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  QUESTION: Your Uranium and Thorium (in ppm values) should not be applied to the total coal mass - 23 Feb 2007 NSW, Australia

Dr. Karl,

I was just reading your article of 1997 that was titled "What else might be in your ceiling dust?" and, whilst it was (as always with your presentations) very entertaining and stimulating, it was also very provocative and intimidating for the 'average' member of the public.

The article eluded to the fact(?) that many thousands of tonnes of radio-active and other life-threatening materials were being emitted from the world's power stations, into the air and raining down on the populace.  In principle, this is true; but the starting premise upon which the rest of your article was based, was not true.

The amounts of Uranium and Thorium (in ppm values) that you quoted were quite correct but they should not be applied to the total coal mass. They only relate to these materials found in the ash of the coal.  Since the average(?) ash content of coal being consumed in the world's power stations may be about 20% by weight, then all of your derived masses should be only about one fifth of their stated values.

I realise that this criticism of an 10-year old article is a little late coming, but the world is being bombarded by misinformation about one thing or another, every day.  People certainly do not need to be further inflamed by an article that has been authored by someone with your stature and credibility in the community.

Yes, it is too late to retract your article, but maybe a correction should be appended.

I thank you for your patience


ANSWER: 24 Feb 2007

Dear Grant,

Howdy, and thanks for the information.  I am always very happy to correct any misinformation or mistakes that I have inadvertently said or written.

Unfortunately, you do not tell me what is written in the article, and what the correct values should be.  "On average, coal has 1.3 parts per million of uranium and 3.2 parts per million of thorium."?  Are these the values to which you refer?  If so, what should the correct values be?

Can I also ask, if these values should be applied to "coal ash", how do these values vary depending on the "purity" of the coal, eg, black coal, brown coal, etc?.  Also, would you be able to email me, or at least direct me to, any review articles on this topic?

Thanks again for pointing out this misinfomation.

Cheers, Karl

Karl S. Kruszelnicki,
Julius Sumner Miller Fellow,
The Science Foundation for Physics,
School of Physics,
The University of Sydney,
NSW 2006 Australia
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