15 March 2011
Radiation from Coal vs Nuclear Plants
Posted by Dan Satterfield
I’ve had several emails about my post last night and specifically about the fact that that coal fired power plants produce more radiation than nuclear power stations. I did some research and found a very good article in Scientific American on just this subject.
They actually used Tennessee and Alabama for the examples used in the study. Coal ash has been in the news a lot recently with the huge incident in late 2008.
The Scientific American piece is here, and definitely worth a read.
There is actually some good news this afternoon from the Fukushima plant. It seems that radiation levels have dropped considerably (60 mrem). The winds are now blowing any radiation released out to sea.
I attempted to call up the hourly weather ob at Sendai airport but it stopped at 3 PM Friday. The 4 PM ob would have been after the tsunami hit the airport (which millions watched live on TV). Looking at nearby obs, the winds are now turning to the West and will stay there for a few days.
If there was a significant radiation leak today, the winds would likely carry it to western Alaska in about 4 days. The levels would be many times lower as the radiation spread out across the Pacific and would cause no harm. It would be detectable though.
I am a US citizen living in Kakuda, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, roughly 65km NNW from the Fukushima Daiichi site.
I’ve been searching for decent information on possible exposure since power finally came back on here this morning. Still no water though..I wish I could take a shower.
I’ve been carefully monitoring the wind patterns and as of yet they’ve been cooperating by blowing in the opposite direction and are forecast to continue so for the next two days. In the meantime I’m wearing a mask and covering skin in an abundance of caution
I am planning on evacuation further north, at least to Sendai, in the event winds are forecast to head this way, but this would likely be a major life-altering decision for me if taken.
I had never heard of you before I found this site a few minutes ago, but maybe I’ll get lucky and you’ll help me out with non-BS info. At least I share your opinions on nuclear power (still!) which is comforting.
Basically I want to make an informed evac decision, and I humbly ask for your help.
First of all please pass on to your friends there my sincerest sympathies on the great catastrophe the people of Japan have suffered. It’s heart breaking to see the images coming from the areas hit by the tsunami. I do have some advice for you. Based on the latest numerical weather models, the wind flow will stay from the NW for the next several days. This means any radiation released will blow away from you. So stay where you are, it’s a good place to be if there is a significant release of radiation.
The evacuation zone is in place out to 20km because of an abundance of caution and I doubt very seriously it will be extended.
Thank you, I’ve done some more resrarch some of which was following your links and it’s pretty clear that without any unforseen crazy reversal of the reactor cooldown (Godzilla comes?) we should be fine here.
I’ve been in the dark here, both literally and figuratively, since the event and I really appreciate your response,
This has been one heck of a week.
If you want to know anything from an eyewitness, shoot. Mind, I’m inland and haven’t seen the tsunami or aftermath thereof.
Andrew, I will send this to you via email as well. The nuclear experts here in the USA are now recommending that people evacuate out to about 75km from the plant.
Your location is on the edge of that zone. The winds today are such that you are not threatened by radiation but if the situation does not get better, you should prepare to go further NW. You should have wind conditions that will keep any radioactivity away from you through the next 72 hours.
Will keep you updated.
I have successfully evaced to Sendai for now, and in a much better living situation it turns out. Working taps/sewers is huge.
Still following the Daiichi situation, but it looks like it may be still to early to tell if it’s going to come under control in the end.
Very good news Andrew! I would gladly publish some pictures of like there if you have time to send them.
Our thoughts and prayers are with all of Japan. Stay safe!
The SI article is worth a read, a careful read, to avoid being misled. Here is a key statement at the end of the article:
“As a general clarification, ounce for ounce, coal ash released from a power plant delivers more radiation than nuclear waste shielded via water or dry cask storage.”
This is like saying you’re more likely to get bit by a dog running loose in the park than by a tiger locked up in its cage.
It’s a true enough statement until the tiger gets loose.
I’ll second John’s comment about the Scientific American article. I found the headline to be very misleading. That caveat at the end makes a huge difference: radiation from coal ash is greater than radiation from *contained* nuclear waste. Once the nuclear waste is no longer contained, there’s no contest. It’s just not true that coal ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste.
What is true is that coal causes more death and disease than nuclear power, it’s just not as dramatic. I saw a different article that called nuclear power the “shark attack” of the energy world. Bed things don’t often happen, but when they do everyone hears about them and panics.
I have to agree that the headline was pretty lousy.
I think the question here is this: If you live nearby a properly operating nuclear reactor, do you get more or less radiation than someone living nearby a coal fired power plant. The study says the answer is yes. The headline implies that coal ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste which is of course preposterous.