Power: The Problem With Coal

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SIR: Coal is a combustible black or dark brown sedimentary rock usually occurring in layers called coal beds. In Nigeria, it was first discovered in 1909 at a place called Udi Ridge in Enugu. In 1916, coal mining became fully operational at Ogbete Mines, Enugu and by 1917 a second coal mine was opened in Iva Valley, Enugu. Maiganga mine in Gombe was also one of the coal mines that sprang up in Nigeria during the colonial era. In 2011, Okobo coal mine field in Kogi State became operational.

Coal can be used to provide energy to drive economic growth. However, coal to power generation has huge challenges because coal has the highest carbon content among all fossil fuels. Coal mining and combustion causes a massive emission of greenhouse gases. When coal is burned, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury compounds are released into the atmosphere. Sadly, all these are gases that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is working very hard to reduce their emissions. The coal mining technique usually adopted in coal mines in Nigeria is the surface mining method also called strip or open cast mining. This method is notorious for releasing toxic amounts of minerals and heavy metals into soils and water bodies that host communities usually patronize. This method of mining is also notorious for destroying landscapes, forest, wild life habitats and biodiversity in general. It also predisposes the community to erosion since plants, trees and topsoil are usually uprooted from around the mine sites. As rain falls, the loose topsoil contaminated with carbon sediments is washed into water bodies. This is very destructive to fishes and other aquatic life forms. It may also distort the flow channels of streams and rivers leading to flooding in some areas and water scarcity in other areas. Water sheds are also destroyed when disfigured lands loses the water it once held.

Another challenge with coal to power is that coal mining generates a lot of noise and air  pollution. The excavation and transportation of mined coal within host communities usually causes massive amounts of coal dust to circulate in the air. This puts community    dwellers who inhale this dust over long periods of time at risk of developing varying degrees of respiratory ailments including black lung disease, bronchitis and asthma. This dust also has the capacity to complicate the health of children and may even cause them to have stunted physical and mental growth. The roads in such communities are usually untarred and when trucks move around in the dry season, large quantities of dust are usually raised into the surrounding. This dust is not healthy for inhalation. To make matters worse, most coal mining communities do not have a decent health facility and the community dwellers are usually very indigent people who cannot afford to travel far and wide for first grade medical services. This condemns them to live and die with whatever health challenge coal mining has brought on them. Also, coal mining produces very loud and disruptive noise in the host community. Heavy equipment excavating coal usually causes massive vibrations that have the capacity to cause cracks and collapses of buildings.

Just recently, China announced the cancellation of one hundred and three coal power plants, some of which were operational and some under construction. The government admitted that a lot of resources had being put into the projects but there was need to move away from one of the dirtiest source of generating electricity. Some other western nations have started curtailing investment in coal to power. The fact that you are blessed with a resource is not a compulsion that you must use it especially considering the fact that side effect exists. There is therefore need for Nigeria to review its decision to make budgetary appropriations for coal to power if it really wants to cut carbon emission.

 

Source: TheNation

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