Big Wind’s Dirty Little Secret

Written by Travis Fisher & Alex Fitzsimmons, Right Side News

Toxic Lakes and Radioactive Waste

The wind industry promotes itself as better for the environment than traditional energy sources such as coal and natural gas. For example, the industry claims that wind energy reduces carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming.wind turbine section

But there are many ways to skin a cat. As IER pointed out last week, even if wind curbs CO2 emissions, wind installations injure, maim, and kill hundreds of thousands of birds each year in clear violation of federal law. Any marginal reduction in emissions comes at the expense of protected bird species, including bald and golden eagles. The truth is, all energy sources impact the natural environment in some way, and life is full of necessary trade-offs. The further truth is that affordable, abundant energy has made life for billions of people much better than it ever was.

Another environmental trade-off concerns the materials necessary to construct wind turbines. Modern wind turbines depend on rare earth minerals mined primarily from China. Unfortunately, given federal regulations in the U.S. that restrict rare earth mineral development and China’s poor record of environmental stewardship, the process of extracting these minerals imposes wretched environmental and public health impacts on local communities. It’s a story Big Wind doesn’t want you to hear.

Rare Earth Horrors

Manufacturing wind turbines is a resource-intensive process. A typical wind turbine contains more than 8,000 different components, many of which are made from steel, cast iron, and concrete. One such component are magnets made from neodymium and dysprosium, rare earth minerals mined almost exclusively in China, which controls 95 percent of the world’s supply of rare earth minerals.

Simon Parry from the Daily Mail traveled to Baotou, China, to see the mines, factories, and dumping grounds associated with China’s rare-earths industry. What he found was truly haunting:

As more factories sprang up, the banks grew higher, the lake grew larger and the stench and fumes grew more overwhelming.

‘It turned into a mountain that towered over us,’ says Mr Su. ‘Anything we planted just withered, then our animals started to sicken and die.’

People too began to suffer. Dalahai villagers say their teeth began to fall out, their hair turned white at unusually young ages, and they suffered from severe skin and respiratory diseases. Children were born with soft bones and cancer rates rocketed.

Official studies carried out five years ago in Dalahai village confirmed there were unusually high rates of cancer along with high rates of osteoporosis and skin and respiratory diseases. The lake’s radiation levels are ten times higher than in the surrounding countryside, the studies found.

As the wind industry grows, these horrors will likely only get worse. Growth in the wind industry could raise demand for neodymium by as much as 700 percent over the next 25 years, while demand for dysprosium could increase by 2,600 percent, according to a recent MIT study. The more wind turbines pop up in America, the more people in China are likely to suffer due to China’s policies. Or as theDaily Mail put it, every turbine we erect contributes to “a vast man-made lake of poison in northern China.”

Big Wind’s Dependence on China’s “Toxic Lakes”

The wind industry requires an astounding amount of rare earth minerals, primarily neodymium and dysprosium, which are key components of the magnets used in modern wind turbines. Developed byGE in 1982, neodymium magnets are manufactured in many shapes and sizes for numerous purposes. One of their most common uses is in the generators of wind turbines.

Estimates of the exact amount of rare earth minerals in wind turbines vary, but in any case the numbers are staggering. According to the Bulletin of Atomic Sciences, a 2 megawatt (MW) wind turbine contains about 800 pounds of neodymium and 130 pounds of dysprosium. The MIT study cited above estimates that a 2 MW wind turbine contains about 752 pounds of rare earth minerals.

To quantify this in terms of environmental damages, consider that mining one ton of rare earth minerals produces about one ton of radioactive waste, according to the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security. In 2012, the U.S. added a record 13,131 MW of wind generating capacity. That means that between 4.9 million pounds (using MIT’s estimate) and 6.1 million pounds (using the Bulletin of Atomic Science’s estimate) of rare earths were used in wind turbines installed in 2012. It also means that between 4.9 million and 6.1 million pounds of radioactive waste were created to make these wind turbines.

Read more here. 

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Comments (2)

  • Avatar

    Jan-Ove Pedersen

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    Are CO2 emissions worse than the spill of toxic and radioactive elements left over from the mining of rear Earth minerals? CO2 causes no harm to Our environment.
    I’m way more conserned about polluting the soil and ground water.

  • Avatar

    Seer Clearly

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    This article is misleading. The cause of the toxic dumps in China is not rare earth mining, which happens all around the world without such terrible environmental damage. It’s greed and lack of government oversight in China. Connecting Chinese suffering with wind power is weak at best, considering that the Chinese themselves are building wind turbines, and they offset greenhouse gases whose consequences are immeasurably worse than a toxic waste dump.

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