From: email@example.com (Jim Muckerheide)
Subject: Re: NUKE DOE!
Date: 18 Jun 1995 16:38:36 GMT
In article <firstname.lastname@example.org>, email@example.com (Atomic Rod)
> Rick Nyman wrote:
> Once I heard that a large coal fired power plant actually releases
> more radiation/radioactive material (not sure which) than a nuclear
> plant. With the quantity of coal burned, there are enough trace
> radioactive elements to effect this (according to wherever it was that
> I read the story).
> Is this true?
> Yes. Typical concentration of radioactive material in coal is about 4
> ppm. A 1000 MW coal plant burns approximately 11,000 tons of coal every
> day. The total emissions of radioactive material are therefore about 88
> pounds per day. (40 Kilos to those who use a sensible measuring system.)
> Of that, about 1 % is assumed to be released as fly ash in a modern plant
> with 10% in one with no scrubbers or bag house. The rest goes into the
> unmonitored ash pile which is often right next to a body of water.
> Of course, even this amount of radioactive material has no discernable
> health effect on the local population. It is just interesting to compare
> it against the releases from a nuclear plant, which are measured in
> milligrams or micro curies.
Of course this is only a SMALL part of the story. More significant is that the
Uranium has decay products that are in the coal. There is also, typically,
almost as much Thorium as Uranium. Both the U and Th have a series of decay
products, 13 to 17 decay products each, that are at equilibrium with the U and
Th in the coal. There is also Potassium-40, often at much higher
concentrations than U and Th; plus Rubidium-87 (usually about 10% of K-40).
The radioactivity in many of these products are much more environmentally and
health significant than the U and Th radioactivity (though data on the U and
Th radioactivity may be reported including the decay energies from the initial
products in the measure of the U/Th radioactivity). Radium is the first decay
product that has both significant radioactivity and is chemically active
(acting like calcium) for human exposure (since the heavy U and Th atoms/alpha
emitters, like Pu which is another of the same, are relatively immobile and
When the coal is mined, crushed, and burned, these products are released also.
Obviously the decay product of Radium, Radon, as a noble gas, is then free in
the mine and in the mined coal mass to be substantially, partially, released
at the mine and in transport, along with additional releases of trapped Radon
in the crushing and burning of coal, and then from fly ash caught in bag
houses and in the wastes until they are sufficiently layered and compacted to
limit releases from below about 2 feet of the surface, though discharge from
runoff can be higher than "normal" from earth and rocks because the material
is not as chemically bound in the original matrix. The Radon and its decay
products released to the environment (none of which would have been released
if the coal had not been mined) are massively more significant than releases
from nuclear facilities, and from radioactive wastes including the chemical
and material conditions for release.
But these data have been consciously ignored because coal and other fossil
fuel interests have kept them from being considered, and the utilities have
very much been directly involved in failing to use this data in environmental
assessments, health assessments, rulemakings, and other evaluations of the use
of nuclear energy vs fossil fuels.
(Of course all of this is true for other mining endeavors re the materials and
releases issues; including eg phophates with high concentrations that result
in something like 3000 tons of K-40 (the K-40 is a very small fraction of the
total natural Potassium) being used just in fertilizers on food crops in the
US. Depending on the source/location of the phosphate, the TSP
(tri-sodium-phophate) cleaning powder under your sink can have quite high
radioactivity concentrations! Government bureaucracies and politicians,
conning the gullible and "spreading the wealth" to the knowledgeable business
interests make us spend $10s billions to protect us from lower concentrations
in wastes and for decontamination/decommissioning for their own power and