Scientists (UCS), a US-based body suggests that 44% of the entire nation's electricity is generated via coal. "Coal is the single biggest air polluter in the US. A typical (500 megawatt) coal plant burns 1.4 million tons of coal each year. As of 2012, there are 572 operational coal plants in the U.S. with an average capacity of 547 megawatts," noted USC. Coal has the ability to pollute the environment at various stages - during mining, transportation, storage and of course while burning.
UCS further states that coal plants also happen to be the top contributor to America's carbon dioxide emissions which is also the major cause of global warming. Coal plants also lead to the emission of other toxic gases into the environment such as nitrogen dioxide, mercury, sulfur dioxide and other particulate matter.
To underline the prolonged and long-lasting effects of coal pollution on the environment as well as on human health, a researcher at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania studied the aftermath of a nuclear (Three Mile Island) accident in Pennsylvania that happened in the year 1979. According to Edson Severnini, when the Southern state switched to coal power to derive power post the 1979 mishap, it led to a sharp fall in birth-weight of the newborns. When a couple of its nuclear plants in Tennessee were shut, coal became the source of power at these plants. The switch led to a 5.4% drop in the weight of the newborn babies of the Tennessee Valley. The area also had the highest level of pollution from coal particles emitted by the coal plants.
Children born at a low birth-weight are prone to a host of ailments and complications that can stunt their growth and meddle with the overall development of their body and mind. "Average birth weight declined approximately 134 grams (4.7 ounces) after the nuclear shutdown," said Edson Severnini, in the study published in the journal 'Nature Energy'.
Also Read: (Five in Six Infants Undernourished, Risk Irreversible Mental and Physical Damage: U.N.)
The study aims to reflect the nuances of the ongoing debate that puts nuclear energy against coal energy. While most people point at some of the biggest nuclear tragedies in the world, the recent one being the Fukushima mishap, supporters of coal energy have their own reasons to advocate the efficacy of coal plants. All in all, more and more countries are now taking the greener way and embracing fossil-fuels to derive energy.
Inputs from AFP
Union of Concerned