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»Coal-Fired Power Plant Emissions

This page describes the radioactive material emitted from coal-fired power plants.


Approximately 52% of the United States’ electricity is generated using coal as fuel. Coal is abundant and relatively inexpensive, but it also contains a large number of impurities.

Coal contains trace quantities of the naturally-occurring radionuclides uranium and thorium, as well as their radioactive decay products, and potassium-40. When coal is burned, minerals, including most of the radionuclides, do not burn and concentrate in the ash.

While most of the ash is captured, tiny solid particles known as "fly ash," including some radionuclides, escape from the boiler into the atmosphere. Current regulations focus on using control technology to reduce the amount of fly ash that escapes including most radioactive particles, and on proper disposal of the fly ash.