Coal ash is a byproduct of coal combustion, created when coal is burned in power plants to produce energy. According to an article in Scientific American that cites Oak Ridge National Laboratory researcher Dana Christensen, ‘the fly ash emitted by a power plant — a byproduct 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.’
In testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Wednesday, EPA Administration Lisa Jackson acknowledged the cancer-inducing effects of hexavalent chromium and told Congress the EPA would be working to reduce chromium exposure.
‘Recent animal testing data have demonstrated carcinogenicity associated with ingesting chromium-6 in drinking water,’ Jackson said. ‘That discovery, along with a recent report by the Environmental Working Group that found elevated levels of chromium-6 in more than 30 public water systems, has heightened public concern about the presence of chromium-6 in drinking water.’
In addition to chromium, coal ash also may contain arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, selenium and other dangerous chemicals.?Hexavalent chromium was made famous by the environmental activist Erin Brockovich, a woman who sued Pacific Gas and Electric for alleged contamination of drinking water with the chemical.”
The Oak Ridge National Lab study by Alex Gabbard goes further, stating that “although not as well known, releases from coal combustion contain naturally occurring radioactive materials--mainly, uranium and thorium.”
The ORNL study states:
Former ORNL researchers J. P. McBride, R. E. Moore, J. P. Witherspoon, and R. E. Blanco made this point in their article "Radiological Impact of Airborne Effluents of Coal and Nuclear Plants" in the December 8, 1978, issue of Science magazine. They concluded that Americans living near coal-fired power plants are exposed to higher radiation doses than those living near nuclear power plants that meet government regulations. ….The fact that coal-fired power plants throughout the world are the major sources of radioactive materials released to the environment has several implications. It suggests that coal combustion is more hazardous to health …..It also suggests that if radiation emissions from coal plants were regulated, their capital and operating costs would increase, making coal-fired power less economically competitive.
The idea that coal, even with carbon capture and storage, is perceived as “clean” is beyond reason when the totality of carcinogens, heavy metals, and other kinds of immune suppressors and hormone imitators are considered.
And sixth, nuclear energy is the other prime candidate vying for the “clean” designation only meaning “low in carbon.” Aside from the alarming regulatory history of nuclear outlined in my previous columns, the hazards associated with modern uranium mining and nuclear waste storage are highly disturbing.
The EPA’s website also tries to evaluate number of uranium mine waste sites in the United States and states “there is no exact total of these wastes. However we do have estimates based on U.S. Geological Survey data.” The EPA goes on to say that “according to USGS estimates, the approximately 4,000 open pit and underground mines in their database generate about three billion metric tons. (The volume of waste (including overburden) produced by open-pit mining is approximately 45 times greater than wastes produced from underground mining.) Given the larger number of mine locations identified by EPA, the amount of waste rock is likely to be higher.”
Uranium mining is done using either open pit or underground operations. Currently, approximately 75 percent of Canadian uranium ore comes from open-pit operations. Once mined, the ore is trucked or pumped as slurry to the milling facility. At the mill, the ore is finely ground and mixed in either a highly acidic or alkaline solution to extract the uranium. Finally, the uranium is concentrated and dried into mixed uranium oxides called “yellowcake.” The tailings or wastes left by the milling process consist of ground rock particles, water, and millings, chemicals, and radioactive and otherwise hazardous. In fact, up to 85 percent of the radiological elements contained in the original uranium ore end up in the tailings.
Perennial anti-nuclear Harvey Wasserman laments in the Huffington Post:
In Florida, botched multi-billion-dollar repairs to the Crystal River reactor near Tampa have forced a brutal grassroots battle over soaring electric rates which must be approved by increasingly beleaguered state regulators. It is highly likely that reactor will never operate again.
At Pilgrim, Mass., is strongly intervening against a license extension. Both remaining reactors are currently shut at California's San Onofre (Unit One there also went down long ago), where grassroots activists---including local surfers---are in pitched battle against re-opening. Ohio's Davis-Besse is having its containment dome sliced for the fourth time. Two reactors in Nebraska are still recovering from major flooding.
If you took my interdisciplinary course at The George Washington University on sustainable energy, you would have the list of 24 studies over the last few years that show that the world and the United States could meet “most or all” its energy from the existing, commercially-available blend of high-value energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Bottom line — a federal clean energy standard should reward the energy sources that are clean – energy efficiency, waste heat, and the entire portfolio of renewable energy technologies — all which meet the “clean” imprimatur. And we should start now in the 21st century, not 1991 in the 20th century. The “everything is clean” approach makes nice political showmanship but horrible public policy.
The renewable energy and efficiency trade associations, think tanks, or advocacy groups should not endorse the Senate proposal.
To add your comments you must sign-in or create a free account.