Nuclear Waste In Context

February 19th, 2012

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What if I told you that a material existed with the following properties?

  • It is highly radioactive. Because it is a very high energy alpha emitter, it is very radiotoxic. It also produces a long decay chain of daughters that emit high energy gamma and beta particles.
  • It has a half-life of over one thousand years, making it difficult to dispose of and requiring long term storage considerations. Despite the relatively long half-life, it is still short enough to make it highly radiotoxic, especially because of the nature of the radiation it emits directly and through its daughters.
  • It emits enough gamma radiation that a pure sample of the material can kill tissue on contact, after only exposure of a few minutes.
  • The gamma radiation emitted by the material and its daughters is sufficient that if you sat next to a few dozen grams of the material, you could easily end up with acute radiation sickness in a matter of hours. In less than a day it could kill you.
  • A pure sample emits enough radiation to create significant amounts of heat. The total decay heat is more than 100 watts per gram.
  • It is chemically reactive, it forms compounds which readily dissolve in fresh and salt water. It may be mobile in the environment, but it also may cling to materials, making decontamination of areas difficult.
  • It has a high biological uptake in most of its chemical forms.
  • It may be persistent in the body and has a tendency to be incorporated into bones, replacing calcium. In such cases, it will not clear the body and has been associated with leukemia and bone cancer.

Such a substance does, in fact, exist: radium-226. Gram per gram it’s more toxic than plutonium-239, the isotope most common in spent fuel. It’s a highly energetic particle emitter that does not decay to a stable isotope but rather to a long chain of other radioactive substances. First it decays to radon-222, then to polonium-218, astatine-218, radon-218, lead-214, bismuth-214, polonium-214, thallium-210, lead-210, polonium-210 and finally lead-206, which is stable. For this reason, a chemically pure sample will actually increase in radioactivity until it reached equilibrium with its daughter products. Despite the relatively long half-life, it produces a great deal of radiation because for every decay of radium-226, there are decays of all the other daughters all the way down the line. Some of these emit high energy gamma rays. Radon poses some additional challenges. Because it is a gas, it may not remain in place and can result in the area around a radium-226 sample accumulating potentially dangerous concentrations of radon. The radon gas can also disperse, contaminating the area with further decay products.

Despite these dangers, radium-226 was once far more valuable than gold. For the first half of the 20th century, radium and its decay products were the most widely used radioisotope source for any purpose that required radioactive materials. It was used for cancer treatment, in the form of radium needles, external sources and devices that collected radon for use in irradiating tissue. Radium was commonly used in any circumstance where calibration sources were required, with many earth geiger counters coming with a radium-based test source. It was used in ion and moisture gauges, cold cathode vacuum tubes and combined with beryllium to produce small neutron sources. Radium was well known for its use in radiolumonescent paints. The paint was commonly used for clock and watch faces, allowing them to glow brightly without first having to be exposed to light. Larger concentrations were used for aircraft instrument dials, illuminated markers and cords. It was realized that the heat from radium could be used as a means of powering boilers or other thermal engines, but was far too expensive to ever be used in this capacity. It also was experimented with in early “nuclear battery” designs.

Radium-226 exists in small concentrations in uranium ore. To recover a single gram of the material, several tons of uranium ore must be processed. Still, because the material had so many uses and was so valuable, large operations existed all over the world to produce it. In the 1920′s, a gram of radium could cost as much as $120,000, (about 1.3 million USD in modern terms) though the price later fell to $75,000 due to more efficient production techniques. Radium needles could contain up to .1 grams of radium, making them worth more than ten thousand dollars. Because of this, radium was also used as an investment commodity. Radium needles and other radium sources were kept in bank vaults in the same way gold, silver and platinum might be kept.

Of course, radium is also pretty dangerous for the reasons mentioned above. Its chemical properties make it prone to contaminating areas and easily absorbed into the body, where it is distributed into bones and teeth, making it an especially persistent and damaging substance. It produces a great deal of alpha, beta and gamma radiation, which is not desirable for most situations. Its half life is inconveniently long for applications where disposal after a period of time is expected and the production of radon can be a danger and complicate its use. For radiolumonescent items, gamma radiation is not desirable and the energy of the alpha particles emitted by radium has a tendency to degrade the phosphorescent compounds in the paint over time. Radium was blamed for a number of deaths and illnesses, most notably in the “radium girls,” who worked in clock factories, painting the hands and numbers of clocks with radium paint. Some were encouraged to lick their brushes to sharpen them, resulting in ingestion of large quantities of radium.

Because of this, radium-226 fell from favor as a radiation source for most applications as soon as synthetic, reactor-generated isotopes became available. By the 1960′s, safer, more well suited isotopes had taken over. Radiolumonescent items used soft beta emitting isotopes like prometium-147 and tritium. External cancer treatment or the irradiation of products used cesium-137 or cobalt-60. Cesium-137 became the most common isotope for testing and calibration of survey equipment, and for applications that required alpha radiation, synthetically produced polonium-210 or americium-241 became the isotopes of choice. Such isotopes produce forms of radiation more suited to their end use, rather than a hodgepodge of alpha, beta and gamma emissions of multiple energy levels. They tend to be shorter lived, allowing for small quantities to generate sufficient radiation and reducing the problems of long term disposal. Many are easily made into forms that are chemically inert, physically stable and not prone to dissolving in water or accumulating in organisms.

Today, radium-226 is no longer intentionally produced for its own use. It may occasionally be used in calibration source for spectrometry and a few other scientific applications, but only in relatively small quantities. Radium clocks and other luminescent items are still common in antique shops and are not generally considered to be a major hazard. However, some aircraft instruments and military items are radioactive enough to make them a concern for regulators (whether this is actually necessary is another matter.) Radium needles and therapeutic sources are unquestionably very dangerous. They still turn up from time to time, though most have been removed from the inventories of hospitals and other locations. Today they are treated as high level waste and must be carefully removed, isolated and disposed of at licensed facilities. The half-life and properties of radium can make it especially challenging.

Radium also contaminates numerous areas around the world due to past activities such as refining of radium, paint production, clock manufacturing and maintenance of aircraft with radium-painted instruments. Radium tends to be very difficult to clean up. It can contaminate local ground water, it may cling to soil or may become mobile in the local biosphere. Often, the only solution is to remove huge quantities of soil and transport it to an area where it can be immobilized and monitored.

What this has to do with nuclear waste:

By almost any standard, radium-226 is more toxic, more dangerous and more problematic than almost any other type of radioactive material. Like plutonium, it will persist for thousands of years, but it’s far more toxic and more reactive. It’s more difficult to immobilize than most substances in spent fuel and is usually in a form that is less chemically stable and contained. Gram per gram, it produces more heat than spent fuel or most transuric elements. Highly concentrated radium-226 makes spent fuel appear very tame. Even compared to more concentrated waste, such as the fission products generated by reprocessing, radium-226 is still more difficult to dispose of safely.

By the time production of radium-226 began to come to an end, in the mid 1950′s, about 2.5 kilograms had been produced worldwide. Yet that’s only a tiny proportion of what exists on earth. Since radium-226 is natural, a decay product of uranium, huge quantities already exist on earth and always have. There are at least fourty trillion tonnes of uranium in earth’s crust and billions of tons more dissolved in seawater. Many times more uranium exists in the earth’s interior. For every one tonnes of raw uranium, there exists about .143 grams of radium-226. (note: value converted from reference in short tons). That means that there is already 5.72 million tonnes of radium-226 in earth’s crust.

By comparison, the total world inventory of spent fuel is only 188,000 metric tonnes, although additional spent fuel is reprocessed, largely being reused, but with some remaining fission products and contaminated material for disposal. If the slightly radioactive uranium were removed from spent fuel, more than 90% of the mass would be gone, and the material, though more radioactive, would still be less toxic, less reactive and generally less hazardous than radium-226.

The bottom line is that there’s more radium-226 in the environment we live in than spent fuel and gram per gram it’s far more dangerous.

So why is this not a problem? Mostly because it’s not heavily concentrated in any one place. If it were, that small area could be dangerous, but because most of the uranium on earth is distributed across the crust in relatively low concentrations, so is the radium. This one natural isotope has always been there and yet the sky is not falling. We all even have a fraction of a pictogram of it in our bodies. And while I’m not suggesting spent fuel should just be dispersed across the globe or dissolved away in the world’s oceans, if it were, it would result in significantly less radioactivity than the radium-226 that is already there, which is only one of the many naturally occurring radioactive substances.

On a global scale, the hundreds of tonnes of spent fuel is just not a big deal. We obsess about preventing it from entering the environment, but forget that the environment already has a material in it that is far more dangerous and present in much larger quantities. If we can live in a world with that much radium-226, plutonium-239 and cesium-135 are really no big deal.


This entry was posted on Sunday, February 19th, 2012 at 6:30 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Enviornment, Good Science, History, Nuclear. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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50 Responses to “Nuclear Waste In Context”

  1. 1
    DV82XL Says:

    Back in the day, my high school physics department had a radium needle mounted upright on a thin plastic dish. This would be placed at the bottom of a two liter Griffin beaker along with a chunk of dry ice. A flat glass cover was placed on top to retain the mist, and in a few seconds, lots of tracks could be seen around the source. I recall we all were very still and silent, as we saw for the first time real evidence of ionizing radiation.

    Keep in mind we were the Duck-and-Cover kids, and had heard much about fallout and radiation sickness most of our short lives. It was for many of us a small epiphany to see the demon with our own eyes.

    And yes it was a radium needle (or that’s what we were told at least) and it was mentioned that these were used to kill cancer in some cases.


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  2. 2
    drbuzz0 Says:

    Not sure what the date would be there, but in the 1950′s, hospitals started to switch to cobalt-60 and were cutting back on radium needles, which, by that time, no longer were as valuable as they once were. Many went missing and a few did end up in schools as items for science projects. Even considering that I’m not the type to be radiophobic, that is insanity. You do not need a source anywhere near that strong or dangerous to make a cloud chamber come to life.

    Here’s the story of one discovered in the 1980′s: http://www.physics.rutgers.edu/~koeth/hp/radium.html

    To give some impression of how strong this is, it was clearly detectable at a distance, in other rooms in the school, even with a CDV-700, which is by no means a sensitive instrument. It’s amazing that it was in a school.


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  3. 3
    DV82XL Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    Not sure what the date would be there…

    This was in the mid Sixties, but the school had been around forever.

    Remember that AECL was one of the early suppliers of Co-60 because it was easy to breed in heavy water reactors. It was mostly ex-AECL Co-60 that was involved with some of the more spectacular loss-of-containment episodes in other countries, as the sources were handed out at the beginning with very little oversight. While I too think that the angst over radioactive waste has been overblown, for sure medical sources have been treated with an inexcusably cavalier attitude, and those responsible have not been slapped hard enough in my opinion.


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  4. 4
    Will Says:

    Well, this makes me think of my favorite subject to harp about. Coal. Whenever an anti brings up how horrible nuclear is or how disgusting anyone is who supports it I usually ask about coal and other fossil fuels. The answer is typically “Yeah, there bad but that’s just a distraction from a far worse and deadlier problem, nuclear”. Hell, even Richard Belzer defended coal on Bill Maher’s show saying at least it isn’t radioactive. I don’t know why but even when I post links from the EPA and the USGS about the uranium, thorium, and radium content of coal and how it is concentrated when burned and then dumped with little to no regulation, I still usually get a “yeah, so?” reply. It boggles my mind that someone can look at a smaller number of less active radioisotopes in ceramic form held in casks and be absolutely terrified of it yet a far larger (by volume and activity) of radionuclides in slurries and big piles of dust and ash just sitting around, spilling into waterways, sometimes flooding entire towns like the 2008 TVA incident are simply not concerning at all. I don’t really know what to make of such disregard for the exact same waste except to label it as dogma and ideological indoctrination. These people have a faith not unlike the most devout evangelical and it doesn’t matter what you present to them, it’s just lies, conspiracy, or unimportant because they know what “true evil” is and if you’re not on their side you must be satan. Great information, by the way. I will steal some of it for use in future rants about why switching from nuclear to brown coal and natural gas are NOT green victories but the height of hypocrisy and stupidity, not that it will get much attention.


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  5. 5
    BMS Says:

    … plutonium-239, the isotope most common in spent fuel …

    Hmm … I thought that was O-16, assuming that we’re talking about spent fuel that was originally composed of UO2. ;-)

    The next most common isotope is U-238, but I’ll refrain from commenting on it, in fear that I might draw the depleted-uranium nutjobs out of the woodwork.


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  6. 6
    drbuzz0 Says:

            BMS said:

    … plutonium-239, the isotope most common in spent fuel …

    Hmm … I thought that was O-16, assuming that we’re talking about spent fuel that was originally composed of UO2. ;-)

    The next most common isotope is U-238, but I’ll refrain from commenting on it, in fear that I might draw the depleted-uranium nutjobs out of the woodwork.

    The isotope most common in spent fuel, meaning the isotope of plutonium most common in spent fuel.


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  7. 7
    Dionigi Says:

    So if I get this straight if we spread the spent nuclear fuel far and wide it will not be a problem. perhaps we could inject it into the exhaust from aircraft, no sorry someone has already thought of that haven’t they.


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  8. 8
    Matte Says:

    In the UK Ra-226 is a problem. After the war a lot of aircraft was piled up and burned near the airfields in great pits. These pits are todeay a severe headache for the regulators (and developers) as the soil needs to be decontaminated before anything is allowed to be built on top of them.

    @Dionigi
    We where worried about DU-nutters turning up, but chemtrail idiots?! There is a curve-ball hitting the umpire in the nuts!


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  9. 9
    Anon Says:

            Will said:

    I don’t know why but even when I post links from the EPA and the USGS about the uranium, thorium, and radium content of coal and how it is concentrated when burned and then dumped with little to no regulation, I still usually get a “yeah, so?” reply. It boggles my mind that someone can look at a smaller number of less active radioisotopes in ceramic form held in casks and be absolutely terrified of it yet a far larger (by volume and activity) of radionuclides in slurries and big piles of dust and ash just sitting around, spilling into waterways, sometimes flooding entire towns like the 2008 TVA incident are simply not concerning at all.

    Innumeracy is a very common problem and we really should be doing more to stamp it out (you’d pretty much have to be innumerate to believe the anti-nuclear movement or that renewable energy is a good idea).

            Will said:

    I don’t really know what to make of such disregard for the exact same waste except to label it as dogma and ideological indoctrination. These people have a faith not unlike the most devout evangelical and it doesn’t matter what you present to them, it’s just lies, conspiracy, or unimportant because they know what “true evil” is and if you’re not on their side you must be satan.

    The green movement does appear to be quasi-religious and not just in opposition to nuclear power and worship of renewable energy (of the type that doesn’t work, Greens have a habit of protesting against new hydro dams).

    Come to think of it communism had much the same role in many peoples’ lives, as a religion for those who realise that the ones they’ve been bought up in is false but who can’t let go of religious thinking.


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  10. 10
    Robert Sneddon Says:

    After the Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors released contamination across Japan a bunch of amateurs went around the big cities with Geiger counters looking for fallout hot-spots. In Setagaya in Tokyo they registered a high reading at one location next to a sidewalk. On investigating the authorities found some old bottles of radium-based phosphorescent paint in a basement nearby with a reported reading of 600uSv/h at the box-lid. It was pointed out in the news later that the previous occupant of the house was a 90-year old lady who had lived there since it had been built in the 50s.


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  11. 11
    Bob Applebaum Says:

    You are committing a form of naturalistic fallacy. Radium is naturally occurring and is dispersed. Just because that description of radium is factual does not imply anything about the safety of spent fuel, which is not dispersed nor naturally occurring.

    We live in a world full of bacteria and viruses. No big deal until you get malaria or HIV or something else.


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  12. 12
    Anon Says:

            Bob Applebaum said:

    You are committing a form of naturalistic fallacy. Radium is naturally occurring and is dispersed. Just because that description of radium is factual does not imply anything about the safety of spent fuel, which is not dispersed nor naturally occurring.

    Whether it is naturally occurring reality isn’t all that relevant to safety, it’s dose that matters and spent fuel is a lot less likely to harm anyone.

            Bob Applebaum said:

    We live in a world full of bacteria and viruses. No big deal until you get malaria or HIV or something else.

    Or if the bacteria we need to live die off.


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  13. 13
    Kit P Says:

    If you are producing power you have to protect people from harm and protect the environment. It does not matter what the source of heat is. Pointing fingers is akin to telling your teacher that your dog ate your homework. It does not work in the adult world. Screw up and hurt people or fail to protect the environment will result in severe consequences.

    Many power plants release low levels of radioactive material. The NRC does not regulate coal plants because it is not possible for the radioactive material to harm anyone. The NRC regulates the safety of nuke plants because radiation exposure from an operating reactor or spent fuel would be immediately fatal with out shielding.

    Whatever the hazard, the power industry is required to take precautions in case of an accident. In Japan and at TMI, no one was hurt after a ‘severe accident’ because precautions were taken to limit exposure. Just as at the coal plant in Kingston, Tennessee when the coal ask impondment failed. No towns were flooded and no one was hut. TVA had to cleanup the mess and the EPA monitored possible contamination of downstream drinking water supplies.

    Keeping coal ash or spent fuel safe is not a particularly difficult engineering task.


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  14. 14
    Anon Says:

            Kit P said:

    If you are producing power you have to protect people from harm and protect the environment. It does not matter what the source of heat is.

    Quite true, it just so happens that one power source is safer than the others.

            Kit P said:

    Many power plants release low levels of radioactive material. The NRC does not regulate coal plants because it is not possible for the radioactive material to harm anyone.

    Bob Applebaum (our resident LNT defender) might disagree, LNT actually does predict deaths from the radioactive stuff coal plants release (not many, at least not when compared to the particulates and mines).

            Kit P said:

    The NRC regulates the safety of nuke plants because radiation exposure from an operating reactor or spent fuel would be immediately fatal with out shielding.

    Actually they regulate nuclear plants because they were delegated that authority by the US congress.

            Kit P said:

    Keeping coal ash or spent fuel safe is not a particularly difficult engineering task.

    No, just that there’s so much more coal ash to deal with (and not by a little bit either).


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  15. 15
    Sigivald Says:

    In the 1920’s, a gram of uranium could cost as much as $120,000, (about 1.3 million USD in modern terms) though the price later fell to $75,000 due to more efficient production techniques.

    I assume that’s a typo and you meant radium rather than uranium?


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  16. 16
    Will Says:

            Kit P said:

    Many power plants release low levels of radioactive material. The NRC does not regulate coal plants because it is not possible for the radioactive material to harm anyone. The NRC regulates the safety of nuke plants because radiation exposure from an operating reactor or spent fuel would be immediately fatal with out shielding.

    Whatever the hazard, the power industry is required to take precautions in case of an accident. In Japan and at TMI, no one was hurt after a ‘severe accident’ because precautions were taken to limit exposure. Just as at the coal plant in Kingston, Tennessee when the coal ask impondment failed. No towns were flooded and no one was hut. TVA had to cleanup the mess and the EPA monitored possible contamination of downstream drinking water supplies.

    Keeping coal ash or spent fuel safe is not a particularly difficult engineering task.

    Over 20,000 people die in the US every year from respiratory illness linked to coal. You seem fairly certain that even though people are inhaling coal ash in some areas on a daily basis that any radionuclides carried in that same ash may not pose any long term threat. The NRC also doesn’t regulate or monitor the coal industry on anything besides the industrial use of radioisotopes, I’m not sure why you’re trying to imply they do. Regardless, that wasn’t my point, the comparison was that this situation is far worse than having nuclear waste stored safely in ceramic rods contained in casks not that coal plants are irradiating people to death. Either you agree that coal puts more radionuclides into the environment or not, the point wasn’t about how many people actually die from radionuclides in coal. I’m not sure what your point about containing coal ash is either. It may not be a difficult task but that doesn’t mean it’s currently performed as well as it should. The TVA coal slurry spill did partially flood the town of Kingston up to 6 feet deep and killed several people. You can read up on that online, here is the wiki for the event: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingston_Fossil_Plant_coal_fly_ash_slurry_spill

            Bob Applebaum said:

    You are committing a form of naturalistic fallacy. Radium is naturally occurring and is dispersed. Just because that description of radium is factual does not imply anything about the safety of spent fuel, which is not dispersed nor naturally occurring.

    We live in a world full of bacteria and viruses. No big deal until you get malaria or HIV or something else.

    Comparing radionuclides to bacteria and viruses is also a fallacy. Radium 226 is radium 226 regardless of its source. You can discuss concentration levels, shielding, geometry, etc. but the same amount of radium 226 will decay and emit the same amount of alphas regardless of it being natural or a reactor product. HIV and malaria, seriously? You really seem to be trying to imply that man-made isotopes are some how super diseases compared to the “influenza” of the natural isotope world. Lead is also naturally occurring in some water supplies. That doesn’t mean that if the level present is high enough it won’t be toxic compared to lead introduced from industry sources. The only part of your analogy that rings true is that we live in a radioactive world surrounded by radioisotopes.


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  17. 17
    Kit P Says:

    The truth is a precise thing. When it comes to safety, we are safe when no one is harmed. We know what level of of radiation causes harm and what level kills. If you keep radiation exposure below the level of harm, then you are safe.

    Risk is a different thing. Risk is a mathematical used to figure out the best way to prevent harm before the fact. There is a risk of having an accident that will result in harm.

    With respect radiation exposure, coal and LWR produced electricity both are equally safe. No one has been harmed. Zero = Zero. However, the risk of harm from radiation from coal is zero. The risk of being harmed by radiation from a nuke is real and tangible. We do a very good of safety as indicated by the perfect safety record.

    Of course all hazards must be considered. For example,

    “Over 20,000 people die in the US every year from respiratory illness linked to coal. ”

    There is a link to air pollution in general such as PM 2.5. The purpose of studying risk is to reduce it below the level of harm which we have done in the US. The every year that Will was referring to twenty year in the US. The other thing Will neglected to notice from the data is that there are many sources of air pollution.

    So lets look at air pollution starting with ‘killer smog’. Factors include cooking and heating with cow manure, wood, and coal; and lots of car without pollution controls. Affordable power supplies even when produced by coal improve the air quality.

    “and killed several people. ”

    What the link Will provided actually says,

    “nobody was reported to be injured or in need of hospitalization”

    I have visited Kingston, Tennessee. The town was not flooded. When posting a link, it is a good idea to read it first.

    To be clear I ma not implying anything. In the US, we produce power safely. Just as anti-nukes make up stuff. Anti-coal people make up stuff too. I have lived close to both coal and nuke plants. I do not have a problem with either.


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  18. 18
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Bob Applebaum said:

    You are committing a form of naturalistic fallacy. Radium is naturally occurring and is dispersed. Just because that description of radium is factual does not imply anything about the safety of spent fuel, which is not dispersed nor naturally occurring.

    We live in a world full of bacteria and viruses. No big deal until you get malaria or HIV or something else.

    You miss the point. I’m giving the context. Saying spent fuel is somehow a major global problem because it’s radiotoxic does not make sense in the context of the radioisotopes we have always lived with.


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  19. 19
    Anon Says:

            Kit P said:

    The truth is a precise thing. When it comes to safety, we are safe when no one is harmed. We know what level of of radiation causes harm and what level kills. If you keep radiation exposure below the level of harm, then you are safe.

    Not according to the model used by the regulators which predicts harm right down to zero dose.

            Kit P said:

    The other thing Will neglected to notice from the data is that there are many sources of air pollution.

    So lets look at air pollution starting with ‘killer smog’. Factors include cooking and heating with cow manure, wood, and coal; and lots of car without pollution controls.

    Doesn’t let coal off the hook (it is still responsible for a lot of the air pollution) and in the west at least I don’t think anyone still cooks and heats with cow s*** (though wood is unfortunately still used for cooking and heating) and the older cars without pollution controls don’t tend to be used very much (though idiots who remove their catalytic converter or flash their ECU on a newer car are a problem which needs to be dealt with).

            Kit P said:

    Affordable power supplies even when produced by coal improve the air quality.

    Depends what they replace, if coal produced electricity is replacing methane or propane then probably not.

    Though moving the source of emissions a long way away can improve air quality (at the expense of the people near the plant).


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  20. 20
    Matte Says:

    Kit,

    you do forget that coal power if regulated in the same way as nuclear when it came to radioactive discharges would never be allowed to start.

    The heavy metals in the coal ash is toxic and water soluble but never disposed of in leak proof containers, unlike nuclear fuel.

    Mountain top mining for coal in West Vriginia is poluting the water table with heavy metals, poisoning water supplies and destroying local communities.

    The coal industry takes responsibility for ~80% of its waste, nuclear industry takes cara of 99.999% of its’ waste. Do the summs and you get the absolute numbers on how much actually gets discharged into the environment and let me know if you still support coal…


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  21. 21
    Matte Says:

    That would be the solid waste, and 0% for gaseous waste for coal…


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  22. 22
    Kit P Says:

    Matte I am not forgetting anything. I learned methods for evaluating environmental impact from the graduate level environmental engineering program not the NYT.

    My point is that people say absurd things about nuclear power but saying absurd things about producing power with coal is not how you explain nuclear is safe.

    Also you must consider the environmental impact in the context of the benefit. Places like NYC and Washington DC need power. If my job required me to live in Wise, Virginia or Hazard, Kentucky I would not have a problem living with coal mining. However, if the job took me to NYC and Washington DC I would retire before living in a cesspool of a big city.

    In any case, the power industry has the same over arching standards for safety and environment impact. Some examples of absurd thing people say.

    “Not according to the model used by the regulators which predicts harm right down to zero dose. ”

    Not true! An over simplification of radiations standards for nuke plant is that models must show less than 5 mrem/year for normal operation and 25 Rem after an accident. Just for the record, the standards for mercury and other heavy metals are also similarly low. Not a single American child or mother has mercury levels about the threshold of harm as determined by the CDC monitoring. Lead is still a problem as a legacy of adding lead to gasoline but it is getting better every year.

    “it is still responsible for a lot of the air pollution ”

    What pollution? The US has very good air quality. The CAA actually worked. This old guy remembers what it used to be like. We should be celebrating that we can have clean air and maintain a high standard of living. Before anyone says BS, I invite you to go to the EPA web site:

    http://airnow.gov/

    It is very rare to see an AQI of USG (Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups ) in the US these days but that is the normal for cities in China.


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  23. 23
    Anon Says:

    Just because things are better than they used to be doesn’t mean that the air quality is acceptable (and the evidence does indicate that the particulates from coal burning do still cause people to die earlier than they otherwise would, even if it doesn’t kill anyone right away).

            Kit P said:

    My point is that people say absurd things about nuclear power but saying absurd things about producing power with coal is not how you explain nuclear is safe.

    No, you do it by pointing out that nuclear is safer than anything else, which it is (and you don’t need to lie to claim that coal is unsafe, besides, safety is relative to the alternatives anyway).

            Kit P said:

    Also you must consider the environmental impact in the context of the benefit.

    If you could get the same benefit with less environmental impact and without much extra economic cost then that is enough to make it unacceptable (and nuclear can compete with coal economically, therefore there is no justifiable reason to continue building coal burning power plants).

            Kit P said:

    In any case, the power industry has the same over arching standards for safety and environment impact. Some examples of absurd thing people say.

    Not at all, nuclear industry is held to a much higher standard than any other part of the power industry.

            Kit P said:

    “Not according to the model used by the regulators which predicts harm right down to zero dose. ”
    Not true!

    Actually it is true, that model does predict harm at all dose levels and based on what coal plants release it predicts that some people will die from the radioactive stuff coal burning releases.

    Now the model may be wrong (it probably is) and the amount of deaths predicted from radiation in coal exhaust is low compared to the rest of the crap they spew out but it does predict those deaths anyway.


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  24. 24
    Will Says:

            Kit P said:

    My point is that people say absurd things about nuclear power but saying absurd things about producing power with coal is not how you explain nuclear is safe.
    .

    I’m not really sure what your confusion is. I made a post about comparing radionuclides and radiation emitted from two powers sources and how many people ignore the larger emissions from one while becoming hysterical about the other. I even reiterated that was exactly and only my point. Have I made any specific claims about coal killing or injuring people with radiation? I didn’t realize acknowledging that coal produces waste with radionuclide content or that coal plants emit radiation was absurd. Concerning the Wiki article, yes I did not read it. I have a memory of reading that several people were trapped and killed in the spill. I may be wrong, it wasn’t my point anyway (coal industry spills vs nuclear spills) so it is irrelevant. My point, which you can’t seem to grasp no matter how many times I say it it that coal produces a large amount of radionuclides and they do enter the environment in far larger amounts than they do from nuclear power and antis by and large ignore it. I was pointing out the hypocrisy and ideology of that kind of thinking. If you want to inform me of how instrumental coal has been to supporting our rise as a modern an industrial nation, feel free, however demonizing coal hasn’t been my purpose. I am not personally worried about radiation from nuclear, coal, or natural sources of radium. I had no idea expressing frustration about how other people are would somehow get me lumped in with them.


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  25. 25
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Robert Sneddon said:

    After the Fukushima Dai-ichi reactors released contamination across Japan a bunch of amateurs went around the big cities with Geiger counters looking for fallout hot-spots. In Setagaya in Tokyo they registered a high reading at one location next to a sidewalk. On investigating the authorities found some old bottles of radium-based phosphorescent paint in a basement nearby with a reported reading of 600uSv/h at the box-lid. It was pointed out in the news later that the previous occupant of the house was a 90-year old lady who had lived there since it had been built in the 50s.

    I am not surprised. When ever I hear such things done by amateurs with simple Geiger counters, I take it with a grain of salt. Those instruments can’t tell the difference between different radioisotopes. They only give a basic reading of counts at a location. It is not unusual for there to be some natural “hot spots” as the result of radioactive minerals. Of course there can be many other manmade sources.


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  26. 26
    Kit P Says:

    “I had no idea expressing frustration about how other people are would somehow get me lumped in with them.”

    It is because you said this Will,

    “Over 20,000 people die in the US every year from respiratory illness linked to coal.”

    Unless that was satire, I do not think I was confused about Will bashing coal.

    Twenty years ago I was very anti-coal. If you look at coal’s legacy, I think my beliefs were well founded. Then I had to give presentation in grad school. Since 50% of the audience worked in the nuclear industry and 0% was in cola, I thought some coal bashing would be fun. However, my research using EPRI reports determined that the insignificant risk from coal plants was 75% a result of radio nuclides.

    After that I started to have a more open mind about coal. When the media reported elevated mercury in fish from a specific lake while ‘linking’ it to coal, I checked. The mercury came from a legacy copper smelter.

    The bottom line is I now have a lot of respect for how power is produced with coal. I would not advocate against building a new coal plant near where I live. I have gone out of my way to advocated for a new nuke plants.

    I have experience with radwaste systems, spent fuel pools, and Yucca Mountain. Protecting the public and workers from harm is not a particularly difficult task. I would not like to be observing the spent fuel pool if an accident drained all the water anymore than I would be down stream from a failure of a waste lagoon.


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  27. 27
    DV82XL Says:

    @Kit P -

    Nevertheless the waste stream from coal, and the environmental damage it causes, end-to-end, is far greater that nuclear. Dwelling only on a single factor, regardless, is unsound reasoning. Currently the burning of coal creates a far larger health hazard, measured ether in absolute terms, or as a function of power produced. Consequently, even if Will was guilty of inaccuracies, the fundamental thesis stands.


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  28. 28
    Will Says:

            Kit P said:

    “I had no idea expressing frustration about how other people are would somehow get me lumped in with them.”

    It is because you said this Will,

    “Over 20,000 people die in the US every year from respiratory illness linked to coal.”

    Unless that was satire, I do not think I was confused about Will bashing coal.

    That was not in my original post. I raised that point in response to your comment:

            Kit P said:

    The NRC does not regulate coal plants because it is not possible for the radioactive material to harm anyone.

    Like I said before, the NRC does not monitor or regulate the radionuclide output of coal, which you seem to imply it somehow would if there were similar circumstances to nuclear. I mentioned the statistic that 20,000 people die from respiratory illness not to demonstrate some “evil” about coal or to bash it but to make it clear that people do actually inhale the waste products from time to time. If people are inhaling ash and dust that conatin radionuclides it might be a posibility for them to suffer harm. I haven’t done the math, I don’t really care. I was illustrating points that I thought were hypocritical when ignored by antis. You may not be worried about radionuclides from coal, I have already stated that I am not either. That doesn’t change the fact that people do inhale these products and to ignore that and become hysterical over ceramic fuel rods stored in dry casks doesn’t make any sense (my point, remember?).

            Kit P said:

    The bottom line is I now have a lot of respect for how power is produced with coal.

    Fine, I don’t have a problem with that. You did a really good job cherry picking through my points to have an argument about coal, one I was not making. I see you clearly have issues here since you are bound and determined to force a converstaion into an argument about coal when it was really and firstly about the hypocrisy of antis. You can try to shove this argument down my throat but it still is not one I’m making. Perhaps this will make sense to you: If you are scared of “x” and lobby and protest against it from person “y” yet ignore the fact person “z” makes even more “x” then you lack reason and are operating on fear based ideology, not from an actual and reasonable concern about “x”. That makes one a hypocrite and a luddite in my opinion. Did that make sense or did it somehow bash coal in your opinion?


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  29. 29
    Will Says:

            Kit P said:

    It is because you said this Will,

    “Over 20,000 people die in the US every year from respiratory illness linked to coal.”

    Unless that was satire, I do not think I was confused about Will bashing coal.

    One last question, how is this bashing coal? You aren’t arguing against the statistic (which admittedly varies from different environmental and health sources). If you have a problem with a fact then you are too sensitive. I could say car accidents kill approximately 50,000 a year. It’s a fact, not a bash against cars. I’m not going to quit driving or lobby against cars because accidents happen. There is no such thing as zero risk and trying to force that idea on the real world is ludicrous (and expensive). I think it’s interesting you saw that statement as an attack on coal (when I could have listed non-radioactive pollutants from coal as well as a host of other things if I was actually trying to attack it) instead of an example on how people are exposed to coal ash and its content (radionuclides). I may be wrong but I really think you were looking for a chance to righteous and “correct” about coal. It would probably be better if you tried that with someone that was actually claiming we shouldn’t use coal or that it has never had a positive historical impact on our society.


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  30. 30
    Kit P Says:

    “That was not in my original post. I raised that point in response to your comment: ”

    Will you sure are good at back peddling when challenged but you persist with the absurd statements. I inhale the same about of fission products as I do coal dust. That would be zero. I am an engineer and when something is below the detection limit, I write down zero. My last job in the navy was radiation safety officer. When my TLD said zero, I wrote down zero not 0.00001 mrem. Wearing a TLD was a precaution.

    The point I want to make is there is a difference models and measurements. Will’s ‘the statistic’ is not empirical but from a model.

    “You did a really good job cherry picking through my points ”

    What do you want me to do Will? I provided examples of the absurdity of your statements. Do I need to explain how each one is absurd? Take your best shot but one at time.

    As for your main point, the volume of waste from a coal plant is large compared a nuke plant my response is so what!

    The trap of debates is arguing a false criteria. The primary criteria for power generation is to supply power when and where it is needed. Both coal and nuclear do an excellent job of that. If you live in a very cold climate, distant from the coal fields; nuclear power becomes an important part of the mix because vulnerability of supply route in winter.

    As frustrating as it might be, you can not win a debate with an anti-nuclear professional. They just go from one false criteria to another then stating there are too many unanswered questions. Of course they ignore that you have answered all the questions.

    “There is no such thing as zero risk …”

    The is not requirement on the power industry to achieve zero risk. We must show the risk is insignificant. In practical terms, the recorded results for last year is no American customer was hurt as a result of commercial nuke or coal plants.

    Think of it this way. Lets say that I have enough radioactive material to cause a cumulative exposure of a 1000 Rem. If one person is exposed to the 1000 Rem, they will likely die. However, if a 1000 people get 1 Rem each, they will not be hurt. What the EPA does with thing like Radon is multiple the risk with associated with a small dose by 6 billion on earth, to find the number of deaths. Absurd!

    It is just as absurd to use the same method to claim air pollution is hurting people. Tell me what that exposure is, I will tell you if people are being hurt.


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  31. 31
    DV82XL Says:

    @Kit P-

    Maybe if you stopped arguing with what others write, and instead made your point directly you wouldn’t start down the road that has gotten you barred elsewhere. Do you stand for anything, do you have a position, or are you only interested in getting into arguments over nit picking?

    Frankly I think you are an apologist for coal, out to undermine any and all pronuclear arguments, and it is clear by statements like:

            Kit P said:

    It is just as absurd to use the same method to claim air pollution is hurting people. Tell me what that exposure is, I will tell you if people are being hurt.

    are clearly driven by an agenda.

    @All-

    Those that are out to undermine nuclear energy are trying new tactics, one of these is to play lip-service to being pronuclear, and then using that as an excuse to criticize it. This individual seems to be doing just this; he claims to be pronuclear, but he’s not anti-coal. He will try and shoot down any anti-coal arguments as being exaggeration, but will also find fault with every pronuclear statement, culminating in a position that will be based on pure economics, and where strangely coal will be found to be the best choice.

    He has tried this pitch before.


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  32. 32
    Will Says:

            Kit P said:

    Will you sure are good at back peddling when challenged but you persist with the absurd statements. I inhale the same about of fission products as I do coal dust. That would be zero.

    I never claimed that you did. I was claiming the public had far more exposure to coal waste than nuclear waste. If you failed to understand that then that’s your problem, not mine. Explaining my points to someone who clearly doesn’t understand anything I’m saying isn’t back peddling. Its clarification.

            Kit P said:

    I am an engineer and when something is below the detection limit, I write down zero. My last job in the navy was radiation safety officer. When my TLD said zero, I wrote down zero not 0.00001 mrem. Wearing a TLD was a precaution.

    The point I want to make is there is a difference models and measurements. Will’s ‘the statistic’ is not empirical but from a model.

    These are from deaths reported. You can argue if they truly are related to coal, again, not my point. I think its fairly absurd that you cling to the idea that coal can cause public harm when I’ve repeatedly said my points have been about exposure and antis ignoring a far greater exposure. I also stated I wasn’t making a comparison of actual harm nor making the claim that radionuclides from coal hurt anyone.

            Kit P said:

    “You did a really good job cherry picking through my points ”

    What do you want me to do Will? I provided examples of the absurdity of your statements. Do I need to explain how each one is absurd? Take your best shot but one at time.

    Again, not really. You’ve tried to turn my argument into an anti coal argument. If anyone is being absurd, it is you. I admitted I may be incorrect about people being killed in the TVA spill. What else is absurd? That the public is exposed to coal waste in larger amount than nuclear waste? That antis can be hypocritical? Either make a real point yourself or be quiet, your attempts to hijack the argument are becoming juvenile to say the least. The only example I’ve seen from you is how to completely ignore someone’s point and climb on top of a soap bx to defend something no one is attacking.

            Kit P said:

    As for your main point, the volume of waste from a coal plant is large compared a nuke plant my response is so what!

    I agree. I also wasn’t making my point about you despite your repeated attempts to turn my points into some attack on coal and your positions on it. This point was relevant because the volume of radionuclides introduced into the environment are larger than those introduced by nuclear and antis ignore this fact. I stated several times that I didn’t think it presented a risk, to bad you make so many assumptions and try to read between the lines or I wouldn’t have to keep explaining this to you.

            Kit P said:

    The trap of debates is arguing a false criteria. The primary criteria for power generation is to supply power when and where it is needed. Both coal and nuclear do an excellent job of that. If you live in a very cold climate, distant from the coal fields; nuclear power becomes an important part of the mix because vulnerability of supply route in winter.

    I agree with your statements about the criteria for power generation. I’m not sure why you bring them up as I haven’t addressed this and have said several times that coal has been very important in building our modern society (reliable baseload energy generation). I would also say nuke is great at this which is why I’m pro-nuclear.

            Kit P said:

    As frustrating as it might be, you can not win a debate with an anti-nuclear professional. They just go from one false criteria to another then stating there are too many unanswered questions. Of course they ignore that you have answered all the questions.

    Yes, I agree. I was trying to vent that frustration. Apparently you found my comparison of radionuclide content to coal as an attack on coal. Personally, I like to compare things and when it comes to nuclear it never helps to argue with an anti without making comparisons. These people usually do not have any understanding or sense of scale when it comes to radiation and radionuclides. Should I not tell them we live in a radioactive world or that bananas and coal ash contain radionuclides for fear that I will offend banana and coal advocates? How is that not absurd.

            Kit P said:

    “There is no such thing as zero risk …”

    The is not requirement on the power industry to achieve zero risk. We must show the risk is insignificant. In practical terms, the recorded results for last year is no American customer was hurt as a result of commercial nuke or coal plants.

    You must not be be reading my posts very carefully. I made a statement how there is no such thing as zero risk and to try and make policy or decisions on that isn’t rational. How does that translate into the power industry needing to achieve zero risk? I brought it up because you made sweeping statement asserting no one could possibly be harmed. While risks may be vanishingly small it is just as absurd to deal in absolutes like that as it is to absolutely claim people will certainly die from future nuclear accidents. You asserted something could not happen as evidence that my implications of potential harm were absurd. I will re-assert that people are exposed to a greater number of radionuclides from coal than nuclear. Dismiss it if you want, I think it’s pointless and idiotic to claim otherwise. I would bring up vaccines and the fallacious risk arguments people use but you’d probably twist that into an argument about me attacking vaccines even though I’m heavily pro-vax.

            Kit P said:

    Think of it this way. Lets say that I have enough radioactive material to cause a cumulative exposure of a 1000 Rem. If one person is exposed to the 1000 Rem, they will likely die. However, if a 1000 people get 1 Rem each, they will not be hurt. What the EPA does with thing like Radon is multiple the risk with associated with a small dose by 6 billion on earth, to find the number of deaths. Absurd!

    It is just as absurd to use the same method to claim air pollution is hurting people. Tell me what that exposure is, I will tell you if people are being hurt.

    I’m not using a model, merely parroting what is reported by health agencies. If you have an issue with this you need to take it up with the people reporting the causes of death. I tried to use car accident deaths as an example of why these numbers aren’t a reason to discontinue the activity (driving, coal combustion). The truth is I used the fact 20,000 deaths are attributed annually to coal as evidence to public exposure to coal waste. I realize now that that fact was beyond your grasp and all you could see was an attack on coal claiming “IT KILLS!”. Yes, so does walking down the street. I’m not sure how else to provide evidence that the public is exposed to coal waste without citing respiratory illness or spills like the 2008 TVA spill. My only recourse is to say “You win, no one EVER comes in contact with coal waste”. If you want to promote coal, go ahead, if you want to believe I was attacking coal and not voicing frustration about the hypocrisy of antis, well, then you’re a moron. If I wanted to attack coal I’d say something specific and blatant that you wouldn’t have to distort into an argument.


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  33. 33
    Matte Says:

            DV82XL said:

    @All-

    Those that are out to undermine nuclear energy are trying new tactics, one of these is to play lip-service to being pronuclear, and then using that as an excuse to criticize it. This individual seems to be doing just this; he claims to be pronuclear, but he’s not anti-coal. He will try and shoot down any anti-coal arguments as being exaggeration, but will also find fault with every pronuclear statement, culminating in a position that will be based on pure economics, and where strangely coal will be found to be the best choice.

    He has tried this pitch before.

    Hate to tell you this, but I think you just stepped into his hole. Coal is cheaper than nuclear, regardles of it killing 18-20 people/TWh in the US [Externe]! Comparing lifecycle environmental impacts for coal and nuclear will always lead to controversy due to the last 30 years of propaganda about radiation, the silent killer!? But manganese poisoning people in Virginia due to coal mining, the amounts of fly ash released from the plants or the heavy metals released through the stacks are somehow acceptable? And yes, the argument boils down to economics, the environment comes second (at best).


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  34. 34
    DV82XL Says:

            Matte said:

    Hate to tell you this, but I think you just stepped into his hole. Coal is cheaper than nuclear, regardles of it killing 18-20 people/TWh in the US.

    I haven’t stepped in anything. I just don’t like the attempt to claim support for nuclear as a Trojan horse to slip in a pro-coal argument. Furthermore the issue was never simple short-term economics when it comes to coal vs nuclear, but the complete long-term costs, which does include environmental derogation.

    No one has ever argued here, or in fact in any pronuclear circles for that matter, that nuclear’s initial costs are significantly less than combustion. An argument can be made that nuclear energy has a lower lifetime cost due to lower fuel prices however, and this becomes very apparent if there was a level playing field, which there is not. When coal plants and mines are forced to operate under the same restrictions applied to nuclear, the cost advantages of the latter are not so obvious.


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  35. 35
    Anon Says:

            Matte said:

    Hate to tell you this, but I think you just stepped into his hole. Coal is cheaper than nuclear, regardles of it killing 18-20 people/TWh in the US [Externe]! Comparing lifecycle environmental impacts for coal and nuclear will always lead to controversy due to the last 30 years of propaganda about radiation, the silent killer!? But manganese poisoning people in Virginia due to coal mining, the amounts of fly ash released from the plants or the heavy metals released through the stacks are somehow acceptable? And yes, the argument boils down to economics, the environment comes second (at best).

    Nuclear is cheaper than coal in some places already and if both were regulated equally (instead of nuclear being held to a higher standard) nuclear would be cheaper than pretty much everything else.


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  36. 36
    Anon Says:

            DV82XL said:

    No one has ever argued here, or in fact in any pronuclear circles for that matter, that nuclear’s initial costs are significantly less than combustion. An argument can be made that nuclear energy has a lower lifetime cost due to lower fuel prices however, and this becomes very apparent if there was a level playing field, which there is not. When coal plants and mines are forced to operate under the same restrictions applied to nuclear, the cost advantages of the latter are not so obvious.

    If coal plants were held to the standards currently applied to nuclear they’d probably have to shut down as I’m not sure if they are even capable of meeting them (at the very least the cost would skyrocket so high that they’d be completely uneconomical, even full ‘clean’ coal (i.e. with carbon capture and storage) which still wouldn’t be at that standard is predicted to have higher capital costs than nuclear under optimistic scenarios).


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  37. 37
    Kit P Says:

    Now folks dare I say it again. The standards for producing electricity are the same. Producers of electricity must show that the risk of harming people is insignificant and the risk of harming the environment is insignificant.

    Clearly some of you do not understand what the word ‘insignificant’ means and want to debate how many angels can dance on the head of a pin by making up stuff.

    Both coal and nuke steam plants are built to the same code, ASME B31.1. Since nuke plants have an additional of exposing people to deadly amounts of radiation, portions of the nuke plant are built to different codes in order to be just as safe as a coal plant.

    As an engineer in the nuclear industry, I am very proud of our perfect safety record with respect to radiation while producing 20% of US power. Being a nuclear advocate in no way requires making up negative things about the rest of the power industry.

    “That the public is exposed to coal waste in larger amount than nuclear waste? ”

    Not true, zero = zero

    The absurdity Will is that you have not done any research to support your claim. Please do not confuse gossip with research.

    “made sweeping statement asserting no one could possibly be harmed. ”

    Will now you are the one closely. You added the word ‘possibly’ to my statement. In point of fact, if I can show the nuke plant I work did not expose my neighbors to radiation, then I can say they were not harmed by radiation.

    Let postulate the risk from being exposed to radiation is 0.00000001 but what we measure for last year 0.0000000. Likewise if the air quality is good, there is no harm because it is below the threshold of harm.

    All my children received vaccines but one (the oldest) had a bad reaction. So there is one disease that he is not protected for and is at greater risk if many do not get vaccinated. Risk is just a mathematical tool to help make good choices. When out children get vaccinated we stay near the doctors office to see if there is an adverse reaction.

    My point here Will is that you are not validating risk with data for results and you are using risk to draw in correct conclusions.

    “The truth is I used the fact 20,000 deaths are attributed annually to coal as evidence to public exposure to coal waste. ”

    No Will, that statement is a bold face lie. If you tell a lie often enough, most will believe it

    Furthermore, walking down the street will not kill you. Walking is good for your health. Getting hit by a car while you are walking down the street will kill you. There is a difference between root blame and root causes. I was discussing statistics with a coworker. Falling and breaking a hip is often a death sentence for the very old. He pointed out that old people will fall when their hip breaks. So how many accident statistics for falling is really a natural cause.

    “And yes, the argument boils down to economics, the environment comes second (at best). ”

    Not true Matte. To get a permit to build a power plant, you have to show you are not going to hurt people. That is called safety. Next to have to show you are protecting the environment nut the risk of an accident that damages the environment can be higher than the risk of hurting someone.

    “But manganese poisoning people in Virginia due to coal mining, the amounts of fly ash released from the plants or the heavy metals released through the stacks are somehow acceptable? ”

    Matte do you have some evidence that would stand up in a legal process? I live in Virginia and I would be really surprised.

    Heavy metal poisoning is very easy to detect with blood and hair test yet the CDC can not find any environment cases caused by coal.

    The standards for protecting the public and the environment are the same. If you poison people you will be in deep trouble. Fortunately for Will and Matte, gossip is not prosecuted.


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  38. 38
    DV82XL Says:

            Anon said:

    If coal plants were held to the standards currently applied to nuclear they’d probably have to shut down as I’m not sure if they are even capable of meeting them…

    Note I used the term ‘combustion” in my statement. I was referring to all fossil-fuels, not just coal.

            Kit P said:

    Now folks dare I say it again. The standards for producing electricity are the same. Producers of electricity must show that the risk of harming people is insignificant and the risk of harming the environment is insignificant.

    A statement like that suggests that there is some legal mechanism that enforces that standard, and in the absence of qualifiers, implies that that this is internationally observed. Since this is obviously untrue, so is your statement.

    Also risk evaluations have little to do with issues of mountain-top removal mining, as the argument that it renders the area unfit for other activities. This is not a matter of risk, but of lack of remediation – a purely economic issue. Your evaluation that this is insignificant is far from proven.

    It would seem your assertions have even less foundation than the ones you are criticizing.

    But that’s what one would expect from a shill for coal.


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  39. 39
    Kit P Says:

    ‘but of lack of remediation’

    What lack of remediation? Clearly someone has not been to places like Wise, Virginia or Hazard, Kentucky. So people tell me what cesspool you live in so I can check out the satellite view to confirm my suspicion.


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  40. 40
    Anon Says:

            DV82XL said:

    Note I used the term ‘combustion” in my statement. I was referring to all fossil-fuels, not just coal.

    Yes, undercutting natural gas in capital costs would be hard though the high fuel costs does work against NG, but in a directly comparison between coal and nuclear methane isn’t so relevant (though factory built Gen IV reactors might be able to come close enough to gas to not matter even for peakers).

            Kit P said:

    Now folks dare I say it again. The standards for producing electricity are the same.

    No they aren’t, nuclear is held to a far higher standard than coal (why else would nuclear be banned from releasing as much radiation as coal plants regularly do?).

            Kit P said:

    Producers of electricity must show that the risk of harming people is insignificant and the risk of harming the environment is insignificant.

    Coal plants produce global warming (unless they have sequestration which has its own rather serious problems) and the air pollution they cause kills people.

    Look, a coal plant is better than going without electricity but it isn’t insignificant.

            Kit P said:

    As an engineer in the nuclear industry, I am very proud of our perfect safety record with respect to radiation while producing 20% of US power. Being a nuclear advocate in no way requires making up negative things about the rest of the power industry.

    Those deaths from coal mining aren’t made up, nor are the deaths from air pollution, nor is the global warming.

            Kit P said:

    Not true, zero = zero

    That would require sequestration which is not commonly fitted on coal power plants.


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  41. 41
    DV82XL Says:

            Kit P said:

    So people tell me what cesspool you live in so I can check out the satellite view to confirm my suspicion.

    Lack of transparency, what lack of transparency?

    Get out of the closet and admit you are shilling for coal, or go away. We are all for open debate here, but you will find little patience with astroturfing. State you position clearly and defend it vigorously, if you can, but continuing to hide behind the claim of neutrality taking pot-shots at other commenters will not get you anywhere.

    Man up, or be called out as a fraud.


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  42. 42
    Mark Says:

    Back to Ra-226.

    The two ‘hottest’ (external dose rate) I have recently worked in are:

    1) ****pit of a 1950’s vintage bomber. Dose rates up to 950 micro Sv/h at 10cm (radium paint around escape hatches)

    2) A national store of uranium and thorium minerals – ambient whole body dose rate in places approaching 1mSv/h and more.

    Just saying … ;-)

    Mark


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  43. 43
    Speedy Says:

    Kit P, thanks for your continued denial of the dangers of mining and burning coal. This means that I can feel good about ignoring every single post of yours in the future.


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  44. 44
    Kit P Says:

    “No they aren’t, nuclear is held to a far higher standard than coal (why else would nuclear be banned from releasing as much radiation as coal plants regularly do?).”

    Let me explain the facts again. Nuclear power plants are allowed to release just as much ‘radiation’ as a coal plant. It is a physical impossibility for the slightly radioactive material released from a coal plant to hurt anyone. However, nuke plants contain huge amount of highly radioactive material. We are allowed to release huge amounts of radioactive material after an accident. However, we must show that no harm to people is caused by that release.

    So I will just a vigorously argue that 5 rem offsite dose from an accident at a nuke like in Japan will not harm anyone. The point here is to compare actual dose the level where harm occurs.

    The same standard exist for both coal and nuke plants. You can not harm people.

    “air pollution they cause kills people”

    These days no one in the US is being killed by air pollution.

    “but it isn’t insignificant”

    Yes it is! I have had people drinking ethanol while smoking tell me that my occupational radiation was a significant health risk. However, there is mathematical way to describe ‘insignificant’. When I was a kid I would look for loose change in the sofa cushions significantly increasing my income. However, if Bill Gates finds a couple of quarters his income change was ‘insignificant’.

    A real life example that is easy to understand. To put a hot water heater in your house the risk of killing you family has to be ‘insignificant’. If it is a natural gas hot water heater there is the hazard that a natural gas leak will cause an explosion killing your family. Even apply all the codes and standards, I can not show that the risk is ‘insignificant’. However, if I add a bad smelling chemical to odorless NG; the home owner will be able to detect the leak and evacuate. The additional precaution allows me to show in a ‘hazard analysis’ that the risk is mathematically ‘insignificant’ to an accepted standard.

    “Those deaths from coal mining aren’t made up,”

    Occupational accidents are a different matter. The US has a very good safety record for mining. The last major accident was the result of the mine foremen ignoring well established safety rules.

    “deaths from air pollution, nor is the global warming”

    That does come under the category of ‘made up’ stuff.

    “This means that I can feel good about ignoring every single post of yours in the future.”

    There is a whole industry of parasite that want Americans to feel guilty about using electricity. Even POTUS (parasite in chief) tells Americans to turn the thermostat down for some silly reason. I am not in the business of making anyone feel good but a reliable affordable supply of electricity produced safely with insignificant environment impact should not be one of the things to worry about.

    The riskiest occupation is unemployment and poverty is the riskiest status in life.


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  45. 45
    DV82XL Says:

    All this troll wants is a soapbox to air his support for coal. He is not interested in discussion, and he does not supply any references to back up his statements.

    I strongly suggest we stop feeding him.


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  46. 46
    Matte Says:

    DV82XL;
    Well, his statement that nuclear is not held to a higher standard than coal plants prooves your point.
    One 1 GW coal power plant will release about 5 tons of Uranium/year = 1.25E11 Bq/year
    Nuclear powerplant discharges will result in a dose to the public that is far less than that due to the isotopic mixture of the discharges (significanlty lower half lives and quality factors for the radiation/decay) [http://www.sciencemag.org/content/202/4372/1045.short].


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  47. 47
    Albert Rogers Says:

    The half-life of radium is about 1600 years. The half-life of Pu-239 is about 24,000 years. It follows, to be precise (enough) that radium is about 15.5 times, (240/16) as radioactive as Pu-239, both of them emitting alpha particles. On the other hand, the decay product of radium is radon, which is far more radioactive, and has a swift sequence of radioactive descendants, whereas the decay product of Pu-239 is U-235, which is far longer lived and that much less radioactive than Pu-239.

    It follows that it is idiotic, even in terms of radioactivity, to fear plutonium as “the most toxic element there is” or similar statements.

    However, as to why nuclear power should replace fossil carbon burning, the case is simple. Kit P makes the usual mistake of ignoring the fact that the amount of fossil carbon fuel required to produce a gigawatt-year of electrical energy is millions of times the quantity of fissile nuclear material for the same amount. The wastes are necessarily in the same ratio.

    I’m actually hiding something there. In every thousand tons of natural uranium, there are only 7 tons of fissile U-235. But the rest of it can be converted into fissile isotopes. The USA’s civilian nuclear power companies require 25 thousand tons of raw uranium per annum. In an energy-intensive process, the fissile isotope is concentrated into about one eighth of the total, called the “enriched” uranium. The rest is the “depleted” uranium.

    The amount of U-235 that the USA consumes by fission annually is almost certainly less than 75 tons. But the amount of spent fuel that is sitting around, waiting to be (wastefully) vitrified and buried, is probably about 50 times that. That’s still only 3750 tons! There exists at least one well-proven technology, developed under US government contract, that could in the long run convert all of the spent fuel, AND the “depleted” uranium from which the fuel grade rods were separated, into energy.


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  48. 48
    Physics Guy Dave Says:

    Okay, lets consider the greater context here.

    Radium-226 is most definitely more hazardous and more difficult to get rid of than an equal quantity of plutonium-239 or spent fuel. Present a disposal site with one kilogram of mixed plutonium isotopes or with one kilogram of ra-226 and the ra-226 causes more problems. Why? More radio-toxic. More problematic daughter products. High solubility. High reactivity. High biological uptake. Highly mobile in the enviornment. Produces lots of high energy alpha and high energy gamma, via daughters etc etc.

    This is all mentioned and there is no denying that.

    And there are many hundreds of tons of radium-226 on earth. Yes, that is true.

    BUT, you will never find highly purified ra-226 in nature. Only a small amount was ever concentrated to super high levels and that was done by mankind with extreme effort.

    The tons and tons of radium-226 out there are highly defused into the environment. So you can point to a mountain and say “There’s a hundred tons of radium in there” and while that may be true, you omit that it’s uniformly mixed into billions and billions of tons of other material.

    Whereas a nuclear waste dump may have similar quantities of less dangerous material, it’s all concentrated into a small cavern in the same mountain.

    That makes all the differernce. We never need to dispose of radium-226 EXCEPT when we extracted and purified it, because otherwise it’s already extremely dilute.

    Trust me, I’m a physics professor.


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  49. 49
    DV82XL Says:

    Physics Guy Dave – Are we to assume then that you are making Doc’s point here, or are you suggesting something else?


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  50. 50
    Albert Rogers Says:

            Kit P said:

    If you are producing power you have to protect people from harm and protect the environment. It does not matter what the source of heat is. Pointing fingers is akin to telling your teacher that your dog ate your homework. It does not work in the adult world. Screw up and hurt people or fail to protect the environment will result in severe consequences.

    Many power plants release low levels of radioactive material. The NRC does not regulate coal plants because it is not possible for the radioactive material to harm anyone. The NRC regulates the safety of nuke plants because radiation exposure from an operating reactor or spent fuel would be immediately fatal with out shielding.

    Whatever the hazard, the power industry is required to take precautions in case of an accident. In Japan and at TMI, no one was hurt after a ‘severe accident’ because precautions were taken to limit exposure. Just as at the coal plant in Kingston, Tennessee when the coal ask impondment failed. No towns were flooded and no one was hut. TVA had to cleanup the mess and the EPA monitored possible contamination of downstream drinking water supplies.

    Keeping coal ash or spent fuel safe is not a particularly difficult engineering task.

    The nuclear waste problem from generating a gigawatt-year of energy is much smaller than the waste problem from coal, because to get that much energy you burn millions of tons of coal, but it takes only a ton of fissile nuclides. Of course, the problem for present nuclear plants is that they have to bur all the unchnged originaly uranium as well, and they’re not allowed to reprocess the plutonium and get rid of it in reactors. Three million tons of carbon produce eleven million tons of CO2, and even if it were compressed 1000 fold it wouldn’t fit into the space the coal was taken out from.


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