After combustion of coal and other fuels, some solid byproducts remain. In coal-fired plants, for example, up to 10 percent of the coal volume remains as ash after combustion.
Although some metals that occur naturally in the coal in trace amounts remain in the ash, they can be safely managed using proper procedures. Some of the ash is stored and managed in facilities located onsite at power plants, and some is recycled for concrete, road building and other beneficial uses.
Another type of coal combustion residual is gypsum, which comes from an emission control technology called a scrubber. Because gypsum is not produced directly from coal, it is different than ash. Gypsum also has a number of beneficial uses, such as in wallboard, cement and agriculture.
In recent years, the Southern Company system has sold an average of 40-50% of its coal combustion residuals for beneficial reuse.
Nuclear power plants produce two levels of radioactive waste. Nearly all high-level waste is used fuel. Low-level waste includes such things as protective clothing, tools and equipment that may contain small amounts of radioactive material. Low-level waste can be shipped to a licensed disposal facility or stored at the plant.
Used fuel is handled by remote control and safely stored inside the most highly secured area of the plant in steel-lined, concrete pools filled with water or on the plant property in steel-lined, concrete containers. Used fuel accumulates at a much lower volume than many people imagine. A thimble-sized nuclear fuel pellet produces the equivalent energy of one ton of coal. An average nuclear plant unit retires about 20 tons of fuel each year that, in volume, could fit in a small room.
Alabama Power and Georgia Power have contracts with the Department of Energy for the permanent disposal of used fuel. The Department of Energy failed to begin disposing of used fuel in 1998 as required by the contracts. Until the contract is fulfilled, used fuel continues to be stored safely on-site, as prescribed in operating licenses.
Southern Company, through its subsidiaries, operates three nuclear power plants, Vogtle, Farley and Hatch. At plants Vogtle, Hatch and Farley, onsite dry storage facilities are being used to house spent fuel once it reaches a lower level of radioactivity and can be expanded to accommodate used fuel through the life of each plant. The casks are constructed of steel-reinforced concrete, proven to safely protect the fuel under extreme conditions such as earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, floods and explosions.
Byproducts of industrial processes and discarded commercial products, like cleaning fluids or pesticides, make up most hazardous waste. The Southern Company system has reduced hazardous waste generation in routine electric utility work by employing simple measures like replacing hazardous materials with safer options such as non-chlorinated cleaners and water-based paints.
Exceptional projects, such as research and development and new construction, can sometimes account for increases in hazardous waste. In 2014, we experienced a significant increase in hazardous waste as a result of the carbon sequestration project at Plant Barry in Mobile County, Alabama. Total hazardous waste volume for 2015 once again included ongoing work at Plant Berry, as well as additional waste from the historic renovation of the Powell Avenue facility in Birmingham, Alabama.
*The increase in hazardous waste volume for 2014 was related to waste generated at the carbon sequestration facility at Plant Berry.
**The Plant Berry research project continued to be a major contributor to hazardous waste volume in 2015, together with waste generated at the Powell Avenue historic restoration project. The increase in hazardous waste volume for 2015 can be attributed to these two short-term projects, and is not related to sources of generation.
Substations and other facilities have electrical equipment that contains oil for its insulation properties. These facilities have procedures in place to prevent oil spills.
Southern Company recycles office materials—including paper, cardboard, plastic, aluminum cans, and batteries—plus wood, scrap metal, and other industrial materials. Programs within the company also promote two-sided copying, data center power reduction and transmission scrap recycling.