The World’s Safest Source of Energy Will Surprise You
When it comes to conversations on energy, it’s hard to leave your feelings at the door.
It’s arguable that energy is the single most important driver of human progress – it’s a multi-trillion dollar industry that powers our daily lives, technological advancements, and even the economic development of entire countries. At the same time, our choices around energy can have significant consequences. How we decide to generate energy can decimate the environment, fuel political conflicts, and even cause human deaths as unwelcome side effects.
The outcomes from our choices around energy are so vivid, that we’ve developed strong and polarized associations with the subject at hand.
The Empirical Perspective
Today’s visualization on the safest sources of energy comes to us from Cambridge House, the company hosting the International Mining Investment Conference 2018 on May 15-16 in Vancouver, BC, and it uses an empirical approach to compare different energy sources with one another.
Based on the data, this comparison provides a perspective that will be surprising to many viewers. Despite its perceived dangers, nuclear is actually the safest type of energy.
|Energy Source||Deaths per 1,000 TWh||% of Global Primary Energy Supply (2015)|
That’s right – even when including seemingly catastrophic incidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima in the calculations, the math says that the amount of energy generated by nuclear is so vast that it more than outweighs these incidents over the long-term.
The reality is that nuclear energy is much more comparable to renewables like solar or wind, in terms of safety. More importantly, it’s on the polar opposite of the spectrum from coal, which manages to kill 4,400 people daily in China alone.
The Nuclear Option
Interestingly, multiple studies have come to this exact same conclusion, including the ones used in an analysis by economist Max Roser’s project called Our World in Data.
Even though the conclusion on nuclear is pretty cut and dry, it’s still hard to absorb. After all, the relative safety of nuclear ends up being extremely counter-intuitive to our human brains, which are seemingly wired to put more weight on big, memorable events (i.e. Chernobyl) rather than slow, consistent deaths that occur over time with other energy sources.
Today, nuclear provides about 11% of the world’s electricity from about 450 power reactors, generating about 2,500 TWh of electricity each year.
And while there are still questions that remain – specifically revolving around how to store certain types of nuclear waste – the above data explains why the majority of scientists classify nuclear as a sustainable and safe energy source, along with other renewables.
This post originally appeared on Visual Capitalist’s new VC Metals channel, home to data-driven visual content on metals, commodities, and energy.
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.
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.
|Energy||GHG Emissions (CO₂e/gigawatt-hour)|
|Natural Gas||490 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.
Generating energy at a massive scale can have other side effects, like air pollution or accidents that take human lives.
|Energy Sources||Death rate (deaths/terawatt-hour)|
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.
Education5 days ago
Ranked: America’s Best Universities
Technology1 week ago
Ranked: Largest Semiconductor Foundry Companies by Revenue
Misc1 week ago
Visualized: EV Market Share in the U.S.
Maps1 week ago
Interactive Map: The World as 1,000 People
Retail1 week ago
Ranked: Average Black Friday Discounts for Major Retailers
Business1 week ago
Ranked: Fast Food Brands with the Most U.S. Locations
Markets1 week ago
Visualizing 30 Years of Imports from U.S. Trading Partners
Revenue1 week ago
Ranked: The Biggest Retailers in the U.S. by Revenue