The 2-Minute Thought: The Safest Form of Energy?

According to a 2010 study by the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, and the National Academy of Science, coal is the most dangerous form of energy.

The safest?  It’s not solar, wind, or hydro.  It’s nuclear, which accounts for fewer deaths and illnesses than other energy sources and is tied with wind for the lowest carbon footprint. 

The following chart from Max Roser’s publication “Our World in Data” shows that nuclear energy accounts for far fewer deaths than other energy sources.  

Source: Our World in Data

Source: Our World in Data

In this chart, however, it also shows that public opposition to nuclear energy remains very high.

Source: Our World in Data

Source: Our World in Data

Why the disconnect between data and perception?

The publication notes that when people think of nuclear, they think of Chernobyl and Fukushima -- single events that generated big headlines.  Chernobyl may have caused tens of thousands of deaths, while deaths from Fukushima – mostly related to the stress from evacuation rather than radiation exposure – stand at around 1600. 

Both were terrible events.  But their death tolls stand well below deaths from air pollution caused by traditional energy sources.  The World Health Organization estimates there are 3 million deaths a year from ambient air pollution and 4.3 million from indoor air pollution.