Quantum and Nuclear

Radioactive coal

Stories from Physics for 11-14 14-16 16-19 IOP RESOURCES

Old coal-fired power stations may have released more radiation into the environment than current nuclear power stations. This effect occurred because of naturally occurring radionuclides in coal ash released from some coal-fired powerplants. Coal can contain radioactive isotopes including polonium-210, lead-210, radium-226 and uranium-238. One estimate, made in 1988, concluded that whilst the absolute radiation dose from coal-fired plants was small (0.001-0.0001 mSv a year), emissions of radionuclides from some plants were ten times higher than from nuclear equivalents. Conversely, the release of carbon dioxide from the combustion of the relatively old, and hence relatively low-activity carbon in fossil fuels into the atmosphere, causes a decrease in the naturally occurring radiation dose (the Suess effect).



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