We’ve sometimes read stories about people who misjudged where a helicopter rotor was or just how close is too close when in proximity to an airplane propeller. But we hadn’t thought very much about the relative danger of being near a windmill. But danger there is:
[The Caithness Windfarm Information Forum’s] "Summary of Wind Turbine Accident Data to 31 December 2008" reports 41 worker fatalities. Most, not unexpectedly, were from falling as they are typically working on turbines some thirty stories above the ground. In addition, Caithness attributed the deaths of 16 members of the public to wind-turbine accidents.
Well, all right, that’s not getting in the way of the blades, exactly, but the roundup offered is almost comical in the way these towers of terror can do in the unwary. In addition to falling off them, you can have them hurtle themselves at you, throw ice at you, catch on fire and send flaming yuck your way, and collapse on top of you. They’re like the apple trees in The Wizard of Oz, but far crankier.
Most of these mishaps are simply collateral of having an energy generator heavily dependent on a moving part and of making towers that can deal with friction and vibration – presumably, engineers have worked out these issues, so there are likely occasional flaws in construction and siting that can send them cascading across the landscape. Given the small number of incidents (about 300 in the story) in relation to the number in use, perhaps small beans, but consider:
Why these fatalities for wind compared to none for the American nuclear power industry? Nuclear energy comes from a reactor core about the size of a living room where it can be monitored and contained in-depth. It would take 2,000 30-story tall wind turbines to produce the power of a typical nuclear plant, assuming 90 percent and 30 percent capacity factors. How many accidents would you expect when building 2,000 30-story turbine generators as compared to pouring concrete for a single containment building of a few thousand square feet?
More than zero, perhaps – nuclear plants have had industrial accidents, though nothing caused by radiation. Here’s the whole report, as a pdf.
Correx: We didn’t make it clear enough that the nuclear industry has had fatal industrial accidents – it has. We’re having a little fun with our wind friends, but we don’t want to be deceptive about it. The point the report makes about nuclear vs. wind and their relative potential for industrial accidents remains valid. The nuclear industry’s record on worker safety is remarkably good.
The windmill from Frankenstein (1931). First Victor von F- is heaved over its side and carried aloft by a sail before hurtling to the ground – he lives – then the mob catches it on fire and the creature is seemingly burned to death – or redeath – but also lives. Sort of a non-starter as a death trap.