Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Nuclear Energy Risks and Benefits in Perspective

Stan Gordelier, Head of the NEA Nuclear Development Division of the OECD, wrote a piece last month putting the risks and benefits of nuclear energy into perspective (pdf):

A continuing concern for the public and politicians is the safety of nuclear power. ENSAD, the Energy-related Severe Accident Database established by the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland, contains data on over 18400 accidents, mainly between 1969 and 2000, of which 35% are energy-related, and 3117 of which are rated as severe (with five or more prompt fatalities).


During this period there has only been one severe hydro power accident in OECD countries, resulting in 14 prompt fatalities. There have been no OECD nuclear accidents in this "severe" classification.


Why then, does nuclear seem to provoke unique safety fears in the public mind? It could likely be some combination of the association with nuclear weapons, the fear of very low probability, but very large accidents, the fact that latent deaths are associated with cancer, a disease much feared in its own right (and cancer can affect "me", whereas oil and gas accidents generally impact those working with the industry, except for the huge accidents), and the publicity that nuclear attracts because of these factors.
Great insights. I recommend reading this five page brief because he gets into lifecycle emissions of different energies, sources of emissions by sector, fuel resources, accident risks and the world's appetite for energy.

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