Deadliest Natural Resource – Oil, Coal or Nuclear?

Death Rate per watts used - nuclear, coal and oilMost are aware of the ecological problems with the “Big 3” sources of global energy. Coal is by far the most polluting and nuclear is clean but carries cataclysmic possibilities – in relation to each most countries consider oil and, especially, natural gas to be our best options. But which industries are best for the workers? What about the maritime workers considering the number of coal (bulk) and nuclear fuel carriers is considerably fewer than tankers and  commercial coal and nuclear powered ships are essentially extinct?

To accurately asses this data it’s not enough to look solely at the number of deaths in each industry per year, we must gauge that figure against the amount of each fuel extracted from the earth AND the amount of energy each compound is capable of producing. The Next Big Future tells us:


I wrote this back in 2008and with one new death that is somewhat nuclear energy related (a death at one of the japanese nuclear plants following the 8.9 earthquake) the statistics are not changed. Japan should have had sealed backup diesel generators or updated some of their designs. However, nuclear still compares very, very well to the other energy sources. The air pollution data is mainly from the World Health Organization and the european study Externe. The World Health Organization compiled peer reviewed health studies on air pollution from many institutions. Occupational health and safety statistics track the deaths of workers in the different industries.

Energy Source              Death Rate (deaths per TWh)

Coal – world average               161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
Coal – China                       278
Coal – USA                         15
Oil                                36  (36% of world energy)
Natural Gas                         4  (21% of world energy)
Biofuel/Biomass                    12
Peat                               12
Solar (rooftop)                     0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
Wind                                0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)
Hydro                               0.10 (europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
Hydro - world including Banqiao)    1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
Nuclear                             0.04 (5.9% of world energy)

Nothing is perfectly safe. Chasing perfection can cause us to ignore just improving and trading worse for a lot better. Non-roof installations of solar is safer than roof installation. Nuclear, wind, solar and hydro are a lot safer than coal and oil. Natural gas is safer but not as much as nuclear and those others. The focus needs to be on getting rid of the most dangerous energy sources which are coal and oil first. Then after that decades long project is done to look at the other energy sources. Safety and improvements for all energy sources should be made as we go.

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