Monday, December 29, 2008

Scientific American: Coal Ash More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste

Burning coal into fly ash creates a cocktail of concentrated uranium and thoreum 100 times more radioactive than nuclear waste. People in Tennessee and Alabama who live around coal plants experience higher levels of radiation than do those who live around nuclear plants. And so what if the fly ash is unleashed in a massive flood across the ground in those surrounding neighborhoods? Perhaps massive radiation exposure?

UPDATE: The following editors note has been added to the original article today:

Editor's Note (posted 12/30/08): In response to some concerns raised by readers, a change has been made to this story. The sentence marked with an asterisk was changed from "In fact, fly ash—a by-product from burning coal for power—and other coal waste contains up to 100 times more radiation than nuclear waste" to "In fact, the fly ash emitted by a power plant—a by-product from burning coal for electricity—carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy." Our source for this statistic is Dana Christensen, an associate lab director for energy and engineering at Oak Ridge National Laboratory as well as 1978 paper in Science authored by J.P. McBride and colleagues, also of ORNL.

As a general clarification, ounce for ounce, coal ash released from a power plant delivers more radiation than nuclear waste shielded via water or dry cask storage.

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