Solid Waste

Solid Waste

The Southern Company system operates rigorous programs with the goal to safely and effectively manage coal ash and other waste resulting from power generation.

The system is committed to continuous improvement through beneficial uses of coal combustion residuals and assessment programs for evaluating the safety and stability of the system’s surface impoundments and enhance programs as necessary to maintain a high level of care.


Coal combustion

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.

  • Across the system, ash pond closings are being conducted in accordance with federal and state requirements. Closure plans are determined by local factors, including geology, and other features.
  • Water from the dewatering process goes through treatment systems and there is a regimen of sampling throughout the process.
  • 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 from ash. Gypsum also has several beneficial uses, such as in wallboard, cement and agriculture.

Although some trace amounts of metals that occur naturally in the coal remain in the ash, they can be safely managed using proper procedures. Some of the ash is stored and managed in facilities located on-site at power plants, and some is recycled for concrete, road building and other beneficial uses.

In recent years, the Southern Company system has sold an average of 40 to 50 percent of its coal combustion residuals for beneficial reuse.

Learn more by reading our report on Coal Combustion Residuals

Nuclear Waste

Nuclear power plants produce two levels of radioactive waste, high-level and low-level.

High-level waste is used fuel. 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 1 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 (DOE) for the permanent disposal of used fuel. The DOE 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, on-site 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, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and explosions.

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.

Hazardous waste

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.

*The increase in hazardous waste volume for 2014 was related to waste generated at the carbon sequestration facility at Plant Barry.
**The Plant Barry 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.

Insulating oil

Substations and other facilities have electrical equipment that contains oil for its insulation properties. These facilities have procedures in place to prevent oil spills.