Things More Dangerous than Nuclear Power: The Beach

The last two weeks here in Idaho have been brutal — it has been in the mid-to-high 90s. And all of this heat definitely makes one yearn for a place to go swimming.

One of my favorite beaches is in Wilmington, NC. Whenever I travel there, I make it a point to jump into the ocean, even in March.

But like many things in life, that day of fun in the sun ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Enjoying the beach may cost you your life. For one, you could get sucked out to sea by a rip current. According to the United States Lifesaving Association:

The United States Lifesaving Association estimates that the annual number of deaths due to rip currents on our nation’s beaches exceeds 100. Rip currents account for over 80% of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards.

In addition to Neptune trying to smite you, there is always the possibility of a shark attack. Since the early 1900s, the ten-year moving average of annual fatal shark attacks in the U.S. has been around one-ish, for a total of 144.

Unprovoked shark attacks at U.S. beaches since 1900. Which begs the question: who provokes a shark attack? The people at who don’t label their axes nor put titles on their graphs?

But if Jaws doesn’t get you, poor sandcastle engineering might. In fact, it is suggested that playing in the sand is more dangerous than sharks, worldwide.

A 12-year-old boy was digging into the side of a sand dune when he was trapped in a collapsed sand tunnel and unable to breathe for several minutes at a beach in Marin County, Calif. He died Sunday at Children’s Hospital in Oakland.
But he’s not the only one. On June 15, an Indiana teen was severely injured after collapsing sand buried him in a 7-foot pit that he had jumped into while joking with friends and relatives. And on June 11, a 16-year-old boy was buried in sand when a beach tunnel he was digging at Loveladies beach in Long Beach, N.J. collapsed.

Here is a comprehensive list of recent beach sand fatalities:

“The risk of this event is enormously deceptive because of its association with relaxed recreational settings not generally regarded as hazardous,” Maron wrote. “However, we believe these personal and family tragedies probably are more common than this report suggests.”

Additionally, if you’re feeling exotic and want to partake in the risky behavior of a beach vacation, be careful not to get killed by a jet engine.

I find it interesting how people typically perceive risk. For instance, as a nuclear engineer, I’m acutely aware of the general attitude that people hold regarding the safety of nuclear power. Ralph Nader became an anti-nuclear activist because, “ …it became clear that nuclear power was too hazardous, too costly, and unnecessary to provide electricity for our country.”

While a good number of people hold Nader’s view — although with much less conviction — what they fail to realize is that many daily activities, or even activities we deem “good,” like vacations, are actually far more deadly than nuclear power. There has never been a member of the public in the United States that was killed due to the operation of a commercial nuclear power plant.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Idaho National Laboratory or of any agency of the U.S. government.

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