Deaths per gigawatt year

By » Fri, June 8 2012
Deaths per gigawatt year Deaths per gigawatt year

Hydroelectricity is the best of all according to the EU study, but comes out worst in the PSI study, because the latter surveyed a different set of countries.

When quantifying the public risks of different power sources, we need a new unit. I’ll go with “deaths per GWy (gigawatt-year).” Let me try to convey what it would mean if a power source had a death rate of 1 death per GWy.

One gigawatt-year is the energy produced by a 1 GW power station, if it operates flat-out for one year. Britain’s electricity consumption is roughly 45 GW, or, if you like, 45 gigawatt-years per year. So if we got our electricity from sources with a death rate of 1 death per GWy, that would mean the British electricity supply system was killing 45 people per year.

For comparison, 3000 people die per year on Britain’s roads. So, if you are not campaigning for the abolition of roads, you may deduce that “1 death per GWy” is a death rate that, while sad, you might be content to live with. Obviously, 0.1 deaths per GWy would be preferable, but it takes only a moment’s reflection to realize that, sadly, fossil-fuel energy production must have a cost greater than 0.1 deaths per GWy–just think of disasters on oil rigs; helicopters lost at sea; pipeline fires; refinery explosions; and coal mine accidents: there are tens of fossil-chain fatalities per year in Britain.

Nuclear power has the lowest rate of fatalities of all power sources. Not that surprised, really.

I’ve just started in on this, I don’t know if it’s any good, I haven’t picked up on its bias so far yet, and the website design is horrible, but it comes pretty highly-recommended: Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air by David MacKay ($free).

Plus MacKay invented the death-per-gigawatt-year unit, and anyone who does stuff like that automatically wins points with me.

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