How much enviornmental damage would occur if..

… instead of a nuclear reactor, there had been a coal or other petro based power plant at Fukushima?

I’ve read in various places that coal is actually a very dirty power supply source and has less safety measures implemented than nuclear.

If the tsunami had hit say a coal plant, would there have been greater or lesser damage done to the area?

Nuclear power generation is generally very clean (ignoring spent fuel disposal). The problem is that when something goes wrong, you can have a major disaster (and even if you don’t have a major disaster, you’ll have a major PR disaster).

A coal plant is various levels of dirty all the time from air pollution, but in general a tsunami is just going to shut it down. To my limited knowledge, there aren’t a lot of dangerous substances associated with running the plant.

The damage would have been more poignant. Not to devalue the losses actually suffered, but had the event occurred at a less-protected/reinforced coal plant, millions of tons of coal would have washed away and escaped into the environment. Though generally not a problem, like anything in nature it would have to go somewhere and affect the current environmental balance. The consequences would be felt most acutely about eight or nine months later, and would repeat annually for decades. Millions and millions of children would wake up in late December, race downstairs, and find coal. Nothing but coal. :frowning:

It’s hard to compare. Destroying a nuclear power plant risks releasing radioactive materials into the environment. Destroying a coal power plant stops it releasing radioactive materials into the environment (because that’s what it would have been doing during normal operation).

I guess the question wasn’t detailed enough - here is my thinking:

Given the level of fear of nuclear disaster, most nuclear power plants are designed to survive a fair amount of “bad things” (insert disaster of choice).
Since coal doesn’t seem to be feared as much I’ve not heard that the same level of care/security is taken.
Coal and other petrochems can pollute rather badly (absolutely no idea how much though in the case of whatever type of coal a power plant uses - yet another of the reasons I’m posting the question).

Given the differing levels of “disaster prevention” and relative environmental dangers posed by each material, what would’ve happened if the tsunami hit a major coal plant? Would it have been destroyed? Would it’s pollutants and fuel sources been distributed? Or is there sufficient care taken in construction to withstand such a calamity?
If the coal and whatever is left after use were to be swept out by the tsunami, how bad would it be to local area? (Given the pictures of the time, I’d guess at least some of the “stuff” would’ve been swept inland). How about local fisheries and marine environments? (How much coal is at a plant? How does it react to seawater? Is it like the oil spills?

These are the sorts of questions that come to my mind and that I’d love to find answers to.
Googling shows that the ash is a problem to get rid of and is (as was mentioned here as well) radioactive. One could guess that such waste would’ve been on site at the time of the tsunami.

THings like this.

But isn’t coal found in the environment anyway? Can digging coal up from the ground and then dumping it in a river cause serious environmental issues that weren’t present when the coal was underground?

First, yes. Dumping large amounts of coal into a river is going to fuck that river up. Dumping large amounts of just about anything non-inert into an ecosystem that has achieved homeostasis is going to dramatically alter that homeostasis. Forces will eventually realign to arrive at a new equilibrium, but the end state is unlikely to be similar to the original state. I’m referring to perturbations in which the various feedback cycles are overwhelmed and homeostasis is lost.

Second: whoosh.

Yes, if you would like to experiment take a bag of charcoal(similar but not the same) dump it somewhere in your yard and let it get rained on, makes a huge mess and kills plants. I am not recommending this BTW

As to the OP the hypothetical coal plant receiving the same waves would probably be destroyed and spread nasty all over the place. At the coal plants I have seen there are huge mounds of coal outside and I could only assume that the waves would spread it inland and out to sea. Nasty, Gross and mildly toxic a big deal but IMO not nearly as bad as radioactive garbage


Coal causes worse environmental disasters on a regular basis.

It barely makes the news, and nobody runs around screaming that it’s going to end all life on earth, because it isn’t nuclear.