No Energy Technology is Accident Proof

By Anna Simet | June 07, 2013

Recently, I came across an anti-biomass blog criticizing the biomass industry for accidents occurring at the work site. In the last couple of months, two explosions at power plants have made the news. In one instance, nobody was injured. In the other, two employees were. The blog references these accidents in the beginning, then goes on to name particular instances of fires or accidents at any type of energy plant that uses biomass (pellet plants, small-scale CHP plants, large commercial power plants) in the world, dated back to 1985—almost fifteen examples.

When read consecutively, of course it looks bad. But let’s compare that number with how many facilities that use biomass for energy…I honestly couldn’t find a number anywhere, if an actual estimate even exists.  There are many thousands in the U.S. alone.

Now, with the mindset of not attacking any specific energy industry segment, I decided to take a look at accident rates in some of them.

Here are a few stats I found, and whether or not they are 100 percent accurate is debatable:

Wind turbine accidents involving injuries and equipment damage reached 128 incidents worldwide in 2008, including 78 fatalities, according to the Caithness Windfarm Information Forum, including 78 fatalities.

Nuclear power plants cause between 600-1,000 deaths a year per million people, and the vast majority of them (80 percent) are the plant workers.

In the U.S. oil and gas industries, in 2008 there were 120 fatal worker injuries, and 4,200 non-fatal injuries.

I couldn’t find any solid data on the solar industry, but it also poses risks and involves accidents, mostly involving falls from rooftop installations. The same goes for coal in terms of worker risks—in fact, just run a search of coal plant explosions and you’ll be busy for hours. Same goes for nuclear.

Really specific, solid data on this topic is difficult to get ones hands on, and it’s also hard to decide where to draw the line to distinguish what’s considered a work place accident (mining for coal verses actually working at the coal plant).

Really, my point there is no energy technology that provides 100 percent safety at the workplace/on the job. They all have their risks. Accidents are going to happen. To keep them at the ultimate minimum, it’s essential that workers understand the risks and how to avoid them, and that employers provide them with the knowledge and tools to do so.


2 Responses

  1. David H



    It is hard to find a single reputable source of reported fatalities/impacts for a lot of energy types (especially wind and solar, and especially accidents with low fatality no.s), but actually there's tonnes of info on the rest. Here's two sources for you, the Paul Scherrer Institute and the updated ExternE reports. Your fatality estimate for nuclear is self-evidently wrong. Doing the math, you're saying that about 3 million people die in the nuclear industry each year. We wouldn't have an industry if that were even remotely accurate. Even 600-800 people per year seems unlikely across whole nuclear fuel cycle, bc given incredible emphasis on safety at nuclear installations and accompanying scrutiny from many sources this info actually does gets tracked. Your basic point is right - accidents are going to happen but any industry that doesn't prioritise and invest in worker safety should be penalised until it does.

  2. AB Lal



    The accident data given in the article, may not be very accurate, but since I am not sure with my documents, I will not say it to be wrong. However, I know about accidents in Thermal Power Stations, these are quite high, probably highest among other sources of power generation.

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