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March 28, 2011

Lifetime deaths per TWH from energy sources

I previously wrote an article about deaths per TWH by energy source, which looked at annual deaths by energy source. This had some cumulative effects worked in as air pollution accumulates and then people have increasing health problems and then die. Air pollution from fossil fuels that were used decades ago can be part of the mix that finally kill people in any particular year. There has also been much concern about how many future deaths there will be from Chernobyl. This will be my first pass at determining what a lifetime impact on deaths is for all energy sources. This will handle deaths from Chernobyl because it will get at expected future deaths.

There are several complications to this. Someone could get sick from air pollution or Chernobyl but then they might get killed in a car accident, from some other disease or they die from other causes.





I originally wrote the deaths by TWH article and used the ExternE - the european study of energy impacts. The ExternE numbers which were for Europe and would underestimate deaths for the world. However, I applied them to the world. I calculated world and China numbers for coal using World Health numbers. I estimated 1 million air pollution deaths from coal for the world and about 800,000 deaths from coal for China.

Taking the TWH generation numbers for the World and for China (for the coal.)
ENERGY SOURCE        DEATHS FATAL/TWH     TWH NOTES
----------------- --------- --------- ------- ----------------------------------
Coal – world avg. 1,000,000    161.00   6,500 (26% world energy, 50% of elec.)
Coal – China                   278.00         Utilizing heavily-manual practices
Coal – USA                      15.00         Mostly open-pit & u/g machine
Oil                 342,000     36.00   9,500 (36% of world energy)
Natural Gas          23,000      4.00   5,750 (21% of world energy)
Biofuel/Biomass                 12.00         
Peat                            12.00         
Solar (rooftop)           6      0.44      12 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
Wind                     22      0.15     150 (less than 1% of world energy)
Hydro                   290      0.10   2,897 (EU deaths, 2.2% of world energy)
Hydro + Banqiao)      3,500      1.40   2,500 (~2500 TWh/yr + 171,000 Banqiao dead)
Nuclear                 104      0.04   2,600 (5.9% of world energy)
----------------- --------- --------- ------- -------------------------------------
World             1,390,000     55.7   25,000 Terawatt-hours
Unaccounted for      83,500     55.69   1,500 TWh = 6.00% … fatalities prorated

China will use about 3.45 billion tons of coal this year. Almost double what they used in 2005.

There are no good numbers for solar and wind. The are not well tracked. Occupational deaths from middle east and Russian oil are easy to find publicly.

I have also looked at the occupational deaths (coal mining numbers from China - getting relatively better)

Minimum life shortening cutoff

A concern about the original analysis is about the fact that there are predictions that many more will die from Chernobyl. The credible studies indicate that very few people have died so far (50-200 people).

Here we will consider future death anticipation in the comparison. Where we look at lifetime energy risks by source and total expected deaths. With air pollution we are looking at a range from 80 years * 2 million (with 14 year avg life reduction) for 160 million deaths is one calculation.

1 billion lives shortened (World health estimate of 2 year life expectancy reduction. then spread the 14 year avg life reduction by 1/7th to get 2 year. So that would mean about 1 billion lives shortened by 2 years or more.

I will estimate 200 million lives shortened from air pollution (half dieing from other causes). I will allocate one third to coal and 50% to oil (including transportation - cars and trucks and 10% for natural gas and biomass).

I propose a cutoff of 2 years of life shortening, which equates to being 15% overweight. If we were playing the maximum Chernobyl numbers, then any statistical shortening by days then has the same issue for pilots and stewardesses who lose about 30-60 days from increased lifetime exposure to radiation.

I will look at half of the lifetime being in the past and half being a projection into the future (40 years historical and 40 years into the future). I will assume that the current energy generation is the average over the 80 years.

Lifetime energy deaths
ENERGY SOURCE        DEATHS FATAL/TWH      TWH NOTES
----------------- --------- ---------  ------- ------------------------------------
Coal – world     67,000,000    129     520,000 (26% world energy, 50% of elec.)
Coal – USA/Europe                              About ten times safer
Oil             101,000,000    133     720,000 (36% of world energy)
Natural Gas       6,000,000     13     460,000 (21% of world energy)
Biofuel/Biomass                 12.00         
Peat                            12.00         
Solar (rooftop)         480      0.44      960 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
Wind                  1,760      0.15   12,000 (less than 1% of world energy)
Hydro + Banqiao)    195,000      0.84  232,000 (~2500 TWh/yr + 171,000 Banqiao dead)
Nuclear              15,000      0.07  208,000 (5.9% of world energy)
----------------- --------- --------- ------- -------------------------------------
World         180.2 million       60  2,000,000 Terawatt-hours
Unaccounted    10.8 million       60    120,000 TWh = 6.00% … fatalities prorated

There will be a larger ramp up of solar, wind and nuclear power. There will be more natural gas usage and there will be some decrease in oil and coal usage. There will be reduction of indoor fuel usage. However, there would be too many scenarios to analyze and a lot more assumptions to make. There could also be advances in medicine which reduce the number of deaths from cancer and heart disease.

Health Risk Est. life expectancy lost

Smoking 20 cigs a day                   6 years
Overweight (15%)                        2 years
Alcohol (US Ave)                        1 year
All Accidents                           207 days
All Natural Hazards                     7 days
Occupational dose (300 mrem/yr)         15 days
Occupational dose (1 rem/yr)            51 days

You can also use the same approach to looking at risks on the job:

Industry type Est. life expectancy lost

All Industries                          60 days
Agriculture                             320 days
Construction                            227 days
Mining and quarrying                    167 days
Manufacturing                           40 days
Occupational dose (300 mrem/yr)         15 days
Occupational dose (1 rem/yr)            51 days

The American nuclear society has an online radiation dose calculator.

Top 20 causes of deaths

Rank   Cause                Total deaths (in thousands) % of total
1.     Ischaemic heart disease                7,208    12.6%
2.     Cerebrovascular disease                 5,509     9.7
3.     Lower respiratory infections            3,884     6.8
4.     HIV/AIDS                                2,777     4.9
5.     Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease   2,748     4.8
6.     Diarrheal diseases                      1,798     3.2
7.     Tuberculosis                            1,566     2.7
8.     Malaria                                 1,272     2.2
9.     Cancer of trachea/bronchus/lung         1,243     2.2
10.    Road traffic accidents                  1,192     2.1%
11.    Childhood Diseases                      1,124     2.0
12.    Other unintentional injuries              923     1.6
13.    Hypertensive heart disease                911     1.6
14.    Self-inflicted                            873     1.5
15.    Stomach cancer                            850     1.5
16.    Cirrhosis of the liver                    786     1.4
17.    Nephritis/nephrosis                       677     1.2
18.    Colon/rectum cancer                       622     1.1
19.    Liver cancer                              618     1.1
20.    Measles                                   611    1.1

(World health organization 2003 Health report)


I have not tried to include any oil war related deaths.

World Health Organization has several studies on air pollution (indoor and outdoor) which aggregate studies of city and rural impacts.

IEA has a study with different numbers and assumptions.


Coal waste impacts go beyond particulate air pollution, however, the particulate studies are the most conclusive. There have been studies that show a daily fluctuation in emergency room visits with increases in smog and particulates. Actual deaths are worse than I indicated. I did not fully include indoor air pollution and did not include deaths beyond particulates because the causality is not as solid. Indoor air pollution is for heating and cooking and not for electricity. However, those are huge numbers 1.9 million per year and produce very little heat in TWH thermal. The 1.9 million deaths per year and divided between coal and biomass.

Coal and biomass deaths per TWH would skyrocket if the indoor air pollution effects were included because so little power is made and so many deaths are produced. Wikipedia on indoor air pollution in developing nations.

Luong Van Inh is among a neglected group of Asians threatened by an environmental hazard rarely considered: indoor air pollution. Caused by burning wood, coal or other cheap fuels in kitchens, it kills about 1.5 (to 2.0) million people worldwide each year.

World Health Organization on indoor air pollution

Uranium mining deaths were mainly for uranium mined for nuclear bombs. Uranium mining was corrected by the time commercial reactors were going (starting mainly from 1970 onwards).

US Occupational fatalities hint at the deaths in the oil industry for the world. About one hundred per year. Extrapolating to world oil production would mean about 2000 deaths per year from straight immediate worker deaths from accidents.

Historical Hydro dam deaths

Impacts of Atmospheric Brown Clouds on Human Health

A presentation on air pollution deaths in rural China

Air Pollution, Infant Mortality, and the Environmental Regulations in China, Oct 2010 (57 pages)

I used the higher estimate of 9000 future deaths for Chernobyl, but actually believe a far lower number is the case.

World Health Organization Chernobyl impact study from 2006 (167 pages) The report uses empirical studies. The other method would be to use deaths from Hiroshima and Nagasaki where radiation doses were known and use those to project deaths for people effected by Chernobyl. If the method of comparing expected deaths at Chernobyl used the expectation based on what was experienced at Hiroshima and Nagasaki then the number of expected deaths would be far lower than the WHO report. The World Health Organization 2006 study has an estimate of 9000 possible future deaths from Chernobyl. About 47 to 200 people are believed to have died from Chernobyl up to 2011.

Understanding how civil nuclear technology is the safe green solution, Oxford Physics

Oxford Physics Estimate using the study of survivors of the atomic bombs based on radiation exposure as they were tracked for many decades - 28(acute)+3(thyroid)+c.78(solid cancers)+c.3(leukaemia). Crude but unbiased estimate. Anyway less than 200 deaths.

•Radiation is like other hazards –life has defenses
•Low-dose repair time is on the scale of a day or so
•Doses below threshold (100mSv) cause no damage.
•Above threshold, permanent damage (scar tissue) results. Such scar tissue may remain benign, or later become malignant, like other scars



In Taiwan, there was an incident where radioactive steel rebar was used in a building and people lived with the radiation for many years.

An extraordinary incident occurred 20 years ago in Taiwan. Recycled steel, accidentally contaminated with cobalt-60 (half-life: 5.3 y), was formed into construction steel for more than 180 buildings, which 10,000 persons occupied for 9 to 20 years. They unknowingly received radiation doses that averaged 0.4 Sv - a
collective dose of 4,000 person-Sv.

Based on the observed seven cancer deaths, the cancer mortality rate for this population was assessed to be 3.5 per 100,000 person-years. Three children were born with congenital heart malformations, indicating a prevalence rate of 1.5 cases per 1,000 children under age 19.

The average spontaneous cancer death rate in the general population of Taiwan over these 20 years is 116 persons per 100,000 person-years. Based upon partial official statistics and hospital experience, the prevalence rate of congenital malformation is 23 cases per 1,000 children. Assuming the age and income distributions of these persons are the same as for the general population, it appears that significant beneficial health effects may be associated with this chronic radiation exposure.

The estimated radiation doses to people in Ukraine 0.02 Sv and Belarus was 0.03Sv. This is 13-20 times less than what the people in Taiwan experienced.

Plutonium in perspective was covered earlier here as well. Basically dirty bombs will not actually be that dangerous.

I had suggestions for lowering the deaths per TWH.




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