Fallout fallacies: How TVA misled on coal ash radiation threat

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A week after a dam collapsed at the Kingston power plant in eastern Tennessee and dumped more than a billion gallons of toxic coal ash waste into the nearby community of Harriman and the Emory River, the Tennessee Valley Authority collected samples of the ash and tested them for radioactivity. The summary of results [pdf] released by the company suggested the risk was minimal, stating that the total radioactivity in the ash was “less than that found in low sodium salt available to consumers on the shelves of grocery stores.”

But a new independent analysis of radiation in the ash suggests the company downplayed the real risk.

Scientists from Duke University last week announced that their tests found the ash has radiation levels higher than those found in typical coal ash. The combined content of radium-228 and radium-226 in the solid ash samples they collected from the TVA spill earlier this month measured about 8 picocuries per gram. That compares to the average 5 or 6 picocuries per gram reported by the Environmental Protection Agency in most ash samples from coal-fired power plants.



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