Which Tera Watt Is Most Dangerous

Which energy type is the most dangerous? Nuclear, Coal or Oil.

Sometimes we need to recalibrate our personal danger meter.  We often react to dramatic events disproportionately to less dramatic events that are far more dangerous.  And happen more frequently.

A familiar case in point is travel.  If I gave you two choices on how to travel, and told you that if you chose option 1 you had an 800% greater chance of being killed in an accident than if you chose option 2, which one would you prefer.

Naturally option 2, I would guess.  That’s traveling by airplane.  Bad option 1 is traveling by automobile.  Yet many people would choose the automobile over flight because, well, airplane crashes are very dramatic.  There are other reasons, of course, such as a general fear of flying, but you get the picture here.  Our perception of danger is often based on drama, not facts.

Similarly, which energy source that we use is the most dangerous?  I base these figures on how many deaths are caused per watts of energy produced.  You know what watts are.  A household example is the ordinary light bulb which typically uses 100 watts of energy.

In my example here, I have three energy sources and how many deaths per year they create per trillion watts  of energy produced (1,000,000,000,000 – known as a terawatt).  Your choices are 1) Nuclear, 2) Coal and 3) Oil.

So which is the most dangerous, second dangerous and least dangerous?

Will the real Tera Watt please stand up.

And the answer is  … coal, which results in 4000 deaths a year.  Oil is second, with about 1000 deaths a year.  And nuclear.  A very distant third at about 1 death per year.

Surprising, isn’t it.  Because right now, nuclear is getting all of the dramatic headlines in Japan.  And I’m not downplaying that situation, which is quite serious.

But it makes you wonder why we all aren’t worrying daily, even hourly, about the dangers of coal.

Because it is seldom as dramatic.  I think maybe we need to recalibrate our danger meters, don’t you?

Have a nice day – J. Daniel

2 Responses to “Which Tera Watt Is Most Dangerous”

  1. Marty says:


    We WOULD think coal was higher on the ol’ dang-o-meter if there came a big coalmine disaster that bumped the Japanese earthquake off the front pages. Everything we know these days seems to be controlled by our sensationalist media.

  2. J. Daniel says:

    Hello Marty-Hey I like that Dang-O-Meter thing (or is that thang). We’re busy building the BullChip-A-Tron here at WoodChips Central – may have to enhance it with a Dang-O-Meter add-on to the device.

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