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Coal pollution levels increase April 8, 2010

Posted by cleanidahoenergy in China, coal power, environmentalists.
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The Environmental Integrity Project recently stated that coal-fired plants are the largest source of mercury pollution in the U.S., generating more than 40 percent of US emissions. Also, the mercury output had recently increased at more than half of the country’s 50 largest power plants. Mercury is a highly toxic metal and settles in lakes and rivers, where it moves up the food chain.

Coal has become an important part of the country’s energy mix and we get half of our electricity from it. Coal increased substantially in the 1980s, as paranoia and biased media coverage contributed to negative public perceptions of nuclear. Meanwhile, the environmental community did little to oppose coal, figuring it wasn’t as bad a nuclear. As it turns out, a 1,000 megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant produces approximately the same amount of global warming as 1.2 million cars, around all the cars in Idaho.

Lately, though, the truth has been sinking in. In 2004, for example, U.S. coal plants made up 8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and are a significant source of radiation, heavy metals and CO2.

Natural gas doesn’t produce the toxics, but it still pumps out half the CO2 of coal and costs considerably more. Carbon capture holds promise but is still in the early stages and its economics are unknown.

You would think that coal would be on the way out (and it may be in the US), but China and India are planning hundreds of new coal plants. Pollution aside, coal has the advantages of being abundant, reliable, cheap and relatively easy to convert to electricity, so it is easy to see why it is of such interest in developing countries.

We think every form of electricity has a role to play within its limits and potential, including coal, providing its toxic and carbon pollution can be effectively dealt with. For our part, we are pleased more political leaders, environmentalists and members of the public are realizing the advantages of clean, plentiful and reliable nuclear. The nuclear renaissance is definitely here thanks to a more balanced and rational approach.

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