Box 3

ELECTRICITY, HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT: COMPARATIVE ASSESSMENT IN SUPPORT OF DECISION MAKING

As a follow-up to the Agency s 1991 symposium in Helsinki on Electricity and the Environment, an international symposium on Electricity, Health and the Environment was organized in Vienna in October by the Agency and nine other international organizations1. The main objective was to exchange information and enhance co-operation between interested parties in the field of electricity demand analysis and supply planning, aiming towards implementing sustainable policies in the power sector, taking into account economic, social, health and environmental factors. Topics covered included data acquisition, the development of computer models for the analysis and assessment of different energy systems, the risks associated with emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, the health effects of chemical releases, the subjective perceptions of risk, and the inclusion of external costs.

The symposium concluded that:

- Much progress has been made since the Helsinki meeting as a result of the fact that more data and better computer tools, including those developed within the DECADES project, have become available. What is needed now is to promote the use of these tools in comparative assessment studies. This is being done through technical co-operation projects.

- Nuclear power can, and already does, play an important role in reducing CO2 emissions and other pollutants from the electricity sector. Results were presented showing that the health impacts from nuclear power plants are far lower than those from coal fired plants.

- Significant uncertainties still exist in a number of areas, for example the risks associated with CO2 emissions and the effects of these emissions on the average temperature, and the risks of small releases of chemical substances. However, it was concluded that if greenhouse effects are included in the overall assessment, hydro power and nuclear power are the only currently available large scale energy sources that have relatively low external costs.

- Positive messages about nuclear power are not getting through to decision makers and the public, or at least are not leading to a more supportive climate for nuclear power. It was therefore recommended that efforts be made to present the results from comparative assessment studies in a more transparent manner so they can be used more readily in decision making processes and communicated to the media and the public. It was suggested that the DECADES project could provide a useful framework for achieving greater international consistency in the approaches used for comparative assessment and for reducing uncertainties in the key data needed for such studies.

The proceedings of both the Helsinki and the Vienna symposia are published by the Agency.



1The EC, ESCAP, the World Bank, IIASA, OECD/NEA, OPEC, UNEP, UNIDO and WMO.