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Nuclear Disaster in Marhsall Terrace


A couple of years ago, the Riverside Power Plant in the 55418 was converted from coal fuel to natural gas. It had burned coal and coated the Marshall Terrace neighborhood with ash and dust for the previous eight decades.

It never made headlines as a radiation hazard. But it was:

In a 1978 paper for Science, J. P. McBride at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and his colleagues looked at the uranium and thorium content of fly ash from coal-fired power plants in Tennessee and Alabama. To answer the question of just how harmful leaching could be, the scientists estimated radiation exposure around the coal plants and compared it with exposure levels around boiling-water reactor and pressurized-water nuclear power plants.

The result: estimated radiation doses ingested by people living near the coal plants were equal to or higher than doses for people living around the nuclear facilities. At one extreme, the scientists estimated fly ash radiation in individuals' bones at around 18 millirems (thousandths of a rem, a unit for measuring doses of ionizing radiation) a year. Doses for the two nuclear plants, by contrast, ranged from between three and six millirems for the same period. And when all food was grown in the area, radiation doses were 50 to 200 percent higher around the coal plants.

The term “hazard” has more rhetorical value than scientific value. Much like “disaster”, there’s no measurable threshold or fixed conditions which define a hazard. It’s relative and subjective.

The hazard in Marshall terrace was triple that of nuclear power, but still trivial:

McBride and his co-authors estimated that individuals living near coal-fired installations are exposed to a maximum of 1.9 millirems of fly ash radiation yearly. To put these numbers in perspective, the average person encounters 360 millirems of annual "background radiation" from natural and man-made sources, including substances in Earth's crust, cosmic rays, residue from nuclear tests and smoke detectors.

If I were trying to sell newspapers or pushing a political agenda, I could frame what happened in Marhsall Terrace as a slow-motion disaster. Cancer risk increased! Vegetables grown in toxic soil! Children playing in poison dust! For decades!

It would be better if nobody got cancer. But life is trade-offs. The power plant used the fuel that was available to make power that allowed people to work and improve their standard of living. The headline writers or investigative reporters seldom consider how many children would have died without the cascading benefits of more abundant electric power.

While disasters are usually obvious, miracles and godsends often go unseen.

H/T: Isegoria


Isegoria has a cluster of interesting posts relating to nuclear energy.

Coal kills, nukes are safest.

Chernobyl zone has become Eden.

Radiation exposure reduces cancer.

It's amazing anyone who grew up in Northeast is alive today. With threats from NSP, Western Mining, B.F. Nelson, Burlington Northern, and a host of others, we should all be dead. Where is my lawsuit pen?

everything that has the word nuclear makes me terrified! i cant imagine anything worse and more distructive that nuclear power! thanks for the post!