Fellow forum member traderfjp cited the following passage from a Wikipedia article titled "Fossil fuel power station".
Coal is a sedimentary rock formed primarily from accumulated plant matter, and it includes many inorganic minerals and elements which were deposited along with organic material during its formation. As the rest of the Earth's crust, coal also contains low levels of uranium, thorium, and other naturally occurring radioactive isotopes whose release into the environment leads to radioactive contamination. While these substances are present as very small trace impurities, enough coal is burned that significant amounts of these substances are released. A 1,000 MW coal-burning power plant could have an uncontrolled release of as much as 5.2 metric tons per year of uranium (containing 74 pounds (34 kg) of uranium-235) and 12.8 metric tons per year of thorium. In comparison, a 1,000 MW nuclear plant will generate about 500 pounds of plutonium and 30 short tons of high-level radioactive controlled waste. It is estimated that during 1982, US coal burning released 155 times as much uncontrolled radioactivity into the atmosphere as the Three Mile Island incident. The collective radioactivity resulting from all coal burning worldwide between 1937 and 2040 is estimated to be 2,700,000 curies or 0.101 EBq. It should also be noted that during normal operation, the effective dose equivalent from coal plants is 100 times that from nuclear plants.
In dispute here is not the facts but context. We want to change this so it accurately shows exposure to radiation from coal burning is nearly non existent. Here's some resources to get you started. First from one of my own posts on similar article:
Radiation in coal and fly ash? Certainly there is as there is radiation in everything. The claim often heard is "Coal ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste." This claim first started making the rounds after this article coincidentally titled "Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste" was published in Scientific American and online site supposedly about science. Frankly they and the author should be ashamed of themselves for using such an inflammatory and deceptive title.By burning away all the pesky carbon and other impurities, coal power plants produce heaps of radiation
The popular conception of nuclear power is straight out of The Simpsons: Springfield abounds with signs of radioactivity, from the strange glow surrounding Mr. Burn's nuclear power plant workers to Homer's low sperm count. Then there's the local superhero, Radioactive Man, who fires beams of "nuclear heat" from his eyes. Nuclear power, many people think, is inseparable from a volatile, invariably lime-green, mutant-making radioactivity.
Coal, meanwhile, is believed responsible for a host of more quotidian problems, such as mining accidents, acid rain and greenhouse gas emissions. But it isn't supposed to spawn three-eyed fish like Blinky.
Over the past few decades, however, a series of studies has called these stereotypes into question. Among the surprising conclusions: the waste produced by coal plants is actually more radioactive than that generated by their nuclear counterparts. In fact, the fly ash emitted by a power plant—a by-product from burning coal for electricity—carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy. * [See Editor's Note at end of page 2]
Source: Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste By Mara Hvistendahl December 13, 2007
The editors note that was added a full year after publication of this article:*Editor's Note (posted 12/30/08): In response to some concerns raised by readers, a change has been made to this story. The sentence marked with an asterisk was changed from "In fact, fly ash—a by-product from burning coal for power—and other coal waste contains up to 100 times more radiation than nuclear waste" to "In fact, the fly ash emitted by a power plant—a by-product from burning coal for electricity—carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy." Our source for this statistic is Dana Christensen, an associate lab director for energy and engineering at Oak Ridge National Laboratory as well as 1978 paper in Science authored by J.P. McBride and colleagues, also of ORNL.
As a general clarification, ounce for ounce, coal ash released from a power plant delivers more radiation than nuclear waste shielded via water or dry cask storage.
Source: Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste Page 2 Editors note
As a general clarification to the author of this article they should be informed their title could just as easily have been "Dirt more radioactive than nuclear waste" under these circumstances and in fact should be a of greater concern. According to the USGS fly ash contains very little radioactivity. The uranium levels are slightly above that of granite rock which is used for kitchen counter tops and is right inside the home. For the average citizen the dirt beneath your feet is the greatest concern because of greater exposure to radiation through Radon gas.
It should be noted the "Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste" cites the same study that is used by the Wikipedia article to make the statement "It should also be noted that during normal operation, the effective dose equivalent from coal plants is 100 times that from nuclear plants".
The following is from a USGS study but it's from 1997 so a bit outdated and no longer accurate because of the increased use of medical devices that emit radiation:
The graph to the left shows the uranium concentrations in fly ash, the pie chart to the right shows the average exposure to radiation by source. Coal ash falls falls under "other" and accounts for less than 1% of the radiation exposure a person living in the US can expect.
Radioactive elements in coal and fly ash should not be sources of alarm. The vast majority of coal and the majority of fly ash are not significantly enriched in radioactive elements, or in associated radioactivity, compared to common soils or rocks. This observation provides a useful geologic perspective for addressing societal concerns regarding possible radiation and radon hazard.
Source: Radioactive Elements in Coal and Fly Ash
USGS Radiation Fact Sheet: http://nepacrossroads.com/download/file.php?id=13312
From a more recent study in 2007:
Keep in mind you must follow all the rules of Wikipedia and be sure to cite your sources. The intention here is not to disrupt or vandalize pages but simply correct misleading information.