Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste

Friday, December 14th, 2007

Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste, according to Scientific American:

[T]he 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.

It’s not like this is a problem though:

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.

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