IS NUCLEAR power dirty and dangerous, as some politicians claim? Coal contains both uranium and thorium and these are concentrated at least tenfold when coal is burnt.
A typical coal-fired power station produces annually about seven-30 tons of radioactive uranium/thorium, dependent on the source of coal and is dispersed in large volumes of ash.
Coal ash is often dumped in landfill or around the power station, but the risk to public health is regarded as low. The annual reprocessed and safely-stored waste from nuclear power stations is estimated to be less than a ton. Assessments made over 30 years ago indicated that volatile radioactivity from coal-fired power stations could be 100-fold higher than volatiles released from nuclear power stations.
It is ironic that the present anti-nuclear government strongly supports carbon capture from coal-fired power stations in Scotland whose radioactive ash will be freely dispersed into the environment. And the amounts of radioactivity produced will vastly outstrip the reprocessed radioactive waste from the two nuclear power stations that currently provide a third or more of our electricity.
Danger is usually estimated from the frequency of death. Based on TWhr (tera watts, equal 1,000 gigawatts) of power generated, the annual average number of world deaths from coal is 161, that of oil 40, natural gas four, wind 0.15 and nuclear 0.04. Attitudes to nuclear power need to be based on knowledge, not fearful ignorance.
(Prof) Anthony TREWAVAS
Croft Street, Penicuik