Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How radioactive is coal ash?

Posted By on Tue, Nov 2, 2010 at 10:47 AM

From In The Times:

Like the proverbial broken clock, the nuclear industry is occasionally right, as when it charges that a coal plant releases more radiation than a nuclear power plant.

The gloat relies on a narrow frame, but it is true that burning coal concentrates naturally occurring radioactive materials including uranium and thorium—along with heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic and lead. When filtered out by smokestack control equipment, the toxins do not magically disappear. Rather, they accumulate in the slag that remains, so the cleaner the air, the filthier and more radioactive the coal ash.

Linked to cancer, organ failure, and other serious health problems, coal ash from U.S. power plants is building up in some 900 lagoons, old mines and quarries in almost every state. Sixty-seven of 584 U.S. coal ash dump sites have leaked, contaminating nearby earth and groundwater. Some slag—heavy metal, uranium and all—is recycled into roads, concrete and wallboard.

The radioactive content is small, but if you know nothing else about radiation, know these three things: It is carcinogenic. It is cumulative. And there is no known safe dose. No one can predict how much radiation-caused DNA damage it takes to trigger birth defects and cancers in a particular individual. So when you hear the familiar PR sunshine speech—”You get more radiation from a day at the beach or a mammogram, a CT scan, a cross-country plane ride, a leak at your local nuclear power plant or coal plant emissions”—reach for the BS detector and a lead shield.

Read the rest of this article, by Terry J. Allen, here.

Reminder: We have two unlined, high-hazard coal ash ponds draining into Charlotte's main drinking water reservoir, Mountain Island Lake, all day, every day. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has spent 30 years trying to decide whether or not to regulate coal ash. After the massive coal ash spill in Tennessee in December 2008, the agency promised new regulations within a year. Now, nearly two years after the spill, EPA officials just finished holding hearings about their proposed regulations — one will classify coal ash as a hazardous waste and the other won't. You have until Nov. 19 to submit your comments. Click here to find out how to comment.

Further reading:

The 1960s video vault offers a treasure trove of radioactive how-tos:

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