Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Radiation from Fossil Fuels:

The Forgotten Problem

Given the widespread concern about the risk of radiation exposure from nuclear power plants--which those of us in the field know is very low--I have always been amused (if that is the right word) by the fact that routine emissions from coal plants expose the public to far greater doses of radiation than nuclear power plants do.

Therefore, as "fracking" has become a focus of attention, I've been even more amused (again, if this is the right word) by reports about "fracking" and radioactive emissions. It seems that fracking, a procedure designed to help extract more natural gas from formations containing natural gas, has now been identified with increased releases of radioactive emissions.

I guess I question whether amused is the right word because the whole situation isn't really funny. First, we need all the energy sources available to us. I do not believe that it will help the US and the world to try to tear down coal or natural gas for their radioactive emissions. Second, the news suggests that we have been putting our attention and our resources in the wrong place. (Surprise, surprise.)

We can probably address the problems of radioactive emissions from coal and natural gas, but not if we are misdirecting resources at lesser problems.

This news illustrates once again how very complicated the tradeoffs are between different energy resources, and identifies the need to begin to look at the energy sphere from the broadest possible perspective.


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