This is part three of a series covering the incredible safety of nuclear energy. Today we cover the risks of the alternatives, the issue of risk itself and we come to our inevitable conclusion.. You can find part one here and part two here.
Nuclear is the Safest Option
If we look at all the facts, nuclear energy is, in fact, the safest means of viable energy production we have. It causes vastly fewer deaths than coal, oil and hydroelectric means of power generation. It has lower fatality rates than solar and wind energy!
Let us look at some figures. This Forbes article has some good information on this. I have condensed some of the information there to form the following table showing some average mortality rates for various energy sources.
The mortality rate is measured in deaths per trillion kilowatt hours. It basically measures the average mortality rate to produce a certain amount of energy.
From these statistics, we can see that nuclear energy has a far lower mortality rate than any of these other means of power production. Including wind, the next lowest!
Still, there are some deaths here. Did I think that there were only three major nuclear power plant accidents and other than that, nobody else died? No, of course not. There are accidents, even at nuclear power plants and people die.
But earlier we were talking about major accidents, especially those involving the release of dangerous radiation. Obviously, that does not mean that there are no other accidents or that people do not die for various reasons at power plants. We will talk about that further when we discuss the issue of risk.
According to Benjamin K. Sovacool, while responsible for less than 1 percent of the total number of energy accidents, hydroelectric facilities claimed 94 percent of reported immediate fatalities. Results on immediate fatalities are dominated by one disaster in which Typhoon Nina in 1975 washed out the Shimantan Dam (Henan Province, China) and 171,000 people perished.
Yet, Chernobyl, by far the worst major nuclear accident in all of history, has by reasonable estimates, claimed only 4,000 lives in the 31 years since it happened! Nobody has died as a result of the Three Mile Island incident. Virtually nobody, as far as reported, has died from acute radiation exposure from the incident in Fukushima.
So, we have roughly 4,000 deaths we can definitively attribute to major nuclear power generation accidents. Despite decades of nuclear power generation and over 17,000 cumulative reactor-years of power generation in 33 countries.
In England, wind turbine related accidents in 2013 alone killed 14 people. In the US alone, over 100 people a year die in such accidents. So, if we assume 14 people is a representative average for wind energy related deaths per year in England and add that to the US total, we have 114 deaths per year. These two countries alone would catch up to nuclear power in a few decades.
Also, mining the materials required to build wind turbines unleashes vastly toxic chemicals into the environment! Which can be very hard to contain and which can be extremely toxic. So much for wind energy being so very green!
Yes, we still have other deaths from less than major nuclear power plant incidents to account for. But, even if we consider these, it is clear that nuclear is far safer than the alternatives.
Of course, we have discussed some of the safest forms of energy production. Coal and gas production is far more dangerous, causing many deaths per year related to air pollution and the like. Even the often hailed bio-fuel industry is apparently much more dangerous than the nuclear energy industry!
How do people die from solar energy, you wonder? Mostly from rooftop accidents during the installation or maintenance of solar panels. With some deaths being attributable to faulty installation or wiring.
In any case, these figures should make it quite clear that the mortality rate for nuclear energy production is in fact extremely low. This makes nuclear energy incredibly safe, even more than the other methods which people assume are extremely safe!
One of the reasons the number for nuclear is so low is because it is very efficient. It produces a lot of energy at once, more than these other forms of energy.
In addition, nuclear power production risk profiles are typically fairly constant. One does not usually have to worry about flash floods presenting a serious risk of nuclear power plant incidents. Unlike with hydroelectric stations. One does not have to worry about strong winds knocking a power plant down. Unlike with a wind turbine. And so forth.