Chart: The World's Safest Source of Energy Will Surprise You
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The Safest Source of Energy Will Surprise You

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The World's Safest Source of Energy Will Surprise You

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 SourceDeaths per 1,000 TWh% of Global Primary Energy Supply (2015)
Coal100,00028.1%
Oil36,00031.7%
Natural Gas4,00021.6%
Hydro1,4002.5%
Solar440*<1%
Wind150<1%
Nuclear904.9%

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.

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Energy

Ranked: Nuclear Power Production, by Country

Nuclear power accounted for 10% of global electricity generated in 2020. Here’s a look at the largest nuclear power producers.

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Nuclear Power Production by Country

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Nearly 450 reactors around the world supply various nations with nuclear power, combining for about 10% of the world’s electricity, or about 4% of the global energy mix.

But while some countries are turning to nuclear as a clean energy source, nuclear energy generation overall has seen a slowdown since its peak in the 1990s.

The above infographic breaks down nuclear electricity generation by country in 2020 using data from the Power Reactor Information System (PRIS).

Ranked: The Top 15 Countries for Nuclear Power

Just 15 countries account for more than 91% of global nuclear power production. Hereโ€™s how much energy these countries produced in 2020:

RankCountryNumber of Operating ReactorsNuclear Electricity Supplied
[GWh]
% share
#1U.S. ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ96789,91930.9%
#2China ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ50344,74813.5%
#3France ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท58338,67113.3%
#4Russia ๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ39201,8217.9%
#5South Korea ๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ท24152,5836.0%
#6Canada ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ1992,1663.6%
#7Ukraine ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ฆ1571,5502.8%
#8Germany ๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช660,9182.4%
#9Spain ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ755,8252.2%
#10Sweden ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ช747,3621.9%
#11U.K. ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง1545,6681.8%
#12Japan ๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต3343,0991.7%
#13India ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ2240,3741.6%
#14Belgium ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ช732,7931.3%
#15Czechia ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฟ628,3721.1%
Rest of the World ๐ŸŒŽ44207,3408.1%
Total4482,553,208100.0%

In the U.S., nuclear power produces over 50% of the country’s clean electricity. Additionally, 88 of the country’s 96 operating reactors in 2020 received approvals for a 20-year life extension.

China, the world’s second-largest nuclear power producer, is investing further in nuclear energy in a bid to achieve its climate goals. The plan, which includes building 150 new reactors by 2035, could cost as much as $440 billion.

On the other hand, European opinions on nuclear energy are mixed. Germany is the eighth-largest on the list but plans to shutter its last operating reactor in 2022 as part of its nuclear phase-out. France, meanwhile, plans to expand its nuclear capacity.

Which Countries Rely Most on Nuclear Energy?

Although total electricity generation is useful for a high-level global comparison, itโ€™s important to remember that there are some smaller countries not featured above where nuclear is still an important part of the electricity mix.

Hereโ€™s a breakdown based on the share of nuclear energy in a country’s electricity mix:

RankCountryNuclear Share of Electricity Mix
#1France ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท70.6%
#2Slovakia ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฐ53.1%
#3Ukraine ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ฆ51.2%
#4Hungary ๐Ÿ‡ญ๐Ÿ‡บ48.0%
#5Bulgaria ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ฌ40.8%
#6Belgium ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ช39.1%
#7Slovenia ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฎ37.8%
#8Czechia ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฟ37.3%
#9Armenia ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ฒ34.5%
#10Finland ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ฎ33.9%
#11Switzerland ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ญ32.9%
#12Sweden ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ช29.8%
#13South Korea ๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ท29.6%
#14Spain ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ22.2%
#15Russia ๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ20.6%
#16Romania ๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡ด19.9%
#17United States ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ19.7%
#18Canada ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ14.6%
#19United Kingdom ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง14.5%
#20Germany ๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช11.3%

European countries dominate the leaderboard with 14 of the top 15 spots, including France, where nuclear power is the country’s largest source of electricity.

Itโ€™s interesting to note that only a few of these countries are top producers of nuclear in absolute terms. For example, in Slovakia, nuclear makes up 53.6% of the electricity mixโ€”however, the country’s four reactors make up less than 1% of total global operating capacity.

On the flipside, the U.S. ranks 17th by share of nuclear power in its mix, despite producing 31% of global nuclear electricity in 2020. This discrepancy is largely due to size and population. European countries are much smaller and produce less electricity overall than larger countries like the U.S. and China.

The Future of Nuclear Power

The nuclear power landscape is constantly changing.

There were over 50 additional nuclear reactors under construction in 2020, and hundreds more are planned primarily in Asia.

As countries turn away from fossil fuels and embrace carbon-free energy sources, nuclear energy might see a resurgence in the global energy mix despite the phase-outs planned in several countries around the globe.

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Energy

The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2012-2021)

Energy fuels led the way as commodity prices surged in 2021, with only precious metals providing negative returns.

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commodity returns 2021 preview

The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2022 Edition)

For investors, 2021 was a year in which nearly every asset class finished in the green, with commodities providing some of the best returns.

The S&P Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI) was the third best-performing asset class in 2021, returning 37.1% and beating out real estate and all major equity indices.

This graphic from U.S. Global Investors tracks individual commodity returns over the past decade, ranking them based on their individual performance each year.

Commodity Prices Surge in 2021

After a strong performance from commodities (metals especially) in the year prior, 2021 was all about energy commodities.

The top three performers for 2021 were energy fuels, with coal providing the single best annual return of any commodity over the past 10 years at 160.6%. According to U.S. Global Investors, coal was also the least volatile commodity of 2021, meaning investors had a smooth ride as the fossil fuel surged in price.

Commodity2021 Returns
Coal160.61%
Crude Oil55.01%
Gas46.91%
Aluminum42.18%
Zinc31.53%
Nickel26.14%
Copper25.70%
Corn22.57%
Wheat20.34%
Lead18.32%
Gold-3.64%
Platinum-9.64%
Silver-11.72%
Palladium-22.21%

Source: U.S. Global Investors

The only commodities in the red this year were precious metals, which failed to stay positive despite rising inflation across goods and asset prices. Gold and silver had returns of -3.6% and -11.7% respectively, with platinum returning -9.6% and palladium, the worst performing commodity of 2021, at -22.2%.

Aside from the precious metals, every other commodity managed double-digit positive returns, with four commodities (crude oil, coal, aluminum, and wheat) having their best single-year performances of the past decade.

Energy Commodities Outperform as the World Reopens

The partial resumption of travel and the reopening of businesses in 2021 were both powerful catalysts that fueled the price rise of energy commodities.

After crude oilโ€™s dip into negative prices in April 2020, black gold had a strong comeback in 2021 as it returned 55.01% while being the most volatile commodity of the year.

Natural gas prices also rose significantly (46.91%), with the UK and Europeโ€™s natural gas prices rising even more as supply constraints came up against the winter demand surge.

Energy commodity returns 2021

Despite being the second worst performer of 2020 with the clean energy transition on the horizon, coal was 2021โ€™s best commodity.

High electricity demand saw coal return in style, especially in China which accounts for one-third of global coal consumption.

Base Metals Beat out Precious Metals

2021 was a tale of two metals, as precious metals and base metals had opposing returns.

Copper, nickel, zinc, aluminum, and lead, all essential for the clean energy transition, kept up last yearโ€™s positive returns as the EV batteries and renewable energy technologies caught investorsโ€™ attention.

Demand for these energy metals looks set to continue in 2022, with Tesla having already signed a $1.5 billion deal for 75,000 tonnes of nickel with Talon Metals.

Metals price performance 2021

On the other end of the spectrum, precious metals simply sunk like a rock last year.

Investors turned to equities, real estate, and even cryptocurrencies to preserve and grow their investments, rather than the traditionally favorable gold (-3.64%) and silver (-11.72%). Platinum and palladium also lagged behind other commodities, only returning -9.64% and -22.21% respectively.

Grains Bring Steady Gains

In a year of over and underperformers, grains kept up their steady track record and notched their fifth year in a row of positive returns.

Both corn and wheat provided double-digit returns, with corn reaching eight-year highs and wheat reaching prices not seen in over nine years. Overall, these two grains followed 2021โ€™s trend of increasing food prices, as the UN Food and Agriculture Organizationโ€™s food price index reached a 10-year high, rising by 17.8% over the course of the year.

Grains price performance 2021

As inflation across commodities, assets, and consumer goods surged in 2021, investors will now be keeping a sharp eye for a pullback in 2022. Weโ€™ll have to wait and see whether or not the Fedโ€™s plans to increase rates and taper asset purchases will manage to provide price stability in commodities.

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