Robert Rosner, Founding Co-Director, Energy Policy Institute at Chicago, William E. Wrather Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy and Astrophysics and in Physics, University of Chicago
A sufficient, timely and uninterrupted supply of energy is an essential prerequisite for our modern society, and its manifold complex and interconnected activities, relying on and generating a multitude of services. However, no energy technology is absolutely risk free, and accidents can occur during all stages of an energy chain. Although, there is no agreed definition for the term risk, in engineering and natural sciences it is commonly as the product of the probability of an event and its consequences. The discipline of risk assessment is well-established, and in the past decades a number of important advancements were achieved.
Accidents in the energy sector form the second largest group of all man-made accidents worldwide; however, in terms of completeness and data quality their analytical treatment was not satisfactory. Therefore, the Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI) initiated in the early 1990s a long-term research activity, at the core of which is the Energy-related Severe Accident Database (ENSAD). For fossil energy carriers and hydropower the extensive historical experience available in ENSAD is used. In the case of nuclear a simplified level-3 Probababilistic Safety Assessment (PSA) is applied, whereas evaluations for new renewables are based on limited empirical data, literature survey, modelling approaches and expert judgment. Accident risks can be expressed by a diverse spectrum of risk indicators covering human health, environmental, economic and societal impacts. However, there are also several risk aspects that are not amenable to full quantification yet because only limited data and experience are available or they cannot be fully covered by traditional risk indicators focusing mainly on consequences. Nevertheless, they can play a crucial rule in decision-making processes and policy formulation.
This presentation starts with an overview of fundamental concepts in the field of risk assessment, followed by a detailed description of the methodological framework for comparative risk assessment that has been developed at PSI since the 1990s. Selected results from actual analyses are then used to demonstrate how risk assessment plays a central role within the broader context of a safe, secure and sustainable energy supply.
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