Energy and Health 2 - Electricity generation and health

A Markandya, P Wilkinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

137 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The provision of electricity has been a great benefit to society, particularly in health terms, but it also carries health costs. Comparison of different forms of commercial power generation by use of the fuel cycle methods developed in European studies shows the health burdens to be greatest for power stations that most pollute outdoor air (those based on lignite, coal, and oil). The health burdens are appreciably smaller for generation from natural gas, and lower still for nuclear power. This same ranking also applies in terms of greenhouse-gas emissions and thus, potentially, to long-term health, social, and economic effects arising from climate change. Nuclear power remains controversial, however, because of public concern about storage of nuclear waste, the potential for catastrophic accident or terrorist attack, and the diversion of fissionable material for weapons production. Health risks are smaller for nuclear fusion, but commercial exploitation will not be achieved in time to help the crucial near-term reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions. The negative effects on health of electricity generation from renewable sources have not been assessed as fully as those from conventional sources, but for solar, wind, and wave power, such effects seem to be small; those of biofuels depend on the type of fuel and the mode of combustion. Carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and storage is increasingly being considered for reduction of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel plants, but the health effects associated with this technology are largely unquantified and probably mixed: efficiency losses mean greater consumption of the primary fuel and accompanying increases in some waste products. This paper reviews the state of knowledge regarding the health effects of different methods of generating electricity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)979-990
Number of pages12
JournalLancet
Volume370
Issue number9591
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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