HEALTH WATCH! COAL ASH IS MORE RADIOACTIVE THAN NUCLEAR WASTE

BY BURNING AWAY ALL THE PESKY CARBON AND OTHER IMPURITIES, COAL POWER PLANTS PRODUCE HEAPS OF RADIATION

airpollition2.jpgRegular reader Kate Mc sent this link to me. As a native of West Virginia, this story is especially significant to Kate. We thank her for sharing it with us.

- Lib

The popular conception of nuclear power is straight out of The Simpsons: Springfield abounds with signs of radioactivity, from the strange glow surrounding Mr. Burn’s nuclear power plant workers to Homer’s low sperm count. Then there’s the local superhero, Radioactive Man, who fires beams of “nuclear heat” from his eyes. Nuclear power, many people think, is inseparable from a volatile, invariably lime-green, mutant-making radioactivity.

Coal, meanwhile, is believed responsible for a host of more quotidian problems, such as mining accidents, acid rain and greenhouse gas emissions. But it isn’t supposed to spawn three-eyed fish like Blinky.

Over the past few decades, however, a series of studies has called these stereotypes into question. Among the surprising conclusions: the waste produced by coal plants is actually more radioactive than that generated by their nuclear counterparts. In fact, fly ash—a by-product from burning coal for power—contains up to 100 times more radiation than nuclear waste.

At issue is coal’s content of uranium and thorium, both radioactive elements. They occur in such trace amounts in natural, or “whole,” coal that they aren’t a problem. But when coal is burned into fly ash, uranium and thorium are concentrated at up to 10 times their original levels.

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