Coal ash needs proper regulation and enforcement

Occasionally I run into people who are opposed to nuclear who tell me that they fight it because we do not need the power. They forget that about 35-50% of the electricity in the United States comes from burning as much as 1.1 billion tons of coal per year. It is important to me that people understand the implications of choosing other energy alternatives that do the same job as nuclear energy.

Living well requires us to be able to rationally discuss and select alternatives using the best available information. Not everyone accepts information in the same way; it is worthwhile to occasionally tell the story with moving pictures as well as text, equations, charts and graphs in an academic paper.

About Rod Adams

8 Responses to “Coal ash needs proper regulation and enforcement”

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  1. Jason C says:

    It’s rather shocking how the TVA coal ash spill received so little attention from legislatures. All this time and the EPA still has no power to regulate coal ash ponds.

    There is no finer example about the distorted perceptions of threats to public health and environmental pollution than the scant attention paid to coal ash. I’m curious to know what the radioactivity level is coming from coal ash and how things would change if “nuclear rules” were applied to this problem.

  2. Robert Steinhaus says:

    The obstacles that existing NRC regulation makes to building new nuclear are sufficient to keep nuclear from being a significant player in providing clean cost effective electricity in the United States. No new nuclear gets built in the US without an NRC license, and only two new licenses to build new nuclear reactors have been granted by NRC in the last 30 years.

    Burning Coal supplies nearly half of America’s electricity. The video featured in today’s post is makes a forceful case for the need to control coal ash which pollutes the air and can poison water and crop land. I do not accept the suggestion that additional regulation from EPA resulting in the closure of more coal plants is the way to address the problem. America need to continue to push down the cost of energy. Using the EPA to close existing coal fired plants while forcing the adoption of much higher cost unreliable renewable energy drives up the cost of energy and undermines American competitiveness and the production of good manufacturing jobs.

    Better technology for using coal is a preferred solution to the problem.

    If, as a culture, we are comfortable just setting the obstacles to building new nuclear so high through excessive regulation that American communities rarely, if ever, chose to supply their needs for power through nuclear, then it may be worthwhile to suggest commercializing better coal technology until such time as the nation is willing to reduce the obstacles to building nuclear.

    There is existing technology that can extract the chemical energy in coal cleanly without producing smoke, particulates, or fly ash and results in production of one half of the amount of CO2 per MWe of electrical power generated. This technology was pioneered at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (where I was fortunate to be a staff member) and it worked splendidly at laboratory scale. Funding for an industrial scale test of the technology has not been available under the current Administration, even with all of the ARPA-e and DOE grants and funding provided clean energy alternatives being spent the last four years.

    The technology is called Direct Carbon Fuel Cells and this technology repeatedly demonstrated the conversion of chemical energy into electrical energy with an efficiency of 80% without requiring burning the coal. Coal fired power plants that use coal to produce electricity do not typically achieve chemical to electrical conversion efficiencies much over about 40%. Direct carbon fuel cells produce no fly ash, radioactive Uranium or Thorium, particulates or smoke into the air and produce only a reduced output of transparent, orderless, and industrially pure CO2 into the environment. The vast majority of the Coal fed into a DCFC turns into a reduced stream of odorless clear CO2 pure enough to be used in many large scale industrial processes.
    Dr. John Cooper – Turning Carbon Directly into Electricity -
    https://www.llnl.gov/str/June01/Cooper.html

    • jmdesp says:

      This does sound too good to be true. How could the groups who are currently spending huge amount of money trying to develop coal gasification technologies ignore this ?
      Is this more or less similar to Integrated Gasification Fuel Cell (IGFC) ?

  3. George Carlin says:

    Wow, I had never heard of this coal ash spill until just now. This spill dwarfs any radioactivity to leave Fukushima with a much much worse land clean up problem.

  4. Daniel says:

    The irony with coal is that it kills people and also provide jobs to thousands of us.

    A very talented songwriter in Québec once wrote about this paradox. He basically said : You will have to die if you want to earn a living my friend.

    This sounds like the middle ages.

    But when we look at it more closely, all the jobs in the coal industry that are linked to transportation of this poison are indirect costs. Taking stuff from point A to point B does not add nor create value. Yet a very important chunk of the railroad capacity in the US is dedicated to transporting an industrial revolution era weapon of mass destruction. We have a collective death wish it woud appear to me.

    Sometimes, I wonder if we can do basic math – if we can live standing up and protect the sons and daughters that we love. There is no doubt that coal kills. Who is guilty ? We are !

  5. John Tucker says:

    Another issue here is the variability of coal deposits – some are not so bad (except they still produce the usual toxins, GGs/ocean acid CO2) others have larger quantities of toxic contaminates depending on the geology of the area mined. Here are links to some of the sites with satellite images of the huge contaminated areas ( http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Category:Coal_waste ).

  6. George Wood says:

    Why cain’t we put the ash back where the coal came from? Empty coal trains go back to the mine every day doin’t they? We can only make so much concrete and drywall from the stuff.

    • John Tucker says:

      Seriously? The fraction that was capture-able and not released has been sitting in unlined ponds for 50 years. Much of it was also strip mined. Making rock out of it probably works if you assume its uniformly not contaminated – which in reality you cant.

      Ironically with all the radiophobia the status quo was actually the big unknown.

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