19

There have been several questions related to nuclear power in comparison to other forms of electricity production:

The first considers only accidental deaths, not all forms of deaths (such as deaths caused by normal radiation or pollutant release). The second considers only radiation released.

What I would like to know whether nuclear plants cause less total deaths per kWh produced when compared to other forms of electricity production. So, for example for wind power, the deaths would include deaths from maintenance personnel falling from heights, a risk they have chosen to take. The same is true for solar power as well, although the height of a typical roof is lower. For coal, oil (yes, I know it isn't that much used anymore) and natural gas it would include deaths caused by pollution release.

So, does nuclear power cause less total deaths than other forms of electricity production? My intuition would be yes, given the massive safety precautions of nuclear power, but I would like to have evidence backed by hard data.

Extra points will be given if the answer divides the deaths into those that are due to involuntary risks (such as coal pollutants causing health problems) and those that are due to a risk somebody has chosen to take (such as working in wind or solar power projects, or working in a nuclear power plant).

  • 1
    I have heard that by far the main cause of death for nuclear power generation is mining accidents in uranium mines. And similarly for coal generation. But it requires far more coal mining than uranium mining to produce the same amount of electricity. But of course we need real sources, not just "I have heard". And including other causes of death as the OP says. – GEdgar Jul 11 '17 at 21:52
  • Here's a place to start - forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/… – Mark Jul 12 '17 at 1:30
  • The point is that it is very hard to prove years of life lost due to man-made radiation. Chernobyl did not just cause 31 "direct deaths", that much is for sure -- but how do you go about proving that? Or how do you go about proving that someone died a couple of years earlier because of the coal plant a mile upwind? – DevSolar Jul 12 '17 at 9:00
  • By the same token, how do you prove someone died of lung problems, e.g., as a result of coal mining and burning? – Wayne Conrad Jul 13 '17 at 1:20
  • A valuable question and a valuable answer. – Grimm The Opiner Jul 13 '17 at 10:25
24

The New Scientist calculated the number of deaths per kilowatt-hour question based on the data from International Atomic Energy Agency in 2011.

According to the New Scientist:

The agency examined the life cycle of each fuel from extraction to post-use and included deaths from accidents as well as long-term exposure to emissions or radiation.

They concluded that "fossil fuels are far deadlier than nuclear power" and that "the large number of deaths [related to fossil fuels] are caused by pollution." A graph that summarizes the findings follows:

Another, more recent, report supporting these numbers can be found at the World Nuclear Association, here.

An article in Forbes gives the following numbers, which I reproduce here in their simplified form:

+------------------+-------------------+--------------+----------+
| Energy Source    | Mortality Rate    | % global     | % global |
|                  |(deaths/10^12kWhr) | electricity  | energy   |
+------------------+-------------------+--------------+----------+
| Coal             | 100,000           | 41%          |          |
| Oil              | 36,000            | 8%           | 33%      |
| Natural Gas      | 4,000             | 22%          |          |
| Biofuel/Biomass  | 24,000            |              | 21%      |
| Solar (rooftop)  | 440               | < 1%         |          |
| Wind             | 150               | 2%           |          |
| Hydro            | 1,400             | 16%          |          |
| Nuclear*         | 90                | 11%          |          |
+------------------+-------------------+--------------+----------+


* The nuclear number includes Chernoble and Fukoshima.
  • In the first paragraph, are you sure you don't mean "deaths per kilowatt-hour", which is a unit of energy rather than power? Also in terms of deaths per kilowatt-hour, nuclear is safer than wind and solar too. Not because windmills are particularly dangerous, just particularly ineffective at generating electricity compared to nukler. You should update the answer. forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/… – Grimm The Opiner Jul 13 '17 at 10:25
  • Good answer, but unfortunately doesn't include wind and solar... Still, you got my upvote and I accepted the answer, though. If somebody comes up with a better answer that includes wind and solar, I might change the accepted answer. – juhist Jul 13 '17 at 12:14
  • The Forbes article that Mark linked in the comments has wind and solar. Nuke is better by more than an order of magnitude. I have seen other data that puts them closer but nuke is still the best option. – Loren Pechtel Jul 14 '17 at 0:40
  • 1
    updated to include the Forbes article suggested in this thread – denten Jul 14 '17 at 18:17

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