Energy’s deathprint is the number of people killed by one kind of energy or another per kWhr produced. Coal is the worst. According to the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, and the National Academy of Science.

What is the Safest Energy for the Future?
What is the Safest Energy for the Future?

Article from | Len Calderone

Energy’s deathprint is the number of people killed by one kind of energy or another per kWhr produced. Coal is the worst. According to the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, and the National Academy of Science, the worst adverse impacts on health comes from fossil fuel and biofuel/biomass sources. The World Health organization estimates that air pollution, the primary reason for coal's high mortality rate, kills 7 million people annually.

This is because fossil fuel and biofuel/biomass cause upper respiratory distress from the carbon particulates that are burned, which is kind of a second-hand black lung. Our lungs don’t like carbon particulates, whether it is from burning coal or smoking cigarettes. The global average of deaths per trillion kWhr is 100,000, while China alone is 170,000. Because the U.S. uses scrubbers, the rate is only 10,000 per trillion kWhr. 

This strong performance is due to the Clean Air Act, passed in 1963, that covers a range of issues, from improving operational safety to limiting harmful emissions. These regulations require new coal-fired plants to capture 98% of Sulphur dioxide produced, and 90% of dangerous nitrogen oxide emissions.

Together, Coal and hydropower are accountable for more than half of the world’s electricity production, and the deathprints of both sectors reflect a similar pattern. Where regulation is stronger, as in the U.S., there are fewer deaths. The hydro mortality rate in the U.S. is just 5 per trillion kWhr. Whereas, the rate is 1,400 around the world. 

This tight regulation of the hydropower industry has helped to minimize unsafe practices. There are rules for the licensing, construction and monitoring of hydropower plants. The Division of Hydropower Administration and Compliance handles the assessments of hydropower facilities once they are in commercial operation, ensuring an element of impartial federal oversight in projects over the long-term.

Power sources such as biomass, which are largely decentralized and common in developing countries, see substantially higher mortality rates, notwithstanding the relatively small-scale nature of these facilities. While biomass produces only 21% of the world energy, it produces 10,000 deaths per trillion kWhr.


Biomass is an essential fuel source for people in under developed countries. More than two billion people worldwide rely on burning wood, charcoal and animal waste to cook food on a daily basis. Because of inefficiencies in these cooking methods, human health is severely undermined. Lack of ventilation and the nonexistence of filters for harmful products, such as soot particles, contribute to the dangers to human health. The World Health Organization stated that around four million people die every year from illnesses associated to household air pollution.

Rooftop solar is much more dangerous than nuclear or wind power. It would be safer if the solar panels were imbedded in the shingles, or if robots could be used to install rooftop solar panels. 1 amp could easily kill a person. Imagine what could happen if you put your hands in the terminal outputs of a solar panel, which produces 6 amps or better. Solar panels cannot be turned off.  There is no switch to cut their voltage to zero. As long as there is sunlight, a solar panel will have open circuit voltage in its terminals waiting to close the circuit, whether it be a wire or heaven forbid, a human hand.  

Wind turbines can also cause injury to humans and wildlife. This is especially true in the immediate area surrounding the tower.  Although it’s rare today, a tower can throw a blade when a blade breaks free of the turbine and becomes a very large dangerous projectile.


Can wind power make people sick? The rapidly spinning blades can produce a faint but distinguishing noise. As the blades spin through the air, a noise is generated. The turbine machinery also makes a noise. Infrasound, is sound that is lower in frequency than 20 Hz or cycles per second. Infrasound is the main issue for those anxious about wind-turbine syndrome. Both the audible sound and the vibrations that come from wind turbines might be a factor with health problems reported by some people who live close to wind farms. Some symptoms of wind-turbine syndrome include headaches, sleep problems, night terror, tinnitus, irritability, anxiety, and concentration problems.

Workers falling off of towers and roofs during installation are the main causes of death. Hydroelectric deaths come from the rare but calamitous dam collapses, such as the Banqiao, China, tragedy in 1976, which killed 171,000.

So, what is the safest energy for the future? This might come as a surprise . . . nuclear energy is by far the safest energy source.  It has more than 330 times fewer deaths than coal; 250 times less than oil; and 38 times fewer than gas. 


How we generate energy in the future will decide if we will destroy the environment, promote political conflicts, and even cause human deaths as unasked for side effects. Even when we include Chernobyl and Fukushima, the math discloses that the amount of energy generated by nuclear is so extensive that it more than outweighs these incidents over the long-term. Nuclear energy results in only one-quarter the number of deaths per terrawatt hour as wind, which is the second safest.

When the reactors at the Fukushima plant in Japan went into meltdown there were no fatalities and no adverse health effects. Although the accident causing zero deaths, it provoked anti-nuclear demonstrations worldwide. The disaster at Chernobyl is unlikely to be replicated, as the safeguards at Chernobyl were deficient, lacking vital layers of containment, which would have confined the tragedy. It was these vital layers of containment that a partial meltdown on Three Mile Island avoided any deaths and no observable long-term health effects.

There are numerous advantages to nuclear power other than just the safety benefits. Nuclear power is clean, efficient and effective. Nuclear power does not discharge harmful emissions into the environment like coal and oil. Nuclear power does not need a daily consumption of resources like coal does. Nuclear power is fueled by uranium, which is a natural material that is abundant throughout the world.

Emotional not rational reasons are why people have rejected nuclear energy. Looking at the basic facts, nuclear energy is the cleanest, safest, and cheapest approach to energy production. The risks of nuclear energy are greatly exaggerated by activists, politicians, and the media, which promote agendas rather than fact. 

* title image by Geoffrey Whiteway (
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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