serve a regional population of about 1 million, including urban, suburban, industrial, and rural components.


The routine risks engendered by industrial activities to supply energy involve fatal and nonfatal outcomes.

Fatal Accidents

The lowest accidental death rates in the generation of electricity are for light water reactors and natural gas systems (0.2 deaths per GWe-plant-year). The rate of accidental deaths for electricity from oil is somewhat higher (0.35) and that for coal is very much the highest (2.6 for surface mining, 4.0 for deep mining).* These rates of accidental death are set out in Table 9–1. To place them in perspective, recall that a GWe-plant serves a population of about 1 million. In 1974, the accidental death rate of the general population was 500 per million, of which 220 deaths were due to motor vehicle accidents, 80 to falls, 30 to burns, and 10 to accidents with firearms.

The higher rate of accidental deaths for electricity from coal is largely due to deep mining and to transportation. Both could be improved. In general, small mines suffer twice as many accidental deaths as large mines, per ton of coal mined. If the standards observed in all coal mines were brought up to the standards of the safest, the accidental death rate could be reduced to perhaps a quarter of its present value. However, future trends are difficult to estimate. Until 5 years ago, the accident rate was declining about 4 percent/yr. Since then, it has risen slightly (per ton).13 In the future, automation and other technical improvements in deep mining should enhance safety, but the rapid expansion of production, with a less-experienced and younger work force, and a possible shortage of mining engineers may raise accident rates.

The high mortality rate due to coal transportation is an estimate that is not directly based on coal-train-miles. It reflects conditions that are likely to change. For future planning, this estimate could easily be high by a factor of 2 or 3, in our opinion. The matter needs more precise study.


Statement 9–3, by J.P.Holdren: The coal numbers are dominated, as noted later, by an unrealistic estimate of deaths in coal-train accidents. They shouldn’t be cited without a disclaimer.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement