Why is Coal Radioactive?

NORM is an acronym for Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material and it covers, well, all radioactive material that occurs is nature. Some of the main elements that make up NORM are Uranium Thorium and Radium. Traces of these elements can be found pretty much everywhere but sometimes their accumulation can result in radioactive contamination of materials which are not usually thought as radioactive.

Why is coal radioactive

Not that long ago, a friend of mine send me a sample of coal which comes from an area near Dresden in Germany. This region is very rich in coal deposits but they are not pure. Coal easily absorbs elements that surround it and in this case, it was in close proximity to uranium which resulted in it getting contaminated and also becoming radioactive.

The sample measures 6cm by 4cm by 3 cm and reads about 2 500 CPM on a pancake probe at 1cm distance. A gamma spectroscopy made with my RAYSID gamma spectrometer, shows a clear presence of natural uranium and its decay products.

RAYSID Gamma Spectrometer (FWHM <7%)

While this is an extreme example, coal can contain trace amounts of radioactive elements and burning it, will results in the release of these elements into the environment. Considering how much coal is burned to produce energy each year, it is safe to say that coal power plants produce more unregulated nuclear waste than any nuclear power plant does. It is ironic how some countries build coal power plants instead of nuclear ones since they are afraid of nuclear energy and yet coal power plants are the ones producing more unregulated nuclear waste and contaminating our environment with toxic elements.

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