Publications”

  1. “Not surprisingly, a number of analyses of the relative costs and benefits of different forms of power generation have been conducted. For example, the European Union's ExternE energy project shows that production of coal power is responsible for many times as many deaths per unit of energy generated as nuclear power.”

    This is true as far as it goes (also keep in mind the fact which surprises some people that, during normal operation, coal-fired power plants release more radiation than nuclear power plants), but it doesn’t go far enough. First, and I don’t know if this was your intention or not, the alternative is not between coal and nuclear (both finite in the long term) but there are also traditional renewable energies, fusion etc. It took less than a decade to get to the moon with a federally funded programme which provided a huge stimulus for the economy as well, not to mention unifying the nation in a desirable (though not necessarily scientifically justified) goal. The same could be done with alternative energy, but this is difficult when (and this is no conspiracy theory—look at who was really pulling the strings during W.’s presidency) those who profit from conventional energy production have a huge influence over politicians.

    As an aside, in a first-past-the-post political system where the President can have (and has had, on 4 occasions) less popular vote and still win the election, where gerrymandering is rampant etc, change might be a long time coming, since many people including, crucially, many politicians have a vested interest in the status quo. In more democratic countries, things can change more quickly. See, for example, the election yesterday resulting in the first Green Party prime minister (at the state level) in Germany (in Baden-Württemberg, one of the largest states in Germany in terms of area, population and economic importance and, along with Bavaria, one of the only two states to have had conservative governments exclusively during the last 60 years. From the online edition of Germany’s most respected weekly news magazine, but in English:,1518,753503,00.html

    The other concern is that your statement applies to normal operation. The worst possible problem in a coal-fired plant, for example, is much, much less of a problem than the worst possible problem in a nuclear plant. It is also not unreasonable to consider the risk of nuclear plants as targets of terrorist attacks; targeting them would have much worse consequences than targeting a conventional power plant (which would be bad enough).

    In general, it is not completely irrational to be more concerned about a problem which causes fewer deaths. Hundreds or thousands of people die in traffic accidents every day, but one plane crash gets more news coverage? Why? It’s not just because more deaths at once make for more interesting news, but because it could indicate a bigger problem, such as a technical problem endangering many more flights, a terrorist attack etc. (I admit, though, that it is somewhat hypocritical to mourn the 3000 or whatever 9/11 deaths while about 10 times that many occur every year in the U.S. due to lack of gun control.)

    As an exaggerated example, consider a lottery where one person is selected at random from the population and publicly drawn and quartered. Probably, people would pay admission to see it live, and commercials for the television coverage might be more expensive than for the Super Bowl. Were such a lottery announced, there would be widespread public outrage. Countering this with “but it’s just one death per year” wouldn’t convince anyone. Why not? Because it is not just the raw numbers, but also the question whether the death is avoidable (at what cost), what other interests it benefits, whether it is a portent of worse things to come etc.

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