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

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  • Jinsoo Kim, Hanyang University, University of Sussex
  • ,
  • Donghoon Ryu, Hanyang University
  • ,
  • Benjamin K. Sovacool

Although energy systems are well known to lead to positive or negative externalities, one less explored attribute has been a rigorous historical and future looking assessment of energy accidents. In this study, we analyze an extensive dataset of 4,450 energy accidents from 1800 to 2018 across eleven energy systems. Our analysis reveals that these collective energy systems resulted in more than 278,000 human fatalities and approximately $421.3 billion in economic damages. Historically, coal accidents are the most frequent, accounting for almost half of all accidents. In terms of severity, accidents at hydroelectric dams were the most fatal, accounting for 67 percent. In terms of cost, nuclear power accidents are by far the most expensive, accounting for 62 percent of damages. Coupling our data and an econometric model with future projections of energy demand underscores the magnitude of the trends identified: 986,000 to 1.72 million potential energy accident deaths in 2040, as well as almost $1 trillion in damages. This leads to compelling policy implications, especially concerning the need for safety improvements in energy systems such as bioenergy and nuclear power, as well as the need for the IEA and IRENA, among others, to begin to better track and account for energy accident trends. We find that across all accidents, fuel extraction and processing, transmission and distribution, and transportation have the most fatalities, and yet conversion and operation, transmission and distribution, and transportation have the most damages. Moreover, achieving strong climate goals leads to an unacceptably higher risk of accidents and human health and economic consequences. Finally, as its economic development propels increases in energy consumption, Africa will become the future center for energy accident fatalities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100885
JournalExtractive Industries and Society
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021

    Research areas

  • Accident prevention, Energy disasters, Risk, Safety, Security

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