Strange but True | Energy & Sustainability

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

nuclear-power-plant-with-radiation-sign CONCENTRATED RADIATION: By burning coal into ash, power plants concentrate the trace amounts of radioactive elements within the black rock. Image: ©ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

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, 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. * [See Editor's Note at end of page 2]

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.

Fly ash uranium sometimes leaches into the soil and water surrounding a coal plant, affecting cropland and, in turn, food. People living within a "stack shadow"—the area within a half- to one-mile (0.8- to 1.6-kilometer) radius of a coal plant's smokestacks—might then ingest small amounts of radiation. Fly ash is also disposed of in landfills and abandoned mines and quarries, posing a potential risk to people living around those areas.

In a 1978 paper for Science, J. P. McBride at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and his colleagues looked at the uranium and thorium content of fly ash from coal-fired power plants in Tennessee and Alabama. To answer the question of just how harmful leaching could be, the scientists estimated radiation exposure around the coal plants and compared it with exposure levels around boiling-water reactor and pressurized-water nuclear power plants.

The result: estimated radiation doses ingested by people living near the coal plants were equal to or higher than doses for people living around the nuclear facilities. At one extreme, the scientists estimated fly ash radiation in individuals' bones at around 18 millirems (thousandths of a rem, a unit for measuring doses of ionizing radiation) a year. Doses for the two nuclear plants, by contrast, ranged from between three and six millirems for the same period. And when all food was grown in the area, radiation doses were 50 to 200 percent higher around the coal plants.

McBride and his co-authors estimated that individuals living near coal-fired installations are exposed to a maximum of 1.9 millirems of fly ash radiation yearly. To put these numbers in perspective, the average person encounters 360 millirems of annual "background radiation" from natural and man-made sources, including substances in Earth's crust, cosmic rays, residue from nuclear tests and smoke detectors.

Dana Christensen, associate lab director for energy and engineering at ORNL, says that health risks from radiation in coal by-products are low. "Other risks like being hit by lightning," he adds, "are three or four times greater than radiation-induced health effects from coal plants." And McBride and his co-authors emphasize that other products of coal power, like emissions of acid rain–producing sulfur dioxide and smog-forming nitrous oxide, pose greater health risks than radiation.


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  1. 1. msbamacarpenter 06:34 PM 12/13/07

    I have worked at both a nuclear plant and a coal burning plant and I can tell ya that the coal burning plant is more nasty then the nuclear plant. I pick up less radiation at the nuclear plant then I had at the coal burning plant. All the ash and stuff at the coal burning place was nasty and I was sick and had a really bad case of congestion because of it. I say we need more nuclear plants and less coal-burning plants.
    Rhonda Lynn Waldrop

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  2. 2. NHChemist 08:16 PM 12/13/07

    I can't believe that Scientific American published this. The title is totally misleading. It should be Radiation Exposure is Higher near Coal Fired Power Plants. If nuclear waste is so benign, why is it stored in casks or under water to prevent radiation exposure by nearby people? When I lived in upstate NY in the late 1970's, coal ash was used in place of sand as a traction aid on slippery roads. This was a poor practice, but how much worse would it have been if the State of NY used spent nuclear fuel?

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  3. 3. Lelandvk 10:23 PM 12/13/07

    Nuclear waste is produced in large, concentrated amounts. Coal ash is generated in diffuse stack-output. The aggregate radioactivity, the article aims at, could in fact be greater for the Coal burned than for the depleted Uranium/Thorium/Plutonium fuel rods.

    Considering the percentage of the nation's energy that is produced by coal plants, this is where the numbers could add up. But then again, there need to be studies on HOW dangerous this exposure is.

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  4. 4. dulcimoo 11:26 PM 12/13/07

    I am cowfused. So is an equivalent amount of coal ash vs spent fuel rods, say a cubic cm, or gram more/equal radioactive or is living near a coal plant more radioactive due to the larger amount of less (?) radioactive fly ash?

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  5. 5. everett 02:25 AM 12/14/07

    Finally I see this in print. Anyone with knowledge of naturally occuring radioactive materials is aware that coal fired plants spew more radioactive material than nuclear plants, in addition to all of the other things that coal plants emit.

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  6. 6. Nurtzz 09:43 AM 12/14/07

    1 - The article's title was misleading. Gram for gram, nuclear waste is much more radioactive than fly ash.

    2 - The 'scientific study' compared a measured exposure with an estimated exposure. Hmmm. Not what I'd consider good science.

    3 - The issue of exposure is, further, a false one. Hardly
    anyone (at least who knows what they're talking about)
    is afraid of being near a properly functioning nuclear reactor. They're clean places, carefully monitored, in the main, and so on. And coal-fired power plants are, in fact, nasty places, and dirty.

    The problem with the comparison is that if the coal-fired
    plant is struck by lightning, or a bomb, or a plane, or catches on fire, or breaks in half in an earthquake, your exposure will be mostly to particulate pollution, and for a few hours, during which you may leave the area.

    Conversely, if anything happens to a nuclear power plant to cause an accident, the risk of immediate exposure to a dangerous or lethal dose of radiation is fairly high.

    Even operator error can be critical with a nuclear plant -- think of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, that reprocessing accident in Japan a few years back. Human error becomes disproportionately risky with nuclear installations.

    4 - The article doesn't address a REAL question that I've asked some high-level, knowledgeable nuclear proponents and opponents -- What is the radiation release in fly ash
    compared with the radiation in nuclear waste, expressed on a kilowatt to kilowatt basis?

    Now THAT would be something interesting to find out.

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  7. 7. dbiello 03:43 PM 12/14/07

    I concur with some of your points nurtzz (and I'd definitely love to see that gram per gram comparison. We searched and searched and did not find.) However, I'd argue we covered the real issue which is steady, building pollution and health impacts versus small risk, unimaginable consequences. Neither is particularly palatable perhaps.

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  8. 8. gadinra 05:10 PM 12/14/07

    The study referenced is 1978 in vintage and does not include the radioactive constiuents of all coals including anthracite. The cogeneration process (fluidized bed technology)in Pa burns coal waste (Culm) with low grade limestone and dolomite. The coal waste is primarily cabonaceous shale which has a much higher radioactive content than pure coal and would produce a flyash with a much higher concentration of radioactive constituents. Therefore, the pollution potenial is great because the PADEP is espousing the arbitrary disposal of this waste in abandoned strip mines without any long term monitoring or adequate testing. They are tzking the position that the flyash is inert and does not need to be monitored> What a Joke!!!

    Edited by gadinra at 12/14/2007 9:48 AM

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  9. 9. nuclear 05:20 PM 12/14/07

    The article makes a factually correct point that exposure to radiation from coal plants is higher than nuclear plants (even though spent nuclear fuel is stored at the nuclear plants).

    The headline is wrong, as it seems to compare fly ash with spent nuclear fuel.

    Because spent nuclear fuel is shielded, exposure of plant workers and the public to radiation from this spent fuel is very low.

    If fly ash were produced at nuclear plants, the more stringent regulations faced at nuclear plants would require this fly ash to be collected and stored in a manner that reduced exposure to people.

    Coal plants do not have such requirements and therefore cause more exposure to the public because of the natural uranium and thorium in the fly ash.

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  10. 10. swol77 05:27 PM 12/14/07

    I am wondering why we are now getting a flurry of articles and a book about the "greenness" of nuclear energy. It is not a coincidence and I would like to know the history of how this article got accepted by SciAm.


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  11. 11. BPH-Dav 06:20 PM 12/14/07

    The why of such articles is simple. If we had gone nuclear as a world instead of burnng fossil fuels, we would not have global warming as a problem today. All technologies for power generation cause casualties, and that includes wind and solar. The question is which causes the least problems overall. And we also need to face the fact that what we humans do when resources (i.e. our economies) go bad is go to war. There are some very stark choices for our world to make and we here in the USA who want our cake and eat it too will have to accept reality.

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  12. 12. R4lphE 06:36 PM 12/14/07

    The headline of this article is completely misleading. The dangerous radioactivity in nuclear waste is not from thorium or uranium but from the fission products that are produced in the nuclear reactor.
    Talk about stupid!!!

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  13. 13. joelBlow 06:56 PM 12/14/07

    A thoroughly misleading article. No distinction is made between high level nuclear waste (e.g., spent fuel rods) and low level nuclear waste (e.g., contaminated soil/water surrounding the plant) "Nuclear waste" is not a homogenous set of compounds. The result is that we end up equating the "nuclear waste" of nuclear power plants with the "nuclear waste" of coal plants, a false comparison. In addition, the comparison between the level of radiation consumed by families surrounding a highly secure and contained nuclear plant versus an unsecured, uncontained coal plant is meaningless. It's like comparing the exposure of a radiologist behind a lead wall and the exposure of a shopper in a shopping mall.

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  14. 14. dbiello 07:25 PM 12/14/07

    no conspiracy here i'm sad to report. simply came across this ORNL paper in the course of research for a story on nuclear power and thought this the perfect basis for a strange but true.

    you may or may not like nuclear power but this is what the studies show. take your geiger counter to the local fly ash pile if you don't believe the article.

    and overall: both pale in comparison to normal background radiation. long-distance pilots are the ones really racking up the millirems.

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  15. 15. K. Mounts 05:00 AM 12/15/07

    While the content of the article is "true," in a factual sense, I agree that the title is misleading - it might make you think you'd be safer standing next to an unshielded pile of spent fuel rods than an equivalent amount of fly ash.

    On the other hand, the point of the article is well-taken, albeit well-known - people tend to be more averse to a minuscule catastrophic risk than a much larger but lower-level risk, even if statistically the mortality rate of the former is much lower than the latter. I suspect there has been some evolutionary benefit to select for this kind of bias so I don't tend to see it as "mass stupidity" - but in any case it's just the way people are, and we have to deal with that. And I suspect it would only take one nuclear-waste "dirty bomb" set off by terrorists in a major urban center to skew the mortality statistics heavily in favor of coal.

    On the other, other (third?) hand the environmental destruction, even from that, would be fairly localized and would pale in comparison to the potential for worldwide havoc due to global warming. We're going to have to make some hard choices as a society in the next decade or two, and we need all the information like this we can get.

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  16. 16. Dan M. 06:19 PM 12/15/07

    >4 - The article doesn't address a REAL question that I've asked some high-level,
    >knowledgeable nuclear proponents and opponents -- What is the radiation
    >release in fly ash compared with the radiation in nuclear waste, expressed on a
    >kilowatt to kilowatt basis?

    OK, let me give a rough number comparison. First coal. Let�??s assume coal is a 30 API(1) formation with a density of 1.5 g/cc. This gives us about 10 picocuries per cc of coal. In 2006, there was about 966 million short tons of coal(2) used in the production of electricity. Doing the math, we get about 6000 Curies of radioactive material released into the atmosphere by coal plants last year. Coal produces about 2 trillion kwH per year, so I think I can do the math in my head�?�.3 nanocuries per kWh.

    Now, comes the more difficult part. You ask about the radiation in nuclear waste. It is a simple sounding question, but I�??m not sure how to answer it because the answer keeps changing. The heat produced by the nuclear decay is a good first order measurement of this process. For example, in the first hour after shutdown, the heat drops by a factor of 6. The next month it drops by a factor of 10, the rest of the year it drops by another factor of 5 and after 5 years by another factor of 6.(3) And, it keeps on dropping.
    I�??ve seen references to articles that state that nuclear power plants in the US produce 30 million curies/year. But, as I expect, they didn�??t say at what time. But, let us just use that number, realizing that it falls quickly.

    But, let�??s use 30 million curies for now. Nuclear power produces about 670 million kWh. So, that�??s about 44 millicuries per kWh. Still, after a time, we know it will be less than the coal plants. I just don�??t have good enough numbers from the web to known when. My SWAG on that is 100-1000 years.

    (1)API units are the units that measure the radioactivity of earth formations while logging in a borehole. This is typically an oil well, but it is also used in evaluating coal mines. See my blog entry for details on this


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  17. 17. SandyJ 08:32 PM 12/16/07

    Coal waste is more radioactive? Do this:
    1/ Take geiger counter readings for everything coming out of both types of plants (the actual waste, not what escapes into the environment) and publish the numbers for us.

    It's one thing to say the risk of living downwind of one plant is worse than for the other. It is quite another thing to equate what is produced with what is allowed to escape into the environment.

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  18. 18. Capthook 05:03 AM 12/17/07

    Coal waist radidactive?
    There is nothing cleaner than Nuclear power!

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  19. 19. Jeffrey 04:38 PM 12/17/07

    Fly ash is also loaded with arsenic, cadmium, and in some cases lead. I still can't believe they are now making concrete out of it and puring this stuff all over our cities. Wait until that concrete degrades and leaches into our water.

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  20. 20. Dr. Mark Murphy 06:21 PM 12/17/07

    This is a highly deceptive article. The alarmism of the title is completely disproved by the body of the article. This sort of reporting does not gain scientific trust in SA and one of the reasons why I rarely read it.

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  21. 21. Knuttsen-Boltzmann 05:44 AM 12/18/07

    I stopped subscribing to Scientific American back in the mid 90s because the magazine had moved from its rigorous style of presentation toward eye-catching journalism

    This item makes it look like things have gone downhill from there.

    There is a story to be unpacked, and the author unpacks it reasonably well, although it is not very clear in the reader's eye that we are talking about local emissions rather than the sum of all waste from a reactor, both high level and low level. And radioactive noble gas emissions are not mentioned.

    Another unaddressed issue is the rising risk of sabotage and strategic targeting of nuclear reactors. The consequences of destroying a nuclear reactor are on an entirely different plane, as can be immediately grasped by considering the aftermath of Chornobyl, in terms of land loss, health effects and social impact. No coal-fired power station has such destructive potential. Needless to say, electricity from solar and wind generation are much, much safer, downwind and downstream.

    Unfortunately, some of those who only glance at the"Strange but True" headers draw instant, simple-minded, knee-jerk conclusions, and then publish their deductions on their chosen conspiracy channel.

    If you want to gain more perspective on how you are doing as science educators, have a look at:

    It says:

    "Scientific American is pro nuclear industry trash magazine making
    jokes of contamination by radionuclides".

    Is that the result the editors intended with their OK of such a misleading title?

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  22. 22. JRWermuth 09:31 PM 12/18/07

    The author of this article should be better aquainted with the English language: The article presents sophmorish argument with no substantiation with descriptions and syntax unbecomming of a publication that was once above the curve. The editors do a great disservice to the well established moniker of this magazine.
    James Wermuth FAIC

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  23. 23. hrs0944 02:02 AM 12/19/07

    > and overall: both pale in comparison to normal
    > background radiation. long-distance pilots are the
    > ones really racking up the millirems.

    while the crew members on nuclear powered submarines are receiving less than normal [due to ALARA design for the reactor and shielding from cosmic]

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  24. 24. Kai Lahteenmaki 08:10 AM 12/19/07

    Burning coal, oil, gas, wood, etc. produces besides CO2 also large amount of 1-100 nm size smokeparticles. These small particles go to blood circulation system and cause millions of deaths yearly globally. Here in Finland with population of 5 million, these microparticles from burning cause about 1300 deaths yearly. I comprison, Tchernobyl accident causes 1 or 2 deaths yearly here. So besides greenhouse effects, carbon burning in various forms causes about 1000 times more deaths than nuclear energy.
    Kai Lahteenmaki

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  25. 25. The Earthkeeper 09:22 AM 12/19/07

    We will continue to insist on poisoning ourselves and our environment, be it by coal or nuclear power or another means because the majority of humans insist on having more instead of saying "I have enough!"

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  26. 26. Roger K 02:54 PM 12/19/07

    This is a fact that has been known for many years. The point is not that fly ash is dangerous (it is), but that nuclear waste is less dangerous. As has been pointed out, there are many other hazards more deserving of concern.

    Our standard of living produces contaminants to the environment (duh). As the rest of the world struggles to reach higher standards, more contaminants will be produced in accelerating amounts. If we ask our nation and the rest of the world to accept a lower standard of living, the answer will be a sharp negative.

    What can be done? I don't know; I am hoping for a miraculous breakthrough.

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  27. 27. William C. Merz 05:21 PM 12/19/07

    Circa 1975, SCIENCE published a study of nuclear energy. They concluded that nuclear power planfs were neutral, i.e., the BTUs required for fuel and plant construction equalled the output BTUs.

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  28. 28. James Carrow 05:44 PM 12/19/07

    This article suggests the truth, which is that huge 4,000 MW brown-coal burning plants burn a great deal of radioactive material, much of which goes up the stack and out to downwind areas. I believe the plants in Tennessee are much smaller than this, unlike plants here in Florida, or in New York, California, Europe, China, and Japan. However, as Mr. Lahteenmaki noted, fine particulate matter is the major health hazard, followed by NO2 and SO2. Thank you for your interest in this matter.

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  29. 29. Dan M. 06:12 PM 12/19/07

    > and the author unpacks it reasonably well, although it is not very clear
    >in the reader's eye that we are talking about local emissions
    >rather than the sum of all waste from a reactor, both high level and
    >low level.

    It�??s true that the title is a bit cutesy, and not actually accurate, but it�??s not uncommon to have an eye catching title to get people to read something. This doesn�??t really bother me, even though I�??ve made no income from nuclear power but have worked on coal mining geosteering.

    >And radioactive noble gas emissions are not mentioned.

    Even with that included, the radiation exposure from nuclear power is less than 0.1% of that obtained from the radioactivity of our own body.(1)

    >Another unaddressed issue is the rising risk of sabotage and
    >strategic targeting of nuclear reactors. The consequences of destroying a
    >nuclear reactor are on an entirely different plane,
    >as can be immediately grasped by considering the aftermath
    >of Chornobyl, in terms of land loss, health effects and social impact.

    Nuclear power buildings in the United States, as opposed to Chernobyl and many other reactors in the USSR, are in containment buildings. Concrete shields such as this are far harder to damage than buildings like the WTC. So, if we do have a terrorist attack like 9-11, it would make a lot more sense for them to hit a high rise again, instead of nuclear power plant.

    Second, as I detailed in a thread originating in my blog,(2) the known death toll from Chernobyl is in the range of 40-60. While I do not wish to diminish this loss of life, it is still modest compared to coal mining accidents, especially in totalitarian countries like the USSR. It is true that there is an estimate of a possible additional death toll of 4000 due to the effects of low level radiation. But, that same estimate indicates that the people exposed to the low level radiation from Chernobyl would have a higher risk (by >2x) if they lived in Denver during the last 25 years.

    >If you want to gain more perspective on how you are doing
    >as science educators, have a look at:


    With all due respect, a post in a mailing list is not exactly a good source for information.


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  30. 30. hankroberts 07:52 PM 12/19/07


    Headline writer please. LOUSY headline. Coal ash is definable, it's the residue left after burning coal (albeit whether there are emission controls or not will change the material quite a bit).

    But "nuclear waste" is -- what exactly? The average overall radioactivity left outside a properly functioning nuclear plant, I think, is what you're trying to say. That's not what the words usually mean, not at all, not even close.

    Please fix the headline.

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  31. 31. perryo99 09:41 PM 12/19/07

    Dear Scientific American,
    This article only addresses the hazards of living by a nuclear plant. It does'nt address the problem of disposal of the actual nuclear waste that is leftover when the fuel rods, etc., are spent. I can guarantee you that this material is far more radioactive than any "fly ash" from coal plants. Although I am not necessarily against the use of nuclear reactors for the generation of electricity, this article is a 'red herring' that completely evades and sidesteps the issue of the disposal of mid and high level nuclear waste produced by nuclear power plants. I am somewhat dissappointed in SciAm for printing an article that deceptively leaves out the biggest factor to be considered when building new nuclear power plants. Sincerely, Perry Oberlander

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  32. 32. Gunter Wendel 06:28 AM 12/22/07

    I love the argument that radioactive waste is toxic for X thousands of years. At least it goes away given enough time. The heavy metals, including uranium in coal ash, stay around to leach into ground water for ever.

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  33. 33. KenJackson 03:11 AM 12/23/07

    I'm delighted to see this unpopular truth in print for the public to see.

    This reminds me of my time as a trainee at Navy Nuclear Power Training Unit in Idaho in the late 70's. Every day in the summer the filters for the air handlers in the nuclear power plant were disposed of low-level nuclear waste.

    Why? Where was all the radioactive particulate coming from? Not from the nuclear power plant. All the radioactive material in the plant was encased in metal inside the high-pressure primary loop, inside the reactor compartment (containment). No one was working with any nuclear material. We took an air sample outside the building daily to confirm it was as bad or worse outside as inside.

    It came from the surrounding soil! The filters were only disposed of as nuclear waste because they became contaminated while they were in the plant. The fact that the source of the contamination was natural was irrelevant as far as the rules were concerned.

    The point is that there are significant sources of airborne radioactive particulate other than nuclear power plants. Coal smoke is one source, as this article mentioned. But the unpolluted natural air of central Idaho in the summer has so much that it would be in violation of federal rules for nuclear power plants.

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  34. 34. Catherine Thomasson, MD 04:40 PM 12/24/07

    It is wonderful for Ms. Hvistendahl to give us yet one more argument to stop building any new coal plants! However the choice isn't between nuclear and coal, it's between any fossil fuel and clean, green energy: solar, wind, wave, geothermal, etc. Read Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy by Arjun Makhijani at and see that this route is the real answer!

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  35. 35. Fritz Anderson 04:31 PM 12/27/07

    what about people who burn rice coal in their homes? what is the risk of exposure to those who burn coal for home heat?

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  36. 36. pchernick 06:29 PM 1/6/08

    Change the irresponsible and misleading headline!

    The headline of this story does not reflect the content. The content says "in routine operation, cola plants release more radioactive material into the environment than nuclear plants." The headline refers to "nuclear waste," which remains inside the power plant until it is shipped out. High-level nuclear waste is much more radioactive than coal fly ash or bottom ash.

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  37. 37. Screaming Headline 02:01 AM 1/7/08

    They tried to do a direct comparison study at a Nuclear plant where the spent fuel rods were burnt and released into the atmosphere as plutonium ash, but unfortunately they couldn't find anybody alive in the area to take part in the study.

    This has to be the most half-assed headline I've ever seen, in any publication.

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  38. 38. Peter Vorona 12:36 PM 1/9/08

    The title �??Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste�?� is misleading, it is not a comparison of apples for apples. Has the author ever considered investigating the amount of radiation in trash dumps as compared to the radiation in coal?

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  39. 39. John_Toradze 01:15 PM 1/10/08

    I did my own cross-check on this article looking for more current literature. This is what I came up with:

    Sparton Resources announced that it had successfully produced a small quantity of yellowcake (U3O8) from fly ash from a Chinese coal-fired power plant.

    The uranium extraction test work is being conducted by Sparton's processing engineering consulting firm Lyntek Inc of Denver, Colorado, USA. The test to produce yellowcake used 6.1 kg of mixed fly ash produced at the Xiaolongtang power plant. The ash averaged some 0.4 pounds of U308 per tonne of ash (160 parts per million uranium or 0.00016).

    The ratio of yellowcake to enriched uranium is about 11%-12% of the yellowcake used to create nuclear fuel for power plants. World production of coal ash is somewhere between 700 million and 1.5 billion tons per year, which is a world distribution of about [b]160,000 tons[/b] [b]per year[/b] of raw yellowcake uranium upon the world's public (taking 1 billion tons as the nominal value). 10^9 x 1.6x10^4 (Check the arithmetic. I always do.)

    One source has worldwide yellowcake uranium production at 36,263 tons in 2004. Which means, that if all the uranium mined each year for power plants were dispersed as fine particles around the world in the air, it would be around 22% of what is distributed from coal fired power plants.

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  40. 40. oolatec 11:22 AM 1/11/08

    A very informative view,
    I did a presentation on evolution of the current green house effect about the same time as the Maldives summit

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  41. 41. Rhotel1 05:57 AM 3/7/08

    I doubt that the anti-depleted uranium crusaders actually read Scientific American, but if they do, they should read this article very carefully. Next, there should be a birth defects study and cancer study in the stack shadows. I expect it will show that there really is no correlation and that can be extrapolated into the anti-DU crusader claims, which began when Saddam Hussein's regime wanted out from under the UN Sanctions that ended the Gulf War. They found a fertile ground in the "peace activist" element who were easily convinced that depleted uranium was far worse than the use of nerve gas on the Kurdish village of Halabja. They still fill the internet with an incessant drumbeat and sadly have convinced state legislatures and even some Members of Congress who have been convinced that soldiers and families are at risk and "it's for the troops". provides solid scientific information about DU as does

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  42. 42. Rhotel1 06:34 AM 3/7/08

    I agree the title is misleading since the radioactive components of coal ash are naturally occuring elements and nuclear waste is generated as a result of nuclear radiation. Coal ash, though, is radioactive, more so than your own backyard and more so than the depleted uranium that was used in 2001 and 2003 to kill Iraqi tanks. The article also points to something that the average person does not know that coal contains a number of impurities and that some of them are radioactive. On that point, it serves a good purpose.

    Roger provides links to solid scientific information about uranium and DU as does

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  43. 43. nguyenbatien 02:45 PM 4/18/08

    How to manage the fly ash with hight content of radioactive elements

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  44. 44. theproclaimer 09:53 PM 8/9/08

    You all have some very valid issues, I have spent over 34 years working in coal fired plants ( 16 yrs) and nuclear power ( 18). It is documented how muck dose (17 mrem) that I have received for nuclear. Granted that is low when compared to my coworkers and I do not have documentation for my fossil years, the point is that I am on site for more that 2080 hrs a year during that time I have received a small fraction of the dose that it is estimated for my fossil time.

    It would be very interesting to know what or how the clean coal technology will fare in light of the radiation data.

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  45. 45. jerryreno in reply to NHChemist 01:58 PM 8/20/08

    Have you thought about the thousands of men and women working over the last 60+ years literally on and around the 50+ nuclear power plants floating around the world on and below the oceans? This reality should compare favorably with any other energy sources....

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  46. 46. yankeefan77 11:18 PM 11/19/08

    Queston?? I work at a solidification landfill and we solidify waste with fly ash, I've worked there for 9 years now and was wondering if there is any, (well i'm sure there is) health risks that i should know about that my company is not telling me.. Anyone?

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  47. 47. yankeefan77 11:22 PM 11/19/08

    i work at a solidification landfill and we use fly ash in large amounts i've been working around it for 9 years. anyone know any health risks that my company has not told me about?

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  48. 48. eco-steve 02:27 PM 12/26/08

    This debate would be more accurate if the actual figures concerning the effects of radiation from Tchernobyl on people were allowed to be freely challenged by all scientific bodies.

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  49. 49. SciAm-3535 08:36 PM 12/29/08

    Astonishing. This is the most ignorant and badly written article I've ever seen published by Scientific American - and there have been some wowsers in the past 30 years. Letters from cranks this poorly conceived and executed routingly get spiked. Were all the editor's away on vacation?

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  50. 50. SciAm-3535 08:52 PM 12/29/08

    Atrocious! In the past 30 years, I can't remember seeing Scientific American publish a more poorly written article nor one that so utterly abused the factual information that it contains. Complete trash. I would expect better of a junior-high school student. Were all of the Editors's away on vacation? What a terrible thing to do to a (formerly?) respected journal.

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  51. 51. ScienceGuy 06:34 PM 1/2/09

    Scientific American is now in the same category as National Enquirer. This is total crap, junk science, and sensationalism... Shame on you!

    To make it worse, they have been contacted about the article and while they made as benign a change as possible they refuse to update or modify the headline which is beyond misleading. The headline is completely false and irresponsible.

    Discontinue any subscriptions you have to Scientific American. You don't have to wait until your subscription expires either. Call them now to discontinue.

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  52. 52. ScienceGuy 07:19 PM 1/2/09

    Basically Coal Fly Ash is about 2-3 times as radioactive as soil and is deemd safe to use in building materials such as concrete, gypsum board, bricks, paint, etc.

    Coal, like everything else, contains naturally occurring radionuclides. When coal is burnt, this radioactive material concentrates in the ash. The resulting concentration is usually high enough for radiation measurements performed on the ash with a simple survey meter to be distinguishable from background. The same is true for the ash produced by burning wood.

    Should we board up our fireplaces because the ash is radioactive and distuingshable from background?

    High-level Radioactive wastes, such as from nuclear power plants, are hazardous to humans and other life forms because of their high radiation levels that are capable of producing fatal doses during short periods of direct exposure. For example, ten years after removal from a reactor, the surface dose rate for a typical spent fuel assembly exceeds 10,000 rem/hour, whereas a fatal whole-body dose for humans is about 500 rem (if received all at one time).

    Radioactive materials are prevalent in many soils and rock formations. Extraction and processing of these resources (burning) may expose or concentrate naturally-occurring radionuclides, causing them to be classified as Technologically-Enhanced, Naturally-Occurring Radioactive Materials.

    Radioactive elements in coal and fly ash should not be sources of alarm. The vast majority of coal and the majority of fly ash are not significantly enriched in radioactive elements, or in associated radioactivity, compared to common soils or rocks. This observation provides a useful geologic perspective for addressing societal concerns regarding possible radiation and radon hazard.

    Comparison of some Radioactivity readings of common materials:
    Soils of the United States low:0.2 avg:NA High:4.2
    Fly Ash 2 5.8 9.7
    Drinking Water Treatment Wastes
    Treatment Sludge [pCi/l] 1.3 11 11,686
    Geothermal Energy Production Wastes
    10 132 254

    The document didn't indicate the scale for these measurements but obviously soil is a background level control substance so the readings are quite low, not rem/hour but more like millirems/year. Otherwise after 500 hours exposed to soil you would have harmfull levels of exposure.

    Compared with 10,000 rem/hour after 10 years of decay for Nuke Waste. You would be DEAD in minutes.

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  53. 53. John Pearce 07:46 PM 1/7/09

    Well, I am really disappointed, I have always ( well over 40 years of readership) percieved Sci Am as a highly reputable journal, and it seems pretty clear to me that the headline was deliberately misleading, and Sci Am is wriggling to admit it went for sensationalism over clearly reported science. I only found it because it was repeated on the subscription flyer in the latest magazine, so they are still perpetuating this misleading story.

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  54. 54. Donemyhomework 05:38 PM 1/14/09

    What is the point of this articcle? Your editorial correction makes your article and it's intended purpose usefess. This is a scientific journal?

    clay and sand probably have more radiation than contained nuclear fuel. How does that fit into your climate change arguement? Naturally Occuring Radioactive Material (NORM) is in many unexpected places. It's natural, maybe we could sell it at Whole Foods!

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  55. 55. physicsadherent in reply to Donemyhomework 12:39 AM 2/1/09

    The point of the article is that burning coal to produce electricity is an extremely poor alternative to nuclear energy in every measure, and that the reasons the practice of burning coal to produce electricty are public stupidity and corporate greed.

    Is that clear enough?

    Assuming that the human race survives long enough, a future first grade student will exclaim, "They burned and polluted the atmospere to make electricity? How stupid!"

    Until then, there are still more mountains to flatten and valleys to fill to obtain coal to burn and spew pollutants throughout our enviroment, instead of containing them.

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  56. 56. player6565 11:52 AM 2/19/09

    Scientific American is science and facts, so where is the numerical representation of the difference in radioactivity between coal and nuclear?

    Or can you only come up with there is more with coal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  57. 57. player6565 11:52 AM 2/19/09

    Scientific American is science and facts, so where is the numerical representation of the difference in radioactivity between coal and nuclear?

    Or can you only come up with there is more with coal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  58. 58. player6565 11:52 AM 2/19/09

    Scientific American is science and facts, so where is the numerical representation of the difference in radioactivity between coal and nuclear?

    Or can you only come up with there is more with coal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  59. 59. player6565 11:53 AM 2/19/09

    Scientific American is science and facts, so where is the numerical representation of the difference in radioactivity between coal and nuclear?

    Or can you only come up with there is more with coal!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  60. 60. emwendy 12:57 AM 3/13/09

    I'm writing a story about the health effects of coal fly ash for my college environmental journalism class... would any of you be willing to speak with me about it? Especially if you are working in this sort of field??
    my email:
    please, if you are available I could use the reference

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  61. 61. ckmapawatt 11:45 PM 3/18/09

    Great article. I had to reference it in my blog post on why nuclear should be considered more when we talk about Clean Energy. It's definitely much cleaner than Coal!

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  62. 62. Kal Skirata in reply to NHChemist 08:50 AM 4/2/09

    NHChemist at 08:16 PM on 12/13/07
    I can't believe that Scientific American published this. The title is totally misleading. It should be Radiation Exposure is Higher near Coal Fired Power Plants. If nuclear waste is so benign, why is it stored in casks or under water to prevent radiation exposure by nearby people? When I lived in upstate NY in the late 1970's, coal ash was used in place of sand as a traction aid on slippery roads. This was a poor practice, but how much worse would it have been if the State of NY used spent nuclear fuel?

    in response to this you could not have used Nuke waste because it has the wrong consistancy- second no one said nuke waste was benign they said coal ash is worse its like a 9mm pistole vs the main gun on a battle ship...your argument that nukes are dangerous is ignorant and born of fear...TMI (three mile island) was the greates succes in the Nuke industries history...nearly complete melt down and yet no one died and there is only some evidence the workers even got sick and thats by groups like Green Peace who are anti-nuclear so would love you to think nukes are that dangerous.

    secondly nuke waste is avoidable...the way to do that is called a breeder reactor it converts the U-235 from its origional form to 1 of 2 other options one is weapons grade plutonium...and the other is more fissionable material then there was to another fuel source that generates more by being cant it does not exist...

    third anther person made the ignorant statement that coal is less radioactive which is not true coal ash releases 100 times tha radiation and we are all being affected by it since they can spew it into the air without filtering it out they filter some out but most is simple expelled

    learn the facts before you argue i am writing a 50 page paper on the benifits of nuke energy so you all lose to the 40 sources i have and the list continues to grow by the day...


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  63. 63. Iron Mike 01:10 PM 4/20/09

    I was exsposed too flyash at a power plant in Illinois , for 2 years, I worked in the flyash pits as a heavy equiptment operator, is my health at risk? I seem too wease alot in my breathing.

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  64. 64. Iron Mike 01:13 PM 4/20/09

    I worked in the flyash at a pcoal fired power plant in Illinois for 2 years, as a heavy equiptment operator, in the flyash pits, is my health at risk, I seem too wease alot since the period I worked there this was in the late 1990's.

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  65. 65. icemunk 01:38 PM 5/15/09

    I'm always

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  66. 66. icemunk in reply to The Earthkeeper 01:45 PM 5/15/09

    I've realized most people who hate nuclear power, know nothing about it. Stupidity isn't an excuse for ignorance.

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  67. 67. Narko 08:14 PM 7/14/09

    Article like Sc Am should be more vigilant in writing anything which is not clear in statement.
    They are at fault when it is stated in article that - coal waste call ash is more radioactive than nuke way.
    But yes, it is more damaging as many readers have pointed out here so no repetation needed.
    As citizen of the world, our attention should be directed to seeing that we do not generate much waste- of any kind, to avoid spoiling water,air and land of the earth which we dont have capacity to clean again.
    Look at Chernobyl-what we did with it and what can we do to contain it let alone clean it!!

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  68. 68. ME2 03:36 AM 7/27/09

    Thank you for the story SciAm, and for providing the Comments section.

    IMO, there's plenty of information here for one to become reasonably well-informed in this urgent issue for our times.

    Given that nothing is perfect, I saw nothing here to shake my belief that nukes are the only sensible way to go.

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  69. 69. HS VIRK 02:54 AM 8/3/09

    It is Interesting to read this Paper as we are finding high U/Radon content in soil/water/air near Thermal Plants of Punjab,India.
    Director Research
    DAVIET, Jalandhar, India

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  70. 70. HS VIRK 02:58 AM 8/3/09

    It is interesting paper. My group found Anomalies of U content in air/water and Soil of Thermal Power Colony, near a Coal powered Thermal Plant in India.
    Dr HS VIRK
    Director Research,
    DAVIET, Jalandhar, India

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  71. 71. dwbd 09:42 PM 8/3/09

    Everyone seems to be missing one glaring conclusion that is inescapable from the fact that Coal Power Plants produce more radioactive emissions than Nuclear Power Plants, per kWh generated.

    The implication is that to put Nuclear on the same playing field as Coal, means it should be totally acceptable to simply take all Nuclear waste, mix it with a diluent (like sand for instance) in quantity less than Coal waste, and release same into the environment. You could even dissolve the waste into a water soluble form and dump it into the ocean, far less damage to the environment, than for the Coal Radioactive release. Nuclear Waste problem Solved!

    And we haven't even gotten into the huge quantity of dozens of other toxic substances released into the environment by the Coal Power plant, that the Nuclear Power plants don't release.

    An obvious double standard, where a environmentally destructive, enormous GHG releasing fossil fuel is given preferential treatment by politicians and politically appointed bureaucrats. A fact that has reached a unconscionable level of absurdity with Stephen Chu and the Obama administration. Now why would that be? Answer: Follow the Money.

    We have Stephen Chu happily throwing more billions away on the failed NextGen Coal Burning power plant, which even the Bush Administration canceled because it was a complete fiasco and a money pit. And this same Stephen Chu won't spend one dime on the proven successful, with enormous World Saving Potential Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor, quoting some minor issues that have been solved over 20 years ago.

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  72. 72. harlz 11:20 PM 9/23/09

    Excellent points, dwbd  the axiom follow the money can be effectively used to explain a lot of why the nuclear renaissance has been held back in the three decades since TMI. The big-money politics of the DOEs termination of the Integral Fast Reactor project in 1994, which would have at one stroke solved all the nuclear energy issues the soft-energy Greens complain about, is an investigation that would be a worthy effort for some high-profile journalist. Rod Adams has done what he can here:

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  73. 73. 07:49 AM 10/7/09

    The headline MUST be changed. It is COLOSSALLY misleading. The little editor's note does not do justice to the extremely misleading nature of the headline. The headline is easily the most important part of the article.

    Coal ash is NOT more radioactive than nuclear waste. The "nuclear waste" that worries everyone is really Spent Fuel.

    Spent fuel- which which is what you get after Uranium is "burned" in a reactor- is THOUSANDS of times more radioactive than Uranium itself.

    DIRECT EXPOSURE to spent fuel is LETHAL- death will result in a matter of hours. Direct exposure to coal ash is certainly not lethal as this article demonstrates.

    The magazine must compare the effects of inhaling a few micrograms of spent fuel to inhaling a few micrograms of coal ash before claiming in a headline that coal ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste. (The effect of inhaling a few micrograms of spent fuel will be death, probably within a few hours.)

    Of course, Spent fuel is perhaps the most controlled industrial substance in the USA. There's no way anyone will ever be directly exposed to spent fuel. It is controlled and contained in spent fuel pools or interim storage casks and very strictly monitored by the NRC etc. It is therefore harmless to the residents around a nuclear power plant.

    FYI- I completely support Nuclear Power, I have worked in the Nuclear Power industry all my professional life, but misleading headlines such as this will erode hard earned public trust in the long run.

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  74. 74. notany 04:22 AM 10/14/09

    This was bad science writing.

    Fly ash being radioactive is bad, why you have to spoil reporting that fact with sensationalist and misleading article.

    Your headline is: Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste
    The actual article is comparing radiation released by normally functioning nuclear plant and working coal plant. So the headline is completely wrong and misleading.

    1. .radiation is not same as radioactive waste,
    2. nuclear plant generates wast amounts of new radioactive waste, while coal plant just releases already existing radiation,
    3. radioactive waste inside one nuclear reactor has several magnitudes more radioactive wast than all coal plants ever can release.
    4. Nuclear plant generates several magnitudes more radioactivity than goal plant, while goal plant just releases radioactivity already in the coal.

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  75. 75. Jonathan Christopher 08:47 AM 10/14/09

    This article is misleading because it is incomplete. It ignores the volatile radioactive components of Coal. In coal containing Thorium and Uranium, there are the radioactive daughter products of Radium and Radon. In addition there are other volatile components, such as radioactive Potassium, which is emitted in the smoke plume and is very biologically active.

    It is entirely possible that when all the radioactive components are included in the evaluation that the radiological impact is much greater than this initial report estimates.

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  76. 76. Disappointed by SciAm in reply to Screaming Headline 05:58 PM 10/14/09

    Screaming Headline:

    Thank you! I couldn't have said it better myself.

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  77. 77. dbrown-89 08:21 PM 11/29/09

    Nurtz: chernobyl was a completely different type of power plant than our western ones. we have a containment building on all of our reactors that is pre-stressed to withstand both tornadoes and earthquakes. im not sure about an airplane but if a terrorist wants to maximiaze casualties, a nuclear power plant would be very low on the agenda. there wont be any mushroom cloud. also, please look into what exactly happened on three mile island. you might find it interesting.

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  78. 78. bonzi in reply to msbamacarpenter 10:32 AM 12/6/09

    I can second this. During early 80's I worked on a project to extract commercially significant amounts of uranium from powerplant ash using SO2 from exhaust in the process (the coal used in the particular site was very "dirty" both in terms of sulfur and uranium). As political climate swung away from nuclear energy, we re-tuned and re-branded the project's goal to SO2 scrubbing. (The project never went beyond the pilot stage - the plant switched to other source of "cleaner" coal...)

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  79. 79. bonzi in reply to msbamacarpenter 10:32 AM 12/6/09

    I can second this. During early 80's I worked on a project to extract commercially significant amounts of uranium from powerplant ash using SO2 from exhaust in the process (the coal used in the particular site was very "dirty" both in terms of sulfur and uranium). As political climate swung away from nuclear energy, we re-tuned and re-branded the project's goal to SO2 scrubbing. (The project never went beyond the pilot stag

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  80. 80. bertwindon 11:12 AM 1/10/10

    It seems the author is confusing "radiation" with "contamination by radioactive substances". Such contamination emits nuclear rasiation - by definition.
    I am always very suspect of people who cannot handle simple maths and eEnglish. Who ambiguity and "hogwash" to science
    "Radiation surrounding a nuclear power station" was never an issue, and is a total distraction from the real problems of using nuclear energy. It's a common ploy - divert attention, change the subject - get them another drink. I get sick of it.

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  81. 81. bertwindon in reply to msbamacarpenter 11:16 AM 1/10/10

    So are coal-plant employees wearing radiation monitoring devices ?
    If we breath dust, we can expect to get lung damage, temporary or otherwise. Why stop at nuclear power for a "fix" for this ? Why not just go live on Mars ?
    Failing that, breathing apparatus is available, and health and safety regs. aren't all stupid after all.

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  82. 82. bertwindon in reply to NHChemist 11:18 AM 1/10/10

    Quite !. Journalists like this are so not funny.

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  83. 83. bertwindon in reply to jrtorres 11:23 AM 1/10/10

    Ok, so all the horror in Tazikstan ?, (Tragikstaan ?) is it, - down wind from Chernobyl - is being unfairly blamed on poor old NP is it ?
    So when hospitals wipe-out the patients immune system with gamma radiation ( I believe) this is not really how it's done, but just what they tell us "uneducated people" ? Wow, thanks so much. I was believing it all !

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  84. 84. mufaddal azad 10:05 AM 1/14/10

    fly ash used in residential & commercial purpose in the form of bricks , ppc cement making etc. is harmful for the public or not . please explain?

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  85. 85. bertwindon 08:10 AM 1/16/10

    I yet need to be given some reason to believe that these people have any rational reason to make this assertion. Surely it cannot be that difficult. Maybe park a truckload at the gate of a nuclear establishment. This is the way that a load of radioactive steel - destined for building, in Mexico - was discovered in the 90's ?. I have my money on "no result" !

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  86. 86. bertwindon in reply to msbamacarpenter 08:23 AM 1/16/10

    Yes, I'm sure the nuclear plant was a joy to be at compared to the coal plant, but the question remains "is coal ash radio-active ?" I would put my money - if I had any ! - on "No" to answer that, otherwise there would already be widespread health horror. As you say, it's quite bad enuf as it is. But "bad enough" doesn't equal "radio-active". i.e. you can live in a house made of coal-ash (and maybe some cement !)and not suffer any ill-health from nuclear radiation, because there is none.
    Several entire housing estates had to be demolished and carefully carried-away and buried - somehow, somewhere - in Mexico 10 ? - 15 years ago, when - by pure luck - it came to light that the steel used in them was contaminated with a radioactive material from a "scrapped" (hospital ?) radiography unit, which some kids found and took-apart. They became badly "burned", and very ill through playing with "marbles" of this material from in this unit.

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  87. 87. bertwindon in reply to NHChemist 08:33 AM 1/16/10

    Quite so. What do these people know - zilch. As you say, if they got in charge of this stuff it would be total horror, and that is what makes "nuclear" a "sorry, cannot - must not - do !" because - sooner od later - they will. The only prayer then is that they shut it all down, and do what for energy ?
    They have not managed to invent a "windmill" that actually helps yet. They see physical facts as some kind of personal insult.

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  88. 88. bertwindon in reply to dulcimoo 08:45 AM 1/16/10

    Yes, you are confused !. What the article is - in a back-handed way - is a congratulations (and deservedly so) and a pat on the back for "nuclear power plants" (the ones that haven't ever "gone wrong"). It is stating that (Even ) coal power stations disperse more radio-activity (from the naturally-occuring elements in coal) than Nuclear plants do. This is another way of saying that nuclear plants dieperse next to absolute zero radioactive material - ito the atmosphere.
    Nuclear power plats do NEED to add to the legacy from "reasearch" and accidents and plain careless ignorance (See Tajikstan sites of Russian bomb testing).

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  89. 89. bertwindon in reply to mufaddal azad 09:52 AM 1/16/10

    As far as I am aware coal ash is a perfectly harmless building-material. Whether it is ok on the garden or not is another matter. Being close to something is not the same as eating or breathing that something. I think so.
    The assertion that it is there is more radioactive contamination from the burning of millions of tons of coal, than that coming from nuclear power stations, is a pat on the back for "nuclear power". It is Not saying that radio-active - so called "nuclear" waste, is harmless like coal ash. This is the logic of those born with their tiny brains fitted backwards.
    The adjective "radioactive" (not at all a "PC" word) is used for substances which you do not need to either breath, eat, nor even so much as touch, to be harmed-by - possibly fatally and quite soon. Coal-ash does not in any way merit this description !!!
    However, the total ammount of Uranium, for instance, in several million tons of "fly-ash" emmited by coal-burning power stations, is far more - we are told (and I can believe) than is spread from nuclear power stations.
    As I tried to say just above - but it seems a bad edit slipped-by - the nuclear power price-tag must include the decastation wrought by accidents, some "research", and pure ignorant carelessnes - see Tadjikstan bomb tests of the 50's 60's.
    Obviously it's all a big piss-up. Ha ha. So funny !

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  90. 90. Hoser 10:23 AM 1/16/10

    What is the radiation exposure from eating food far away from a coal or nuclear power plant? That wasn't mentioned. Could it be that the exposure from the area surround a nuclear power plant is indistinguishable from a random location?

    However, it should be noted that certain soils themselves have naturally occurring radionuclides and these can be taken up into the food product. Brazil nuts, grown in a uranium-rich location is one example.

    Potassium-40 is a major source of background radiation we all receive. It is naturally present as a small fraction of the potassium we eat. It does us little harm at around 40 mrem. All reported exposures should be compared to that background dose that can range from 100 to 1000 mrem or higher per year. Apparently, that exposure level is insignificant.

    Fly ash from coal-burning plants has a diameter of around 6 microns, just the right size to go deep into the lungs and stick. This ash exposes sensitive lung tissue to significant radiation. I would be much more concerned about a possible cancer risk from fly-ash than radioactive radon gas. The latter seems to be getting all the attention from the regulators.

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  91. 91. Hoser in reply to mufaddal azad 10:26 AM 1/16/10

    Fly-ash used in building materials could be a source of radioactive radon gas.

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  92. 92. devwildthing 04:32 PM 1/27/10

    Has anyone heard of, or know about, the lumber made by LifeTime Composites LLC? They put fly-ash into their product and yet they have various organizations (SCS, ACAA) backing their product as well.

    I have been debating using it as a replacement for wood lumber interior (not exterior) construction projects like shelving units, furniture, etc. Although they say it is safe, my gut feeling is unsure about the health ramifications of working with and continuously being around this product.

    If you have any information that may be helpful, than please let me know.

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  93. 93. The way of the truth 07:52 PM 8/20/10

    Here we go more propaganda by scientists who are payed by the nuclear companies.

    I would far rather breath a little pollution than have to vacate the city when another chernobyl type event occurs.

    Nuclear is dead, solar and wind are the answer but how can they justify making money out of free energy?

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  94. 94. bzp 05:41 PM 9/14/10

    This is a terrible article that calls into question the credibility of Scientific America. The article says:
    "the waste produced by coal plants is actually more radioactive than that generated by their nuclear counterparts"

    but what it means is *emissions*, not waste. Nuclear power plants produce more radioactive waste than coal plants. The danger with nuclear power is that it creates a virtually permanent mess where many things can (and sometimes do) go wrong.

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  95. 95. willinet in reply to NHChemist 11:17 AM 3/9/11

    Well, nuclear waste is concentrated. Why not recycle it as do the French and Japanese. Read, if interested . There are many articles on-line on how it's done and how little waste is actually left to deal with. It seems to me, Yucca mountain is a treasure trove of unclaimed nuclear fuel, not a waste dump at all. It's just a matter of perspective.

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  96. 96. veggiedude in reply to NHChemist 10:30 PM 3/13/11

    Radiation from Nuclear plants is clean because the waste can be collected. The radiation of coal productions cannot be trapped and it is defused into the atmosphere. In France, the waste is recycled and made to be useful again, so the end result of the waste to be buried is much smaller than you think. Bill Wattenburg says the 20 years worth of waste for a family of four would be able to fit in a shoe box. Compare that to the thousands of tons of waste from coal for the same family.

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  97. 97. jeblis 01:19 AM 3/22/11

    So how much in the nuclear lobby paying you guys? You're setting up and knocking down a straw man. The concern is not what happens when nuclear waste is safely stored and treated, the concern is what happens when this gets released in a accident.

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  98. 98. Dr. Strangelove in reply to jeblis 10:31 PM 3/22/11

    Pollution from coal plants kill an estimated 400,000 people every year in China alone. Chernobyl, the worst nuclear plant disaster in history, killed 250 people within 10 years. Btw, Chernobyl is open to tourists. You can tour the nuclear power plant.

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  99. 99. Tmcmh 10:36 PM 3/24/11

    This article makes a bizarre and irrelevant comparison between emitted coal ash and correctly-stored nuclear waste. The problem with nuclear waste -- as we are learning in real time in Japan -- is what happens when it's not correctly stored. And what we're learning in the United States is: it's not correctly stored:

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  100. 100. Dr. Strangelove in reply to Tmcmh 03:45 AM 3/25/11

    Nuclear waste when not correctly stored leaks radiation and possibly kill people. Normally operating coal plants kill 1,000 times more people than nuclear meltdown.

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  101. 101. warbag 02:35 PM 3/25/11

    Coal does NOT kill people any more than guns kill people. People kill People, by irresponsible use of oil, coal, nuclear or guns. The problem with coal, or any other lies only in what is being released to the environment. It can be controlled on the very day that money and jobs cease to drive the economy over a desire for clean energy. I can clean up a coal fired plant to where it would never be noticed but my competition is the largest companies in the world, who don't want it cleaned up so good because it would hurt their profits to do so and many jobs would be lost, including those of the engineers who stand in the way of clean technology.

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  102. 102. Dr. Strangelove in reply to warbag 12:17 AM 3/26/11

    Gun is not a good comparison. Gun is designed to kill. Coal plant is not designed to kill but it kills anyway not by design but by nature burning coal is deadly.

    Burning coal produces a lot of CO2 and toxic chemicals and radioactive elements. To make coal safe, you have to capture all these hazardous wastes, turn them from gas and particles into solid, and bury them underground. This is costly and will make solar cheaper than coal. So coal is naturally hazardous and expensive to make it safe.

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  103. 103. glowing 02:14 PM 3/26/11

    I'm not scientist so you can tell me anything: in this case it is that improperly controlled or totally uncontrolled coal ash is 100 times more radioactive than perfectly controlled spent fuel from a nuclear generator.
    I think there may be a rub there somewhere. But I'm surprised and disappointed that radioactive sources much touted as dangerous lately - if you want to get picky about it - by nuclear industry supporters were omitted here: bananas and rocks!

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  104. 104. Dr. Strangelove in reply to glowing 12:20 AM 3/27/11

    I guess the rub here is the futility of debating what we can theoretically do with coal ash and spent nuclear fuel to make them safe. What is relevant to public safety is what is actually happening in coal plants and nuclear plants. In fact, we let coal ash escape to the atmosphere and we store nuclear waste. If that's not a fair comparison, then coal plants should stop emitting fly ash to the atmosphere.

    Do bananas and rocks pose greater health risk than coal ash?

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  105. 105. Delta-T in reply to jrtorres 02:38 AM 3/27/11

    The "political" component of environmental change is a figment of your imagination. Yes, the tiny minority who have chosen to disregard common sense regarding human environmental impacts do share one political ideology. Those who accept the obvious include members of all political ideologies. Unfortunately for you, the "We" you seek to buffer your fallacy still seems to be limited to you, the mouse in your pocket, and a few other shallow thinkers who naturally gravitate toward the Wing Nut edge of the political spectrum.

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  106. 106. glowing in reply to Dr. Strangelove 04:17 AM 3/28/11

    The original comparison was, I believe, between the radiation emitted in coal ash and radiation emitted in the immediate vicinity of nuclear reactors, the former alleged as 100 times the latter. Well, not so. The infinitesimal amount of radiation from coal ash was thus estimated on the false assumption that there was nil radiation emissions from nuclear reactors, a highly debatable position. As for spent fuel rod waste - under ideal conditions they are relatively safe but those conditions can't be maintained. The water storage, never completely reliable as we have seen in many cases, has in fact in no case been completed to the final stage of specially constructed and prohibitively expensive special containers, and shipped to permanent storage for several hundred thousands of years. That's the rub. As for your figures comparing the deaths in coal plants and melt downs, they are fantastical.
    As it is difficult 1) to formulate an exact equation between exposure to radiation and sickness and death and 2) to get builders and operators of nuclear facilities along with the governments that support them to admit to anything, the true extent of the human damage is greatly obscured. But your figures on fatalities caused by Chernobyl are risible even considering these obstacles to establishing the facts of the matter: no reliable source would confirm them.

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  107. 107. Dr. Strangelove in reply to glowing 07:01 AM 3/29/11

    "The infinitesimal amount of radiation from coal ash was thus estimated on the false assumption that there was nil radiation emissions from nuclear reactors"

    The false assumption was yours. Radiation from nuclear reactors was not assumed zero. If it were zero, coal ash would be infinitely more radioactive than nuclear waste, not merely 100 times.

    "As it is difficult 1) to formulate an exact equation between exposure to radiation and sickness and death"

    These people were exposed to high radiation from nuclear meltdown, showed symptoms of acute radiation sickness, and died of cancer. Was that a difficult equation?

    "But your figures on fatalities caused by Chernobyl are risible even considering these obstacles to establishing the facts of the matter"

    My figure came from United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). I got it from Wikipedia. It wasn't a great obstacle for me to get the facts. Your objections, to use your own words, are "fantastical" and "risible."

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  108. 108. JimHopf 02:56 AM 4/1/11

    While I'm a strong supporter of nuclear power, I must say that this article (especially its title) are pretty dumb. I will try to clear things up and answer some of the questions I've heard.

    On a per volume basis, nuclear waste (i.e., spent fuel) is more radioactive than coal ash by many orders of magnitude. Even on a total radioactivity basis (i.e., if you factor in coal ash's much larger volume), nuclear waste still has a much higher amount of activity, although at some point in the distant future, it's radioactivity would fall below that of coal ash, due to decay. Spent fuel's radioactivity falls below that of the original uranium ore that was dug up after ~30,000 years.

    However, the above analysis fails to account for the fact that nuclear waste is contained, whereas coal ash is not. As a result, public radiation exposure is ~100 times larger from coal than it is from nuclear, under normal plant operation. This comparison is far more pertinent than the radioactivity levels in nuclear waste vs. coal ash.

    Also much more pertinent is the fact that coal plants cause 25,000 deaths in the US every single year (hundreds of thousands worldwide), whereas US nuclear plants have never had any measurable impact on public health. (Coal's impacts are due to a host of other pollutants, in addition to radioactivity in the ash.) Then there is the fact that coal plants are a leading cause of global warming, whereas nuclear plants have no impact.

    Even in the event of serious nuclear accidents, nuclear's impacts are tiny compared to the ANNUAL impacts of fossil fuels, even before global warming is considered. TMI had no impact. Few, if any, members of the public will die from Fukishima. Credible estimates for Chernobyl's impacts range from 100 to 10,000 eventual deaths. In none of these accidents did a person living near the plant have a substantial risk of death. This compares to hundreds of thousands of annual deaths, worldwide, from coal.

    The comparison couldn't be more clear. Nuclear's environmental impacts and public health risks are completely negligible compared to coal. There is near universal scientific concensus on this point.

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  109. 109. Joseph C Moore, Cpo USN Ret 04:48 PM 4/16/11

    This is a major article that should be carried in big city newspapers (like the NY Times) but don't expect it in these anti-nuclear, hysterical, publications.

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  110. 110. sdwesley3 12:52 PM 11/15/11

    It was found that a person living within 1 Km of coal generation plant is going to find that their radiation exposure is between 1-5% above the radiation levels found in the natural environment. Radioactive elements in coal and fly ash should not be a source of alarm. The vast majority of fly ash or coal ash, is not enriched in radioactive elements.

    According to Robert Finkelman, "That for the average person the radioactive by product accounts for a miniscule amount of background radiation, probably less than 0.1 percent total background radiation exposure." This is far less than the exposure one would receive from one visit to his or her local dentist!

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  111. 111. sdwesley3 01:02 PM 11/15/11 Please read this link refuting the statement that fly ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste! Sure if you stand next to a pile of fly ash uncovered and compared that to standing next to spent rods shielded.... Makes sense doesn't it?

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  112. 112. marcoconti 09:39 AM 1/17/12

    Fly ash is less radioactive than nuclear waste although its biological and environmental impact must not be underestimated.

    A few weeks ago I tested a sample of fly ash from Central Queenland. The sample added 15 micro Roentgen to the 9 micro-Roentgen of the background radiation. From the type of decay I think I measured Uranium Oxide although Queensland has large deposits of Thorium. My measurement was also consistent with the occasional increase of radioactivity that I sometimes detect when it rains because water droplets precipitate the nano-particles released in the atmosphere by the massive coal burning process powering Queensland.

    Certainly, breathing, drinking and eating nano-particles inducing + 15 micro-Roengen/hour inside someone's body/cells + 9 microRoentgen of the background radiation cannot be compared to 24 microRoentgen/hour coming from the background and the health impact is probably relevant.

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  113. 113. nedselrah 11:30 AM 1/18/12

    I am 53 years old. I grew up next to a coal powered plant in the N.W.10. district of London, England.
    I remember back when I was about 8 years old that the fish floating in the Grand Union Canal would have fuzz growing on them, bulging eyes,scales coming off and other deformities ... some were still alive, if I caught one in my fishing net I would throw it back and try again for a healthy one to put in my jam jar to take home.
    We grew vegetables on our allotment and watered them with water out of the Grand Union Canal.
    I have memories of a very young age, of the rain burning my legs, I would scratch them as I was out walking with my mother if they were uncovered and I would sometimes cry as it was uncomfortable.
    I have numerous unexplained health problems. I have led a very healthy lifestyle since age 21, which is when I left London. I now live in Canada. My question to this forum is, where do I look for information regarding the effects on health when growing up next to a coal power plant, there were two in the general area, one near my school and one near my house.

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  114. 114. nedselrah in reply to nuclear 11:36 AM 1/18/12

    I grew up next to a coal power plant, in the N.W.10. area of London, England. The Grand Union Canal, not far from the plant had deformed fish in it, back in the early 60's.
    I am not sure what other industry was in the area other than H.J.Heinz Co.
    I have had a lifetime of unexplained illness (I am 54, I left England at age 21) and would like to know if anyone on this forum has suggestions for an efficient source to look up the effects on human health when the formative years are spent in close proximity to these plants.

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  115. 115. emmkayfive in reply to Dr. Strangelove 05:49 PM 2/3/12

    I'd love it if you could find med a reputable source for your claim that one can get tours of the Chernobyl power plant - specifically reactor 4.

    Hopefully this endavour will enlighten you about the true state of affairs over there at reactor 4.

    While you are at it, maybe you can arrange a tour of Fukushima Daiichi reactor 3?

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  116. 116. Innomen in reply to NHChemist 01:43 PM 2/22/12

    It's a fair question and the answer is pretty straight forward.

    Put simply we would bury the waste products of coal as well if it could be concentrated into a 50 gallon drum. And if it were concentrated into those drums it would be just as harmful if not more so. As it stands however the waste is gaseous and monumentally voluminous and so we spray it into the sky instead.

    It's a bit like the old trick question, which weighs more 50 pounds of iron or 50 pounds of feathers.

    The total waste output is different but in a direction that is counter intuitive because the volume/density is radically different as well.

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  117. 117. charvak 04:11 PM 3/9/12

    I wonder if we could use the uranium in coal fly ash to fuel nuclear fission reactors?

    I want to clarify a misunderstanding about the relative radioactivity of coal fly ash and nuclear waste. The total radioactivity of fly ash emitted by a coal power plant equals the total radioactivity of the coal that fueled it. The power plant just concentrates it in one region. Proper disposal could be to spread it back out. With nuclear fission, we turn relatively stable uranium into far more radioactive isotopes with shorter half lives (therefore more radioactive) and dramatically increase the total radioactivity of the material. That's why it cannot be disposed of by spreading it out. Nuclear fission burns fuel created billions of years ago during the big bang and turns it into frightfully hazardous stuff that must be actively managed to keep it from melting down. Coal is dirty, but the entire process is naturally reversible as plants recapture the carbon and decay in the ground over the course of maybe millions of years, but uranium is a limited quantity.

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  118. 118. ders45 09:33 AM 4/13/12

    hey it's <a href=""> casinos en ligne</a> and what you think it is.. it's all about hapiness guys ! thanks for sharing. I guess the topic is interesting to discuss. Anyway it's not a spamm. I ll be glad to talk with all of you regarding this matter

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  119. 119. lillymunster 09:28 PM 4/15/12

    Seriously, the paper they cite isn't even an accurate representation of risk. They claim the outside of a reactor and the outside of a coal burning plant are the same thing and then try to equate that to nuclear waste not being a big deal? Nuclear waste is far more dangerous than coal ash. This is not the first really pathetic grossly incorrect article about nuclear power Sci-Am has run in recent months. Part of science and tech media is being trustworthy and factual. Epic failure on both partys.

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