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August 7, 2000

Nuclear Vs. Coal

Coal-Burning Wastes More Energy than It Produces

Russ Sibell in Colorado referred me to http://www.ornl.gov/ORNLReview/rev26?34/text/colmain.html,which features an article entitled "Coal Combustion: Nuclear Resource or Danger,"by W. Alex Gabbard, from the Nuclear Fuel Materials Section of Oak Ridge NationalLaboratory's Metals and Ceramics Division.

Giving all the relevant numbers and statistics, Gabbard shows among other eye-opening things why:

-- Coal-fired generating plants worldwide expose the average person to over 100 times the radioactivity experienced from the nuclear operations. Comparable amounts released by nuclear plants would produce a public outcry.

-- If the same standards for containing radioactive releases that are demanded from the nuclear industry were required of coal-burning utilities, coal-burning would cease to be an economic alternative. Coal ash qualifies as radioactive waste but isn't regulated as such.

-- Far more nuclear fuel is contained in coal waste than the fuel burned by the nuclear industry (!).

-- Coal burning wastes more energy in the form of unrecovered nuclear material than it generates.

Some quotes:

The fact that coal-fired power plants throughout the world are the major sources of radioactive materials released to the environment . . . suggests that coal combustion is more hazardous to health than nuclear power and that it adds to the background radiation burden more than does nuclear power.

Today nuclear power plants are not as economical to construct as coal-fired plants, largely because of the high cost of complying with regulations to restrict emissions of radioactivity. If coal-fired power plants were regulated in a similar manner, the added cost of handling nuclear waste from coal combustion would be significant and would, perhaps, make it difficult for coal-burning plants to compete economically with nuclear power.

Consequently, the energy content of nuclear fuel released in coal combustion is more than that of the coal consumed! Clearly, coal-fired power plants are not only generating electricity but are also releasing nuclear fuels whose commercial value for electricity production by nuclear power plants is over $7 trillion, more than the U.S. national debt.

 
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