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A collapsed retaining wall spews millions of gallons of fly ash across the Tennessee valley

A disaster that occurred early Monday morning has ruined the holidays for some residents of Knoxville, Tennessee. A retaining wall at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston coal-fired power plant collapsed, spewing 2.6 million cubic yards of fly ash across Tennessee.

According to the TVA, 400 acres of land are submerged 6-feet deep in the toxic substance. The sludge that burst out of the holding pond for power plant waste ripped an entire home from its foundations and flooded 11 other homes in the area. In addition, a train was also heavily damaged.

"Protecting the public, our employees, and the environment is TVA's primary concern as we supply electric power for the people of Tennessee Valley region," said TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore. "We deeply regret that a retention wall for ash containment at our Kingston Fossil Plant failed, resulting in an ash slide and damage to nearby homes."

Fortunately, no injuries related to the disaster have been reported so far. However, the situation is expected to worsen. Fly ash is a highly toxic substance that contains mercury, lead, and arsenic. A report from last year also states that fly ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste.  

The toxic substance has begun seeping into the Emory River, which means the waste may ultimately end up flowing into the Tennessee River, contaminating ground and surface water. The TVA says that it will continue to sample water downstream for contamination. As a precaution, the TVA has attempted to manage the river flows in order to reduce risk of contamination.

The Kingston power plant generates 10 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. According to the TVA, this powers 670,000 homes. Despite the disaster, the plant is still online and operating.  

Repairs for the disaster will begin immediately, with hundreds of bulldozers, dump trucks and workers already in the area to clear out the debris.

Residents displaced by the disaster have been provided with hotel rooms, food and transportation.  Gas, electricity and water have been restored to homes in the area that did not incur any serious damage.

Aerial footage of the disaster has also been posted on YouTube.

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Highly Toxic?
By Ratwar on 12/24/2008 10:04:41 PM , Rating: 2
Are you sure? I mean, I wouldn't feed the stuff to my kids or anything, but calling it highly toxic is a huge overstatement. In fact, the stuff is being increasingly used in concrete to make building cheaper...

RE: Highly Toxic?
By ttowntom on 12/24/2008 11:04:42 PM , Rating: 1
It's just burnt coal. You could eat a pound of it and not get anything but an upset stomach.

RE: Highly Toxic?
By mpeny on 12/25/2008 1:16:13 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, it is not toxic like a chemical spill but they can contain heavy metals which is the least is cause breathing problems - at worst cancer.

They need to test the site. It is yet to be determined either way.
Also, it will not be cheap to clean this up and pay families that have lost their homes under the dump.

RE: Highly Toxic?
By mars777 on 12/25/2008 1:32:29 AM , Rating: 2
Eat yes, but try to inhale...

RE: Highly Toxic?
By SandmanWN on 12/29/2008 9:20:55 AM , Rating: 3
inhale sludge?

RE: Highly Toxic?
By Marduke on 12/29/2008 10:48:49 AM , Rating: 2
sludge drys out in the sun.

RE: Highly Toxic?
By SandmanWN on 12/29/2008 2:23:45 PM , Rating: 1
Be nice if we had sun but its the middle of winter. The area in question is overly saturated with water currently which is one of the possible causes for the dikes failure.

Granted this could be a problem if it happened during the summer. The timing was just right that there may be near zero impact.

RE: Highly Toxic?
By omnicronx on 12/25/2008 1:52:34 AM , Rating: 2
It all depends on the coal that was used, as it varies from region to region and plant to plant. It has also been well known for some time that fly ash can be slightly radioactive. The thing is, many other materials used in concrete are also radioactive, (granite and redbrick to name a few).

Would I eat a handful of fly ash? Nope.. Would I be worried about fly ash in concrete, nope. Could there be potential risks in this spill situation, in my opionion, without a doubt.

RE: Highly Toxic?
By ayat101 on 12/25/2008 7:51:15 AM , Rating: 2
It contains heavy metals and concentrated uranium, thorium and other radioactive elements. Carcinogens are other poisons likely to occur in this waste. What exactly is not toxic about it?

Read the link the the Scientific American article and you should learn that the amount of nuclear waste from coal fired power stations is greater than from nuclear power plants... and all of it is concentrated in the burnt residue. It is diluted with other stuff, but the radioactivity is still there... and none of it is stored in any kind of containment. There are other articles on the net saying the same thing.

In fact, I recall that the amount of energy contained in the radioactive materials in burnt coal is more than the chemical energy in the coal itself.

Yet people are paranoid about nuclear power plants and waste while the same people are quite happy with coal fired power plants. They live next to them!

RE: Highly Toxic?
By michael67 on 12/25/2008 10:47:08 AM , Rating: 4
but calling it highly toxic is a huge overstatement......the stuff is being increasingly used in concrete to make building cheaper...

Yes, it is used in concrete, as it is up to 20% neutral to the strength of the concrete.
And its a cheap solution for both party's, one get rit of his toxic waste, the other get a cheap filler for the concrete, as it is way cheaper then cement because +20% fly ash means -10% cement.

And yes its very toxic and unhealthy if its not sealed up in concrete.

Its like asbestos its oke if its in the ground as a water-pipe ore worked away some ware as heat-resident material,
But don't bread in the dust, its really really not good for you and your kids health !!!!!

And the radiation coming from it is alpha radiation, a sheet of paper is enough to stop it, but partials absorbed in your longs, will increase your change to get cancer.

And i am not making this shit up, i work in the offshore and mud/gas/oil has the same properties as fly ash, some is very active some/most is below norm.

So getting it on your hands is not preferred, but ok if you wash up asap, getting it in to your system longs/swallow is a big no no!

RE: Highly Toxic?
By Screwballl on 12/25/2008 9:06:24 PM , Rating: 2
My father has worked at a coal power plant in South Dakota for 30 years now and there is no radioactive waste of any sort from their plant. Their "slush pond" (same type as what burst in this story) has live and healthy fish in it (although it is not suggested to eat them of course).

RE: Highly Toxic?
By Dharl on 12/26/2008 8:54:14 AM , Rating: 2
A report from last year also states that fly ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste.

I find this the most ironic statement out of the whole article. For years it's been a running joke in Oak Ridge, TN (Not too far from this diaster) about the people who protest the Y12 Nuclear Power Plant. Yet if this one statement is true... then that group needs to focus their annual protest on the coal plants.

Not that it'll make any difference, their protests are still a joke.

roll on nuclear
By MadMan007 on 12/25/2008 4:36:47 AM , Rating: 2
This type of accident and the impact just from mining coal makes nuclear all that more attractive. The only two nuclear accidents were caused either through poor design (Chernobyl - massive impact) or human intervention mucking up the automated safety systems (Three Mile Island - minor impact) Unfortunately most people are too stupid to realize how safe nuclear is, especially recent reactor designs. *sigh*

Too bad the coal lobbies are so powerful and money talks. Here's a neat tidbit - the Capital Power plant is coal-fired. The operations manager wanted to convert it to Nat Gas and update it generally, it's about 100 years old. He was stopped by Senators from coal states through extortion by threatening to cut his budget.

RE: roll on nuclear
By AlexWade on 12/25/2008 8:58:00 AM , Rating: 1
While I fully support expanding our nuclear power plants, one thing you must remember is many of the people who live in Appalachia depend on coal. Already that area is full of poverty; just imagine how much so if you take away lots of jobs. Of course, more poverty means more drain on society because of the government services. Quite frankly, it is a lose-lose situation. But you always lose less when you put people first.

RE: roll on nuclear
By lco45 on 12/26/2008 12:03:14 AM , Rating: 2
People should move if there's no work.
This really annoys me. Here in Australia we have a state called Tasmania, which is one of the most natural and beautiful places left on earth, like New Zealand.
The logging companies are busy chopping down all the trees, but the irony is that they are losing money doing it, so the government is subsidizing them to keep cutting down the trees, to keep people employed on the end of their chainsaws.

RE: roll on nuclear
By BansheeX on 12/26/2008 8:58:47 AM , Rating: 3
Consider the fact that as jobs become obsolete, such as people employed in the 1800s making buggy whips or picking cotton, capital reallocates on its own and new jobs are created elsewhere where production is still needed. You act like we need to save people's jobs no matter what to prevent the terrible scourge of temporary joblessness. That the second a buggy whip maker loses his job, its a terrible thing for the economy as he can perform no other function and is screwed forever. You're out of your mind, you need to go back to school and learn how the free market works.

RE: roll on nuclear
By mindless1 on 12/29/2008 1:09:41 PM , Rating: 2
If you think a gradual reduction in buggy whip demand during an era when people were far more self-sufficient equates to thousands of already impoverished people suddenly being out of work simultaneously in an era where automation and technology make the unskilled worker pool already excessive beyond demand, you really don't have a clue.

RE: roll on nuclear
By Marduke on 12/29/2008 1:45:02 PM , Rating: 2
And what is keeping them unskilled? Not learning a new skill is their problem. Learning is free, and available to anyone.

RE: roll on nuclear
By mindless1 on 12/30/2008 2:53:21 AM , Rating: 2
What a load of nonsense. Learning is not free, the tuition at any decent university is proof enough. Are you saying you can just read books at a library? If so, good luck with that delusional attempt at getting a job based on "I read books at the library" on your resume.

Further, the fact is, it's not available to anyone. In REAL LIFE, low wage earners have to spend the majority of their time just working to pay bills, no time, letalone money, left to meet your overly simplified nonsense.

RE: roll on nuclear
By Shining Arcanine on 12/28/2008 4:42:49 AM , Rating: 2
No one would be taking any jobs away. How could one take jobs away that were never truly there?

RE: roll on nuclear
By mindless1 on 12/29/2008 1:11:43 PM , Rating: 2
They do work, get paid. It seems to me that if that's not a job that's truely there, your definition of reality fails.

RE: roll on nuclear
By PitViper007 on 12/26/2008 12:34:53 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, you missed a pretty nasty nuclear disaster, the Santa Susana Field Laboratory one. It was an experimental Sodium cooled Nuclear plant, so maybe you don't consider it as worth noting, but it was an active commercial plant, feeding approximately 1100 homes, that had a partial meltdown. As it was considered the US's first commercial nuclear power plant, I think it's worth noting.

Don't take this that I'm against nuclear power by any means. I think with today's technology, it's probably one of the safest and most abundant power sources we could possibly have. I'm just posting this to show there were other disasters as well.

Naughty list?
By lagitup on 12/25/2008 2:08:30 AM , Rating: 5
Looks like everyone around the plant is getting at least a bit of coal in their stocking...

RE: Naughty list?
By Jacerie on 12/25/2008 10:53:10 AM , Rating: 3
Snide Xmas joke in the face of natural disaster... +1

RE: Naughty list?
By adam92682 on 12/25/2008 1:16:10 PM , Rating: 3
Natural disaster?

RE: Naughty list?
By SiliconAddict on 12/26/2008 3:04:21 AM , Rating: 2
Gravity taking down a retaining wall is natural.....umm right? ;)

Don't read the news?
By FjiTech on 12/24/2008 10:36:56 PM , Rating: 1
Guess you don't read the news too carefully. Those that do know what this comment is about. Bush is quietly putting many coal related laws into place, waiving environmental concerns. Unless you think cancer is pretty funny it is bad news.

RE: Don't read the news?
By iFX on 12/25/2008 7:29:52 AM , Rating: 1
The President doesn't make laws dumbass.

RE: Don't read the news?
By mpeny on 12/25/2008 1:17:26 PM , Rating: 2
That is correct. But he does have discretionary power under 'executive orders'.

What those executive order are, is another discussion.

RE: Don't read the news?
By Ringold on 12/25/2008 1:41:48 PM , Rating: 3
And soon, Obama can issue his own. If whatever Bush has done is so awful, out they go.

I guess getting Obama elected wasn't enough. Hopefully this silly paranoia and accusations will stop in January, but I somehow doubt it. :P

RE: Don't read the news?
By BansheeX on 12/26/2008 8:36:30 AM , Rating: 3
That is correct. But he does have discretionary power under 'executive orders'.

Not really. Please point to the section of the constitution that grants the President to do anything he wants. He doesn't HAVE the power, he EXERCISES the power. And the courts and people let it slide. Two different things.

RE: Don't read the news?
By ThePooBurner on 12/26/2008 1:38:52 PM , Rating: 2
"It's not illegal cause i don't want it to be. THAT'S HOW IT WORKS!" ;) Unfortunately this is a mentality that is all to common these days.

By ttowntom on 12/24/2008 8:04:16 PM , Rating: 2
A "disaster" that killed no one, injured no one, and will be cleaned up in a few months and we'll never hear another word about it.

WTH is this doing on a tech site anyway? Since when is a pile of ashes falling over tech news?

RE: Yawn
By DigitalFreak on 12/24/2008 8:31:46 PM , Rating: 2
It's Christmas Eve. Slow news day.

RE: Yawn
By Clauzii on 12/25/2008 7:31:23 AM , Rating: 2
I first read the headline as "Cool Disaster Strikes Tennessee".

Then I reread the headline. Ah, "COAL Disaster Strikes Tennessee". Which is not so good..

This is insignificant
By CurtOien on 12/24/2008 8:17:23 PM , Rating: 1
This is insignificant compared to removing the top off a mountain and dumping it in the valleys and streams to get the coal underneath it or all the mercury that "unclean" coal fired plants put in our lakes and rivers.

RE: This is insignificant
By ThePooBurner on 12/26/2008 1:37:02 PM , Rating: 2
For some reason i totally thought you were going to write "compared to the power of the force". But then you didn't and i was left wondering what force you were talking about. I guess now i'll never know...

RE: This is insignificant
By mindless1 on 12/29/2008 1:15:58 PM , Rating: 2
How is removin gthe top of a mountain and dumping it significant? Isn't the land then MORE usable instead of less? Mercury, are you saying that removing mercury from the ground then putting it back in the ground is a net loss? Were they supposed to just harvest the mercury without any coal mining so it can be shot into outer space, so we have a mercury free world?

Video of the Spill
By Spacecomber on 12/25/2008 1:18:16 AM , Rating: 3
RE: Video of the Spill
By mars777 on 12/25/2008 1:39:02 AM , Rating: 1
Jesus, this looks worse and wider than what i read about in the article.

Something doesn't add up.
By Smilin on 12/29/2008 10:40:39 AM , Rating: 2
All we hear from power companies is how much better coal emmissions are today. Now we hear the Ash is perfectly safe too.

So basically if you burn something completely toxic you'll get a clean gas and a clean solid and energy as a result.

..and people don't believe in magic anymore.

expect more of this
By lucyfek on 12/24/08, Rating: -1
RE: expect more of this
By Etsp on 12/24/2008 7:28:14 PM , Rating: 5
Signed what into law recently? The a requirement for Coal Power plants to have walls collapse releasing massive amounts of fly ash into the environment? Some context of what you are talking about would help people to understand what you're saying....

RE: expect more of this
By zerocool84 on 12/24/2008 7:41:35 PM , Rating: 2
I lol'd at this. Anywho it does suck and I wonder since the article says it's more radioactive than nuclear waste if people will even be able to live there any more? It also said it seeped into the river which is extremely bad. Sucks for people in the region.

RE: expect more of this
By HVAC on 12/24/2008 8:05:05 PM , Rating: 5
It is human nature to find something to blame. There is no such thing as an accident anymore.

And for heavens sake we must lay the blame at the feet of the President. Let us conveniently forget the hundreds of senators and congresspersons busily pandering to whining constituencies, special interest groups, and their own fear and greed.

We get the leaders we deserve...

RE: expect more of this
By creathir on 12/24/2008 7:48:44 PM , Rating: 5
Oh yes, lets blame Bush for the collapse of the retaining wall. I suppose to be accurate, FDR should be blamed, as he setup the TVA.

I suppose you are refering to the bill signed by him (passed by your Democrat controlled congress mind you) to push for more nuclear and clean coal power plants?

What do you propose instead of coal or nuclear power? Wind? Solar? Neither of these can provide the power needed for the cost. Nuclear is the cleanest energy we could possibly use, but people such as yourself slam this energy as being harmful to the environment.

Ironically, you probably typed this message using power from a coal power plant.

Disasters happen. It is life. Wind turbines can explode. Plants that make solar panels can burn. It happens. The best we can do is be there to support those after a disaster, and build again, and move on.

My prayers are with those affected by this particular disaster. I love this area of the United States, and hate to see it ruined, but I do understand that all of those people who live there, would not have jobs if it were not for the power plants of the TVA.

- Creathir

RE: expect more of this
By mindless1 on 12/29/2008 1:24:31 PM , Rating: 2
Hmm. You wrote "Nuclear is the cleanest energy we could possibly use, but people such as yourself slam this energy as being harmful to the environment."

Have you gone mad or is it now sane to introduce an idea others did not express and attribute it to them in order to suit your argument?

RE: expect more of this
By retrospooty on 12/24/2008 8:46:00 PM , Rating: 4
" our most popular president signed it into law recently"

I hate Bush as much as the next guy, but I cant see how this is his fault...

RE: expect more of this
By tjr508 on 12/24/2008 11:25:31 PM , Rating: 2
I primarily blame global warming, with Bush only playing the supporting role.

RE: expect more of this
By mindless1 on 12/29/2008 1:21:21 PM , Rating: 2
Obviously you overlooked his connection to Kevin Bacon, thereby linking him with everyone's evil deeds.

RE: expect more of this
By kontorotsui on 12/26/2008 8:35:53 AM , Rating: 1
Sure, signed into law to collapse containement walls upon the people who didn-t vote for him.
And flooding them with black ash is surely a ironic punishment, now isn'it?

RE: expect more of this
By ThePooBurner on 12/26/2008 1:49:50 PM , Rating: 2
"In recent news: President-elect obama has gone to Tennessee to help oversee the clean-up of the coal dust spill. He asked if he could help direct the flow of the trucks hauling the material. When asked why he responded 'Because i love telling people to BACK THAT ASH UP! '"

RE: expect more of this
By ThePooBurner on 12/26/2008 4:39:27 PM , Rating: 2
"President-Elect obama was also at the scene acting as an inspector. After making observations he reported that the area has ' some really fine ASH ' and that, if possible, he would love ' to get a piece of that ASH ' but Mrs. Obama refused stating ' if he knows what was good for him he won't be bringing home any ASH he's been messing around with on the weekend ".

RE: expect more of this
By ThePooBurner on 12/26/2008 4:41:00 PM , Rating: 2
"Cities down river outraged state: ' Get your ASH outta here '"

RE: expect more of this
By ThePooBurner on 12/26/2008 4:45:36 PM , Rating: 2
"A TVA representative, rather uncouthly, said 'This DUMB ASH has made a real big mess, but we'll do everything we can to clean up it up.'"

RE: expect more of this
By ThePooBurner on 12/26/2008 4:53:46 PM , Rating: 2
"Greenpeace of Alabama was quick to respond to the disaster protesting and demanding that the TVA ' GET YOUR BLACK ASH OUT '"

RE: expect more of this
By ThePooBurner on 12/26/2008 5:02:21 PM , Rating: 2
"Locals in the area say it's never been pleasant living next to the plant. One local went on record to say 'It can really suck when the wind blows our way. The whole town smells like ASH. '"

RE: expect more of this
By ThePooBurner on 12/26/2008 5:06:21 PM , Rating: 2
"People across America are surprised by the accident, and when hearing about the size of the spill they all universally agree that Tenessee has "some really bigASH pools".

RE: expect more of this
By ThePooBurner on 12/26/2008 5:10:12 PM , Rating: 2
"The best meathod to clean up the spill is still being talked about. Some have suggested using a bunch of ASH-wipes , while others have suggested digging some really big ASH-holes. A decision is still pending."

RE: expect more of this
By ThePooBurner on 12/26/2008 5:12:24 PM , Rating: 2
"Entrepreneurs have been quick to cash in on the disaster selling souvenir ASH-hats and ASH-wads ."

RE: expect more of this
By andrinoaa on 12/27/2008 8:17:30 AM , Rating: 2
How about asking the people affected if they now approve of coal power or nuclar power in their new backyards. I can guess the response, more converts to "clean power". I guess the media will hype it up even more, loverly!

"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

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