Critically assessing and projecting the frequency, severity, and cost of major energy accidents

This study assesses the risk of energy accidents using an extensive historical dataset over the period 1800 to 2018, and it evaluates that risk across biofuels, biomass and biogas, coal, geothermal electricity, hydroelectricity, hydrogen, natural gas, nuclear power plants, oil and LPG (liquefied petroleum gas), solar energy and wind energy. Our analysis reveals that these collective energy systems involved more than 4450 accidents resulting in more than 278,000 human fatalities and approximately $421.3 billion in economic damages. Across the entire sample, the mean amount of property damage was $286.63 million and 62.50 fatalities per accident, though when reflected as a median, the numbers substantially improve to $6.24 million in damages per accident and five fatalities. We found that coal is the most frequent to incur an accident within our sample, accounting for almost half of accidents. Accidents at hydroelectric dams were the most fatal, accounting for 67 percent of fatalities. Nuclear power accidents are by far the most expensive, accounting for 62 percent of damages. We also used this data to explore three themes, drawn from the energy studies literature, related to technological learning and accident prevention, lifecycle stages, and geography and regulation.

Table 3 shows the number of solar related accidents to be 8 and the number of fatalities to be 9. The study is looking at major energy accidents. Home roof top solar panels are not major energy facilities and not considered major energy accidents. Most major solar energy facilities are located on the ground at solar farms.

Major nuclear accidents are 178 and fatalities are 4,856
Major wind accidents are 339 and fatalities are 130
Major solar accidents are 8 and fatalities are 9
Major coal accidents are 2,428 and fatalities are 55,414
Major oil accidents are 890 and fatalities are 26,215
Major nat gas accidents are 289 and fatalities are 4,090



This doesn’t really provide useful information. Coal was the only source of industrial energy (other than small water wheels) from the start of the industrial revolution until about 1900. What’s the point of comparing it with the short history of solar?

Even if the accidents were compared over similar time frames (e.g. the last 20 years or so when all the types of energy were running in parallel) the question would be “how many accidents per unit of energy generated?”


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In all honesty the reason the in the know fossil fuel guys want nuclear is because accidents are not the largest costs nor major fatality causation. Fossil fuel pollution numbers dwarf the accident numbers.

Wendy it misses the point as I am saying but that does not mean it is not useful information. It is in addition to much more damning data.

The real problem is our generation trying to say over our dead bodies. That is totally disgusting to me.

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Exactly. It’s looking at the wrong thing.

Nuclear, wind, and solar, in their normal operation, cause no loss of life at all.
Coal, oil, and natural gas, in their normal operation, cause huge losses of years of life.


Nuclear, natural gas, wind and solar power generation were essentially not around before 1960. Look at the major energy accidents for those 4 fuel sources:

Major nuclear accidents are 178 and fatalities are 4,856
Major wind accidents are 339 and fatalities are 130
Major solar accidents are 8 and fatalities are 9
Major nat gas accidents are 289 and fatalities are 4,090


Table 3 shows Normalized risk (risks per MTOE)

Nat Gas:

  1. Frequency: 0.00
  2. Fatalities: 2.53
  3. Damages (Cost): 5.72


  1. Frequency: 0.01
  2. Fatalities: 14.20
  3. Damages (Cost): 1,292.21


  1. Frequency: 0.18
  2. Fatalities: 1,764.17
  3. Damages (Cost): 72.63


  1. Frequency: 0.02
  2. Fatalities: 1.88
  3. Damages (Cost): 13.84
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In their Figure 2b they show the number of fatalities by energy type, normalized by MTOE. (Wiki tells us that TOE, a tonne of energy equivalent, is approximately 42 gigaojoules or 11.6 megawatt-hours.) Wind is the deadliest by far.

Wind     1764.2
Hydro     540.6
Nuclear    14.2
Coal       11.6
Oil         8.4
Biomass     4.7
Nat gas     2.5
Solar       1.9



Installing solar panels can be a dangerous occupation.

Not all roofer deaths on the job are directly related to solar panels. Roofers also install and repair shingles, tiles, and perform other maintenance. However, as the number of rooftop solar installations goes up, more and more people will need to go up on the roofs to work with these panels.

  • Pete

I used to go on up on the roof, of our single story home, use the gas blower to blow all the carp out of the gutters, leaves, sand, dirt as the roof slowly deteriorated… Was fine, but I did always think about falling, and what I’d be thinking about on my way down, before the crunching crash onto the walkway or deck. Age does catch up, I had fallen a few times over the years, on the ground, just tangle footed for a moment, nothing broke, but as the years slid by, and more recently a new roof, gutters, gutter guards, nope, I don’t go up there any more, still have the ladders, but they are getting kinds crusty, not used so often, either… DW always wanted to be home when I did go up there, just in case, pick up the pieces, I guess… But we agreed, I don’t go up there any more… Even with safety harnesses, tie off points, leave it to the pros, with the check, stay safe!

An old friend, barber, woodworker hobbyist, loaned a neighbor a 6’ ladder, poor fellow lost his balance, feet stayed up on the steps, his head bashed the driveway, cracked his skull, gone, His DW, turned around, sued my friend, in the end I believe his insurance settled, but that was the last tool he ever loaned anyone. Sad mess…

Safety first!

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My grandfather fell off the roof of a one story house when he was about 80 years old. He was fine. Only problem was, he was armpit deep in new fallen snow, had to dig himself out. Such is life in the west Michigan lake effect belt.



I remember my Dad, in his 70s, retired carpenter, helping an old friend an hour or two North of here, in Booneville, CA, as they built a barn, he slipped, fell off the roof, refused help, drove home the next day, and really fell apart as he came into the house… Should have gone to the ER, stubbornly refused help until Mom got him to the Dr… Fractured pelvis, nothing more to be done than pain meds, rest and let it heal. But it was traumatic to see him in so much pain… Survived, but never went onto a roof again!

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All the roof top solar installers I have seen wear safety harnesses with ropes to tie-off points. The big solar companies do not want to see any fatalities which would be a black spot on their record and increase their insurance premiums. DIY home owners or independent solar panel installers are the ones that take short cuts with safety.

As Figure 3 reveals, in absolute terms, nuclear energy accidents resulted in the most economic damage by mean, $1.49 billion per accident. Also, Table A2 in the Appendix shows that half of the most costly energy accidents in the top ten were from nuclear power. Even when normalized to energy production, nuclear has by far the most economic damages
per MTOE, followed distantly by wind, hydroelectricity, and oil/LPG.