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Nuclear Takes Back Seat in United States, but Drives the Bus in China



Nuclear Takes Back Seat in United States, but Drives the Bus in China

Nuclear Takes Back Seat in United States, but Drives the Bus in China

Earlier this month, New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo suggested that the Indian Point nuclear facility should be shut down for good. The reactor had a transformer fire on May 9 that shut down part of the reactor, but also discharged thousands of gallons of oil into the Hudson River.

This is not an uncommon theme in the United States. As the above infographic shows, the vast majority of nuclear reactors have been steaming along for decades and are approaching their decommissioning date. With only four reactors under construction and just a handful of planned or proposed facilities, nuclear has now taken a backseat in the United States.

Across the Pacific Ocean, China is taking a different approach.

United States and China reactors

While the United States is looking to slow down the role of nuclear in its energy mix, China is boldly trying to build up its capacity by an additional 40 to 58 GW before 2020. This aggressiveness in building energy capacity is not only slotted for nuclear, but also in wind, hydro and coal.

Original graphic by: Scientific American

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Charted: The Safest and Deadliest Energy Sources

What are the safest energy sources? This graphic shows both GHG emissions and accidental deaths caused by different energy sources.



Safest energy sources shareable updated

Charted: The Safest and Deadliest Energy Sources

Recent conversations about climate change, emissions, and health have put a spotlight on the world’s energy sources.

As of 2021, nearly 90% of global CO₂ emissions came from fossil fuels. But energy production doesn’t just lead to carbon emissions, it can also cause accidents and air pollution that has a significant toll on human life.

This graphic by Ruben Mathisen uses data from Our World in Data to help visualize exactly how safe or deadly these energy sources are.

Fossil Fuels are the Highest Emitters

All energy sources today produce greenhouse gases either directly or indirectly. However, the top three GHG-emitting energy sources are all fossil fuels.

EnergyGHG Emissions (CO₂e/gigawatt-hour)
Coal820 tonnes
Oil720 tonnes
Natural Gas490 tonnes
Biomass78-230 tonnes
Hydropower34 tonnes
Solar5 tonnes
Wind4 tonnes
Nuclear3 tonnes

Coal produces 820 tonnes of CO₂ equivalent (CO₂e) per gigawatt-hour. Not far behind is oil, which produces 720 tonnes CO₂e per gigawatt-hour. Meanwhile, natural gas produces 490 tonnes of CO₂e per gigawatt-hour.

These three sources contribute to over 60% of the world’s energy production.

Deadly Effects

Generating energy at a massive scale can have other side effects, like air pollution or accidents that take human lives.

Energy SourcesDeath rate (deaths/terawatt-hour)
Natural Gas2.8
Nuclear energy0.03

According to Our World in Data, air pollution and accidents from mining and burning coal fuels account for around 25 deaths per terawatt-hour of electricity—roughly the amount consumed by about 150,000 EU citizens in one year. The same measurement sees oil responsible for 18 annual deaths, and natural gas causing three annual deaths.

Meanwhile, hydropower, which is the most widely used renewable energy source, causes one annual death per 150,000 people. The safest energy sources by far are wind, solar, and nuclear energy at fewer than 0.1 annual deaths per terawatt-hour.

Nuclear energy, because of the sheer volume of electricity generated and low amount of associated deaths, is one of the world’s safest energy sources, despite common perceptions.

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