Are Wind Turbines Safer for Humans Than Nuclear Electric Plants?

News about wind turbine accidents, in the U.S., is a rare occurrence. Fortunately, data are available that provide an excellent cross-section of the types of wind turbine associated accidents which can and do occur and their consequences. As one would expect, as the number of operational turbines has increased, the number of accidents has increased. Human accidents include those that were fatal and those that have caused injury. Human accidents are generally a result of wind turbine failure or a related wind turbine support activity, ref. 1. The ref.1 report provides a total accident summary for a number countries, including the U.S. Reference is made to these countries: Australia, Brazil, Germany, the UK, the US, Scotland and Canada. Additional countries may be included in the ref.1 summary, but are not specifically identified. Eighty-four (84) people were killed and sixty-six (66) were injured from 2008 to 2013 as a result of wind turbine related accidents.

By far the largest number of wind turbine accidents involve failure of the large blades. Wind turbine fires is the second most common accident. The majority of wind turbine blade damage is attributed to lightning strikes. The data, based on 2012 U.S. reported claims, shows that blade damage and gearbox failure account for the greatest number of losses – accounting for 41% and 35% respectively, of the total claims, ref.2. 143 blade accidents and 109 wind turbine fires have occurred from 2008 to 2013. In Germany, rotor blade pieces have gone through the roofs and walls of nearby buildings. Fractured pieces of blades have been documented to fly up to one mile in distance. Wind turbine fires have occurred at the top of the tower. The rotor blades, gear box and electric generator are located at the top of the tower. Fire brigades are usually not equipped to reach a fire at the top of a tower. As a result they can only watch the fire burn itself out. These fires have badly burned workers, and have the potential to cause ground based forest fires or nearby buildings and homes. Graphic photographic coverage of fire damage, blade failure and tower collapse can be viewed on Google by searching for “wind turbine accidents.”

A variety of other wind turbine accidents are documented in ref.1. Accidents have occurred due to high wind storms, causing structural collapse of the tower. Winter weather conditions have caused ice build up on the rotating blades. As a result, ice chunks have been thrown from the blades a distance of over 400 feet. The transportation of wind turbine components is the single biggest cause of public fatalities. Transportation accidents include turbine components ramming through a house while being transported, and a transporter knocking down a utility pole and forcing it through a restaurant. Various turbine parts have fallen off transportation vehicles thereby blocking major highways. 156 cases of environmental damage has been reported since 2007. Hundreds of gallons of toxic gear box oil, spilled as a result of gearbox failures, has contaminated the soil at the base wind turbine towers. At the AltamontPasswindfarm alone, 2400 protected golden eagles and about 10,000 protected raptors have been killed in 20 years. It is estimated that 600,000 bats were killed by U.S. wind turbines in 2012 alone.

There is a misconception that many people, in the U.S. have been killed as a result of nuclear electric plant operations. The U. S. Three Mile Island nuclear plant accident in March 1979, for example, received nationwide notoriety. Radioactive gases were released into the atmosphere, however the accident has not been directly linked with a single death, ref.3.

Ref. 1 “Summary of Wind Turbine Accident data to 30 September 2014″, Caithness Windfarm Information Forum 2014, www.caithnesswindfarms.co.uk
Ref. 2 “GCube Top 5 US Wind Energy Insurance Claims Report” Aug. 6, 2013, http://www.gcube-insurance.com/press/gcube-top-5-us-wind-energy-insurance-claims-report/
Ref. 3 “Energy Accidents”, http://www.ask.com/wiki/Energy-accidents?qsrc=3044