November 26, 2011

External costs fossil fuels, hydro, and nuclear

Many times in energy discussions there are claims about nuclear power having vulnerability to terrorism or other intentional damage and to the cost of nuclear power damage from other disasters (Japan tsunami and earthquake) or by nuclear power accidents (Chernobyl). Other energy also have high damage potential.

The Teton Dam was a federally built earthen dam on the Teton River in southeastern Idaho, set between Fremont and Madison counties, USA, which when filling for the first time suffered a catastrophic failure on June 5, 1976. The collapse of the dam resulted in the deaths of 11 people and 13,000 head of cattle. The dam cost about USD $100 million to build, and the federal government paid over $300 million in claims related to the dam failure. Total damage estimates have ranged up to $2 billion. There have been far larger dam breaks such as the Banqiao dam Those costs were not borne by the hydro dam operators. There is the latent risk of flooding from major dam breaks.

Flooding can be used as scorched earth policy through using water to render land unusable. It can also be used to prevent the movement of military personnel. During the Second Sino-Japanese War dykes on the Yellow and the Yangtze Rivers were breached to halt the advance of Japanese forces. Also during the Siege of Leiden in 1573 the dykes were breached to halt the advance of Spanish forces.

The cost to human health and the environment from emissions of regional air pollutants across all sectors of the EU-25 economy equalled EUR 280–794 billion in the year 2000 and those costs were not borne by the industry or the fossil fuel power plants. Cleanup was not done and the damage costs were not borne by the polluters.

Oil wells have the risk of intentional fires during wars such as the Kuwaiti oil wells being set on fire

Nearly 700 oil wells were set ablaze by the retreating Iraqi army and the fires were not fully extinguished until November 6, 1991, eight months after the end of the war. The fires consumed an estimated 6 million barrels (950,000 m3) of oil daily.

Their immediate consequence was a dramatic decrease in air quality, causing respiratory problems for many Kuwaitis. The sabotage of the oil wells also impacted the desert environment, which has a limited natural cleansing ability. Unignited oil from the wells formed about 300 oil lakes that contaminated around 40 million tons of sand and earth.

Oil also has the potential for billions in damage from things like the BP deep water oil spill.

240 page document on energy externalities for all types of energy

6 pages on Accident Risks in the Energy Sector: Comparison of Damage Indicators and External Costs

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