Friday, December 26, 2008

A dirty little secret TVA might not want to mention?

A commenter at NPR says that the Kingston ash sludge flood could contain a Pandora's box of nuclear wastes and that a savvy reporter with a Geiger counter might open it:
Your news piece on the coal ash spill in Tennessee had a laundry list of heavy metals that could be in the ash. I found it interesting that uranium and thorium were not listed as part of the heavy metals. That coal contains trace amounts of uranium leads to an annual release into the environment of 1,360 tons of uranium and 3,348 tons of thorium according to Oak Ridge National Laboratory. This is more uranium than is consumed by the nuclear power industry in a year. A typical coal plant emits over 5 tons of uranium in a year. ( It would be interesting journalism to take a geiger counter down to the spill area in Tennessee and measure the millirems at the spill site versus normal ambient radiation. 

Coal use for 50% of our nation's electricity comes with many environmental externalities not currently accounted for in its cost however the radiation danger is one of them not normally discussed as yet another danger. (
Instead of just uncritically passing along TVA public relations material, why can't mainstream reporters earn the title "journalists" and do some more snooping around to confirm or deny independently the toxicity of the ash spill?


  1. What's really staggering is that 3348 tonnes of thorium would pretty much run the US for about 6 years, if used in a liquid-fluoride thorium reactor:

    Thorium Comparison

    Thorium vs. ANWR

    Thorium vs. Uranium

  2. Maybe a little off topic, but related to Kirk's comment, there is actually a company in China mining fly ash from coal plants for uranium to be used in nuclear plants, the fly ash contains uranium that are economically viable to exploit, one can only imagine the same would be true for thorium if it were to be used as a nuclear fuel.