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writing for godot

Blowin' Wind

Written by george erickson   
Thursday, 24 September 2015 04:40
Blowin’ Wind
By George Erickson
When the Mesabi Daily News lamented the pathetic return from Virginia’s solar panels, they were right on target, but even solar panels are superior to the concentrated solar “farms” in our desert Southwest. For example, California’s Ivanpah facility uses 350,000 mirrors to focus sunlight onto towers in which fluids are heated to 1,000 degrees F. And although that heat can (and does) incinerate birds in mid-flight, Ivanpah only delivers 23% of its rated power. And if you think that’s bad, any type of solar shines when compared to windmills.

When the first windmill appeared atop the Laurentian Divide, I was thrilled, but a few years later, having noticed a significant amount of “down time,” I checked on wind power’s record with the help of associates at the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Thorium Energy Alliance – and soon discovered that the windmill industry was selling a lot of sizzle - but very little steak.

I understand why companies like MN Power have cooperated with the rush to wind power. For one thing, renewables are being demanded by a misinformed public that’s led by “green” organizations, whose goals I largely support. Unfortunately, the greens favor any source of power but nuclear, no matter how badly it pollutes or how many lives it takes. For another, the wind industry has received subsidies of $56.00 per megawatt hour. In comparison, nuclear power, which is far more efficient, receives just $3.00. Even Warren Buffet (and the wind companies) admit that without huge government subsidies and tax advantages, they’d be out of business.

When wind lovers promote the glories of wind power, they usually quote figures based on the windmill’s maximum capacity – as in a February 20 Earth Watch article, which said, “...the total amount of wind power available... has grown to 318,137 megawatts (mw) in 2013.” But because wind power is highly intermittent, windfarms usually create only about 25% of their capacity, which is why 313,137 mw is so misleading. 80-90,000 mw would be a more reliable figure.

Although solar beats wind, neither can deliver “baseload” power – the 90% of our power that is currently provided by nuclear plants plus natural gas, oil and coal. Of those four, only nuclear power – (despite Chernobyl, a plant that was illegal everywhere else in the world and Fukushima, where two people drowned due to lax government oversight) – has been safely delivering gigawatts of carbon dioxide-free power 24/7 for more than 50 years.

Great Britain, faced with the choice of building 12 new nuclear plants or the 30,000 windmills needed to provide an equal amount of power, recently chose nuclear – and the vote wasn’t close. And Japan, which shuttered its nuclear plants in a burst of post-Fukushima caution, has begun to reactivate them, which will reduce the tons of carbon dioxide they’ve been dumping into our already polluted atmosphere.

Germany, which over-reacted closing its nuclear plants and pushing wind and solar, is now paying almost four times more for electricity than heavily nuclear France. And with its industries hurting, the Merkel government is rethinking nuclear power.

Because of the public fervor for “renewable” power, the coal and natural gas companies are mum about solar and wind power, but they are also pleased that these facilities, being only 25-30% efficient, must be constantly supplemented by power plants that largely consume huge amounts of coal or gas, which worsens Climate Change.

Instead, Big Coal and gas strongly oppose CO2-free, safe, 90% efficient nuclear power because they know that nuclear power will cripple their profits, and the new nuclear plants are even safer and more efficient than those in use today.

Unfortunately, when I and others present the facts about “renewables” vs. nuclear power (which, with thorium, can last 100,000 years), we are often challenged by people who don’t know nuclear power’s admirable safety record and, even worse, have no interest in learning the truth.

Organizations like the Sierra Club, of which I am a member, wear blinders that recognize only the good side of alternative energies, but exclude their defects. When I offer presentations on the safety records and costs of the various forms of power generation, including nuclear, I rarely get a reply, and our MN Chapter is a case in point.

Because of those blinders, they apparently don’t know, or care, that just ONE 1000 mw nuclear plant constantly generates as much power as 3000, 1 mw windmills. Perhaps they also don’t realize that those windmills that last just 20 years require 148 times more concrete, 661 times more steel and 819 times more aluminum than that single nuclear plant that is good for 60 years. As a consequence the “carbon footprint” of those windmills is much larger than that of the nuclear plant.

If we give nuclear power a score of 1 on watts generated per fatality, wind is 4 times worse, solar gets an 11, oil receives a 900, and King coal comes in at 4000. Nevertheless, the uninformed wind promoters have no interest in replacing coal burners with new, ultra-safe, highly efficient Generation IV reactors, including Molten Salt Reactors that cannot melt down and don’t generate the hydrogen that exploded at Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Why doesn’t the public know – or care - that windmills, according to Save the Eagles International, “kill 30 million birds and 50 million bats per year?” Perhaps, in part, because last year, Pacific Corp., which operates 13 wind farms, sued the U S Interior Department to keep it from revealing how many birds have died at its facilities. (According to the May, 2011, issue of Science magazine, a “single colony of 150 brown bats has been estimated to eat nearly 1.3 million pest insects each year.”)

And it’s not just birds and bats. According to Forbes, “… the Caithness Windfarm Information Forum reported that just in England, there were 163 wind turbine accidents that killed 14 people in 2011,” which “translates to about 1,000 deaths per trillion watt-hours.
“In contrast, during 2011, nuclear energy produced 90 billion kWhrs in England with NO deaths. In that same year, America produced 800 billion kWhrs via nuclear with NO deaths…. Using the worst-case scenario of Chernobyl raises nuclear to 90 deaths per billion kWh produced, still the LOWEST of any energy source.”

The people who guide the Sierra Club or Greenpeace, etc., should know that windmills use magnets made from rare earth minerals mined primarily in China, where immense dumping grounds and toxic lakes have created high rates of cancer, osteoporosis and skin and respiratory diseases. But do they? And if they do, why are they silent about it?

According to the Bulletin of Atomic Sciences, “a 2 megawatt windmill contains about 800 pounds of neodymium and 130 pounds of dysprosium.” That seems rather dull, but here’s the problem: Accessing those elements produces an equal amount of radioactive waste. And because the U.S. added about 13,000 MW of wind generating capacity in 2012, that means that about 5.5 million pounds of rare earths were refined for windmills while creating 5.5 million pounds of radioactive waste.

For perspective, our nuclear industry, while creating 20% of our electricity, produces about 4.7 million pounds of spent nuclear fuel per year, but our wind industry, while creating just 3.5% of our electricity, is making much more radioactive waste, though it’s less hazardous than the waste created by our nuclear industry.
Nevertheless, all of our U. S. waste generated since the fifties could be stored on one football field in 9 foot tall containers. And of that amount, only 10% is high level waste that requires long term storage or recycling, which the French do – and we should, too. Better yet, we could consume that waste as fuel in new Molten Salt Reactors.

So why don’t we? Partly because President Carter preferred storage to recycling, and because the anti-nuclear crowd has promoted fear of all things nuclear so effectively that even new, super-safer, less costly, highly efficient reactors that can consume our stored waste as fuel are rejected by fearful voters and legislators who are short of facts.

In closing, here’s what an anonymous wind technician from Bismarck, ND, had to say about the usefulness of windmills:

"Yeah, we all want to think we're making a difference, but we know it's bullshit. If it's too windy, they run like sh__, if it's too hot, they run like sh__, too cold, they run like sh__. I just checked the forecast, and it's supposed to be calm this weekend so hopefully not very many will break down, but hell man, they break even when they aren't running. I've given up on the idea that what I'm doing makes a difference in the big picture. Wind just isn't good enough."

George Erickson of Eveleth, MN, is a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Thorium Energy Alliance, the Sierra club and other “green” organizations. His website is He provides free power point programs on Climate Change, nuclear power and renewables at schools, colleges, churches and other organizations. Call 218-744-2003 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for more information. Also see your social media marketing partner
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