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Comparative risk assessment of severe accidents in the energy sector


  • Burgherr, Peter
  • Hirschberg, Stefan


Comparative assessment of accident risks in the energy sector is a key aspect in a comprehensive evaluation of sustainability and energy security concerns. Safety performance of energy systems can have important implications on the environmental, economic and social dimensions of sustainability as well as availability, acceptability and accessibility aspects of energy security. Therefore, this study provides a broad comparison of energy technologies based on the objective expression of accident risks for complete energy chains. For fossil chains and hydropower the extensive historical experience available in PSI׳s Energy-related Severe Accident Database (ENSAD) is used, whereas for nuclear a simplified probabilistic safety assessment (PSA) is applied, and evaluations of new renewables are based on a combination of available data, modeling, and expert judgment. Generally, OECD and EU 27 countries perform better than non-OECD. Fatality rates are lowest for Western hydropower and nuclear as well as for new renewables. In contrast, maximum consequences can be by far highest for nuclear and hydro, intermediate for fossil, and very small for new renewables, which are less prone to severe accidents. Centralized, low-carbon technology options could generally contribute to achieve large reductions in CO2-emissions; however, the principal challenge for both fossil with Carbon Capture and Storage and nuclear is public acceptance. Although, external costs of severe accidents are significantly smaller than those caused by air pollution, accidents can have disastrous and long-term impacts. Overall, no technology performs best or worst in all respects, thus tradeoffs and priorities are needed to balance the conflicting objectives such as energy security, sustainability and risk aversion to support rationale decision making.

Suggested Citation

  • Burgherr, Peter & Hirschberg, Stefan, 2014. "Comparative risk assessment of severe accidents in the energy sector," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 74(S1), pages 45-56.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:enepol:v:74:y:2014:i:s1:p:s45-s56
    DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2014.01.035

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    Cited by:

    1. Hughes, Larry & de Jong, Moniek & Wang, Xiao Qin, 2016. "A generic method for analyzing the risks to energy systems," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 180(C), pages 895-908.
    2. Modica, Marco, 2017. "Does the construction of biogas plants affect local property values?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 159(C), pages 169-172.
    3. repec:eee:enepol:v:106:y:2017:i:c:p:155-168 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Shih, Yi-Hsuan & Shi, Nian-Xun & Tseng, Chao-Heng & Pan, Shu-Yuan & Chiang, Pen-Chi, 2016. "Socioeconomic costs of replacing nuclear power with fossil and renewable energy in Taiwan," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 114(C), pages 369-381.
    5. repec:eee:energy:v:150:y:2018:i:c:p:1018-1030 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. repec:eee:ecolec:v:141:y:2017:i:c:p:245-260 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. repec:eee:energy:v:154:y:2018:i:c:p:277-288 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Sascha Samadi, 2017. "The Social Costs of Electricity Generation—Categorising Different Types of Costs and Evaluating Their Respective Relevance," Energies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 10(3), pages 1-37, March.
    9. J. Micha Steinhäuser & Klaus Eisenack, 2015. "Spatial incidence of large-scale power plant curtailment costs," Working Papers V-379-15, University of Oldenburg, Department of Economics, revised Jul 2015.
    10. Treyer, Karin & Bauer, Christian & Simons, Andrew, 2014. "Human health impacts in the life cycle of future European electricity generation," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 74(S1), pages 31-44.
    11. repec:eee:reensy:v:145:y:2016:i:c:p:373-387 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. Lee, Sang Hun & Kang, Hyun Gook, 2016. "Integrated framework for the external cost assessment of nuclear power plant accident considering risk aversion: The Korean case," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 92(C), pages 111-123.


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