Radiation from power

Print edition : April 14, 2017

The nuclear power plant operated by EON SE in Grohnde, Germany. A file picture. Photo: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

For members of the public, annual exposure to radiation resulting from various electricity-generating technologies is small and typically much less than 1 per cent of the corresponding average natural background exposure, a new report from the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) released on February 8 said.

Specifically, public exposure to radiation resulting from the generation of electricity by nuclear power plants is just a fraction of that from coal-powered plants.

These conclusions are based on a comparative study by the committee on exposures from electricity-generating technologies such as nuclear, coal, natural gas, oil, biofuels, geothermal, wind and solar.

Using data from dosimetry records of workers engaged in power-generating technologies, the committee has also re-evaluated occupational exposures arising from different sources of electricity. While the coal cycle’s exposure levels are very low, it contributed more than half of the total radiation dose to the global population from electricity generation, while the nuclear fuel cycle contributed less than one-fifth, the committee said.

The collective dose for coal-based power generating technologies is 670-1,400 man sieverts, depending on the age of the power plant, while the dose for nuclear power is 130 man Sv. This is followed by geothermal at 5-160 man Sv, natural gas at 55 man Sv and oil at 0.03 man Sv.Using 2010 as the reference year, the UNSCEAR also evaluated radiation exposure per unit of electricity generated.

The committee concluded that the values for coal and nuclear are about the same in the short term.