Shock: Wind energy goes radioactive

Shock: Wind energy goes radioactive

June 6, 2012

By Chriss Street

Al Gore opened his 2006 movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” with an apology for not having already saved the world from global warming: “I have advocated policies to promote renewable energy and accelerate reductions in global warming pollution for decades, including all of the time I was in public service.”

In support of his continuing political agenda, Al Gore joined Van Jones last week to argue for wind power’s “clean energy” as a replacement for fossil fuels’ “dirty energy.”  Inconveniently for Mr. Gore, the truth is that mining and processing key materials to make the magnets in wind power turbines are releasing massive amounts massive amounts of air, water and ground pollution, including enormous quantities of radioactive waste into the global ecosphere.

California’s deserts and mountains are rapidly being blanketed by wind farms with huge turning propellers that spin large magnetic coils to produce electricity.  Rare Earth Elements are an essential ingredient needed to manufacture these magnets.  REEs, such as Neodymium, Samarium, Gadolinium and Dysprosium, are in limited supply. Which brings into question both of Mr. Gore’s “renewability” and “sustainability” marketing claims.

California was the world’s largest producer of REEs until 2002, when the huge Mountain Pass open pit mine was closed after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined that 600,000 gallons of highly radioactive mining wastewater had been spilled onto the surrounding desert between 1984 and 1998.  The water contained highly concentrated amounts of radium, which has a half-life of 1600 years, and thorium, which has a half-life of 14 billion years.

Today, 95 percent of all REEs are mined and processed in remote Western China.  Once shrouded in secrecy by China’s autocratic leadership, the environmental dangers of unregulated REE mining have caused so much damage it is now an acknowledged national concern.  According to Wang Caifeng, China’s Deputy director-general of the Materials Department of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, producing one ton of REEs creates 2,000 tons of mine tailings.  It is also estimated that, within Baotou, where China’s primary rare earth production occurs, REE enterprises produce approximately 2.5 billion gallons of highly polluted wastewater per year and most of that waste water is   “discharged without being effectively treated, which not only contaminates potable water for daily living, but also contaminates the surrounding water environment and irrigated farmlands.”

Rare Earths

According to an article published by the Chinese Society of Rare Earths:

“Every ton [2,000 lbs.] of rare earth produced generates approximately 8.5 kilograms (18.7 lbs.) of fluorine and 13 kilograms (28.7 lbs.) of dust; and using concentrated sulfuric acid high temperature calcination techniques to produce approximately one ton of calcined rare earth ore generates 9,600 to 12,000 cubic meters (339,021 to 423,776 cubic feet) of waste gas containing dust concentrate, hydrofluoric acid, sulfur dioxide, and sulfuric acid, approximately 75 cubic meters (2,649 cubic feet) of acidic wastewater plus about one ton of radioactive waste residue (containing water).”

This inconvenient environmental holocaust seems to have been exempted from Gore’s evaluation of wind power as source of “clean energy.”  Recently, physicist John Droz Jr. consulted with nuclear experts to compare the radioactive waste generated from a 3 gigawatt (GW) wind farm with that of a nuclear reactor to generate the same amount of electricity.  Their conclusions:

Wind Energy

Fact 1: Wind turbines require about 2000 lbs. of REEs per megawatt of rated capacity;

Fact 2: U.S. Army reports that mining 2000 lbs. of REE creates about 2000 lbs. of radioactive waste;

Assumption 1: The available Capacity Factor of these turbines will be about 33 percent (very optimistic);

Assumption 2: Water is about 50 percent of the weight of the REE mining radioactive waste. 

Therefore, the radioactive waste for a 3 GW wind facility:

—> Twenty year expected usable life of wind turbine (optimistic);

—>  50% of waste is water that will evaporate away; 

Total of wind power radioactive waste (3000 MW x 2000 REE/MW x 1 x .5) = 3,000,000± pounds

Nuclear Power

Fact 1: Nuclear reactor is Pressurized Water Reactor;

Fact 2: Radioactive waste is spent fuel rods that are permanently stored in deep earth repository;

Assumption 1: GW Nuclear facility generates about 60,000 pounds per year of “spent” uranium;

Assumption 2: Twenty years is used as that is the generous expected life of a wind turbine.

Therefore, the radioactive waste for a 1 GW single-pass nuclear power plant:

—> Average 60,000 pounds per year;

—> Twenty years of operations.

Total of nuclear generator radioactive waste (60,000 lbs. x 20 yrs.) = 1,200,000± pounds

So compared to the radioactive waste from wind energy to the radioactive waste in an “equivalent” nuclear power facility to produce the same amount of electricity, wind energy is dirtier — with 250 percent the amount of radioactive waste!  The next time you hear someone promote wind energy as a renewable, sustainable, clean, green source of energy that will give us energy independence, ask if it will also help the earth glow in the dark.

Note: The writer is indebted to John Droz Jr. for the technical research and analysis provided for this report.  Mr. Droz has been a physicist and an environmental activist for over 25 years.  He received undergraduate degrees in physics and math from Boston College and a graduate degree in physics from Syracuse University.  John has been a participating member of the Sierra Club and the Adirondack Council.

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  1. Ted
    Ted 6 June, 2012, 13:36

    I wish you people would stop. There is NO such thing as man’s contribution to climate change, didn’t happen.

    Building 7 was taken down by the White House.

    The mob killed JFK.

    The feds still have the Roswell alien ™

    And….get the US out of the UN.


    Reply this comment
  2. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 6 June, 2012, 13:55

    Chriss, if you don’t mind some of us would like to get your take on the pension reform votes last night and what you expect to happen in the courts. Do you think this will spread from city to city and from county to county? What are the chances the EU blows up and sends a big financial tsunami across the ocean? I know you are aware of the strong ties that American financial institutions have with the EU. Do you think Osama is going to agree to continue throwing good money after bad with more US taxpayer bailouts to the IMF and the Euro banking system? How much more can we afford after the 2008-2012 bailouts and stimulus packages over here? And we have already bailed out some of the largest foreign banks via TARP and Osama’s stimulus programs. Are they just going to print more money in form of QE (Quantitative Easing) and debase the dollar thus further eating into our purchasing power?? Where does Orange County stand in relation to the other CA counties? Are we in deep doo-doo here too while our local leaders try to discount or downplay the severity of the problem???

    I know you spent many years w/ big financial firms and have seasoned experience as a financial manager in the government, so you have a bird’s eye view of the predicament. I respect that. It would be great if you could fill in the missing parts of the puzzle so we don’t have to read between the lines (guess) with the spotty information that the overlords bless us with.

    Thanks, Chriss!

    Reply this comment
  3. The Ted Steele Legal System (tm)
    The Ted Steele Legal System (tm) 6 June, 2012, 15:46

    Beezyboo— I don’t know what cases Chriss has read re the pensions but here’s what I think will happen in the courts.

    There is no case extant that stands for the proposition that vested, worked for, contracted and executed bargains go away. Sooooooo, any pension law that seeks to abrogate existing earned rights will be struck, dpending on rules of constructuion, at least in part. Other areas of reform are of course possible.

    This is what we all said many times before OC lost its cop and fire suit.

    Sadly, for the taxpayer, this lesson wuill probably have to be relearned many times enriching lawyers (which I thibnk is a good thing) fo9r the costs of litigation.

    Here endeth the lesson.

    Reply this comment
  4. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 6 June, 2012, 18:40

    Sorry, you’re no expert, Teddy. You’re just another slob on the street with an opinion. Whatever you say goes in one ear and out the other.

    I asked Mr. Street because he is an expert on this type of thing.

    You don’t have to worry, Teddy. If I ever want advice or an expert opinion I will never bother you. And that’s a promise!

    And I think you are in for the shock of your life, re: pension rulings.


    Let that sink in for awhile, big guy! 😀

    Reply this comment
  5. Bill - San Jose, CA
    Bill - San Jose, CA 6 June, 2012, 21:23

    This is even a shock to me, someone who knows what a boondoggle the Altamont Pass has been since I was a child.

    Wow, what a stunning fact regarding radioactivity.

    Reply this comment
  6. Ted Steele, Prosecutor
    Ted Steele, Prosecutor 7 June, 2012, 06:44

    LOL– OK Beezyboob ™ — I guess you’ve never read the case law. Or maybe have someone read it to you?

    Kind of a fun fact– I remember 2.5 years ago— you or your alter ego oc oddball predicted the demise of calpers within 2 years. Cal Pers was 210 bil then……..LOL……’s going strong at 230 bil or so today…….dream on little man.

    Any more predictions??? mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm heh heh ™

    Reply this comment
  7. Ted Steele, The Decider
    Ted Steele, The Decider 7 June, 2012, 06:59

    Beezyboob ™ — Oh….and remember a few years back when your big buddy rex the poodle famously predicted that the cops and firemen would lose their lawsuit in the PC??? LOL— remember you girls were so sure about the cases? and Mr. Math?? And then Mr. Constitution and Mr. Law showed up? OH My !!! That was fun!

    Reply this comment
  8. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 7 June, 2012, 09:25

    “Cal Pers was 210 bil then……..LOL……’s going strong at 230 bil or so today”

    CalPERS is actually $225B as of 6/6/12. In 2007 it stood at about $260B. Get your calculator out and do a ROI for the last 5 years, Teddy. Make sure you have some hankerchiefs on hand at the time. If you can’t do the calculation go find an 8th grader who got a B in math.

    CalPERS needs a ROI of 7.75% annually to remain solvent, Teddy.

    D-Day is on it’s way. You might bone up on your resume. Maybe Pinkerton will hire you guarding scrap yards on the midnite shift. 😀

    Reply this comment
  9. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 7 June, 2012, 09:29

    “Beezyboob ™ — Oh….and remember a few years back when your big buddy rex the poodle famously predicted that the cops and firemen would lose their lawsuit in the PC???”

    Direct all questions and comments about Rex to Rex. I don’t answer for him.

    “remember you girls were so sure about the cases? and Mr. Math?? And then Mr. Constitution and Mr. Law showed up?”

    Mr. Math is polishing his hammer as I type. Obviously, you are ignorant about what is happening fiscally both in a domestic sense and overseas. There is no way out, Teddy. NO ONE ESCAPES! 😉

    The legal system can be gamed up to a certain point. But Mr. Math always gets the final word. Never forget that. Mr. Math is king.

    Reply this comment
  10. Hondo
    Hondo 7 June, 2012, 09:32

    I thought wind energy was clean. The old wind energy was clean. A windmill turning a pump to pull up water from a well. I learned something today. Besides the fact that the new wind mills kill hundreds of eagle and other birds a year. And they look ugly too.
    The old windmills out on the prairie are scenic and useful and cost effective and don’t pollute.
    I learned something today.
    Thanks calwatchdog.

    Reply this comment
  11. Chriss Street
    Chriss Street 7 June, 2012, 09:34

    Beelzebub: I want everyone who reads this blog to understand that the analysis theat John Droz and I put together is going to seriously damage support for crony capital wind power efforts in the future.

    Responding to last night’s results: Courts are very political animals. They understand that pension liabilities are consuming government and court administration is being strangled by state budget deficits. The state of California only contributes $3.9 billion to pensions on an $85 general fund. But in 5 years, pension contributions must triple to fully meet the “amortization” schedule under the new GASB accounting standards. This assumes that the pension earns 7.5% compounded. Any lower earnings would drastically increase the pennsion contribution amount. Bottom line: Courts are going to rule the pension reform is conbstitutional.

    In re the dollar: The United States is now the only reserve currency in the world! Globalization is dying rapidly. Europe will be in a Japan like recession for at least the next decade and China is in a banking crisis already.

    Barack Obama is just Jimmy Carter with a tan. Both pursued extremist social welfare progams that hurt the economy and caused banking crisis. Voters gave Ronald Reagan the mandate to reverse the social welfare state. Had Bush 1 not raised taxes he would have been relected. Clinton was forced to end “welfare as we know it.” The dollar strengthened and interest rates fell for 25 years.

    The U.S. is headed for another Reaganesque period. The private sector will grow rapidly as America again becomes the dominant oil and gas producer in the world due to fracking and oil sands development. Maunufacturing will grow dramatically in America due to substantially lower energy costs and supportive public policy. The national debt will begin shrinking due to solid economic growth and massive amounts of royalties colected on energy and mineral development on public lands and continental shelf drilling.

    Bottom line is that American Exceptionalism wil win.

    Reply this comment
  12. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 7 June, 2012, 10:51

    I always appreciate your financial opinions and forecasts, Chriss. Your background and expertise compels me to lend an ear and listen.

    The pension funds won’t come close to the 7.5% annualized compound over the next 5-10 years. They can’t artificially keep interest rates at near zero levels forever. The rates will rise either voluntarily or involuntarily. Once that happens equities will suffer. Have you calculated what it will take to satisfy the debt service on a $16T-20T national debt if the interest rates just normalize to 5-6%, Chriss? What happens if we lose control of the rates (like under Carter) and they go to 12%-17%? [Entirely possibly, btw) The debt service would virtually consume nearly the entire federal budget!

    “In re the dollar: The United States is now the only reserve currency in the world!”

    The reserve currency status is the ONLY thing holding our economy together other than bailouts and quantitative easing. Beware: The big boys like China, Russia, India, Pakistan …. have held meetings w/o inviting the US to discuss alternatives to the US dollar reserve currency. Do you think our angst toward Iran has to do with nuclear power??? heh. We are targeting Iran because they are selling their oil in denominations other than US currency. THAT IS THE REAL THREAT HERE, CHRISS. And IMO that is why Iran has been sanctioned financially with a virtual economic blockade (promoting other nations not to buy Iranian oil).

    “Barack Obama is just Jimmy Carter with a tan”

    Oh, I agree. But the Obama is 50x’s the liar that Jimmy Carter was. Carter was a decent man morally. I respected and still respect the way he lives his life. Obama he doesn’t discriminate. He takes money from the Wall Street frauds and crooks, from the public unions, from illegal invaders – or anyone else who is willing to give it to him. Most politicians go one way or the other.

    “The U.S. is headed for another Reaganesque period”

    I respectfully disagree, Chriss. We might try to turn in that direction – but it’s too late. Do you realize the the feds spent about $53B on healthcare in 1980 and last year spent $862B with no sign of slowing down??? That alone will bring down the US economy. Now factor in all the other debt and failed programs. There is no way out of this except through massive economic pain, Chriss. They’ve already jumped the shark, sir. If not for all the deficit spending, bailouts and quantitative easing our GDP would be well into the negative numbers. You can only play the smoke ‘n mirrors game so long before it all collapses. So you and I differ greatly on the future in America. When the EU goes down (and it will eventually) it is going to result in the start of an economic meltdown that will make 2008 look like a Sunday walk in the park.

    But I respect your opinion. And I hope you write more on the working of the County operations in Orange as it pertains to fiscal solvency.

    Thank you for your reply.

    Reply this comment
  13. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog Author 7 June, 2012, 13:43

    I edited the last comment and deleted several that came after.

    No racial comments, please. And any profanities, etc. will be deleted.

    If this keeps up, I’ll just ban everybody from the comments.

    — John Seiler, Managing Editor

    Reply this comment
  14. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog Author 7 June, 2012, 15:52

    I had to delete more posts. I told you not to do it. The offenders will be deleted from this and other posts until Monday.

    — John Seiler

    Reply this comment
  15. The Ted Steele Legal System (tm)
    The Ted Steele Legal System (tm) 7 June, 2012, 15:59

    Attention viewers– If you beleive that this “persons” use of the offending phrase is inocently used here, then I have some property just outside of Newt’s moonbase to sell ya! This fellow hates the President and uses this sick and disrespectful term exactly for that reason.

    Race, skin color, ohlique comments about sexual preference etc and the like have NO business entering robust political rhetoric. I appreciate that the editors of this site also feel that way. The board of advisors of this cite are serious people and I appreciate them not running and knowing republishing such low brow and offensive remarks.

    What is wrong with the social and political conversation in our nation is currently about polarity. Comments routinely used by the fellow above are why he was banned from the OC Register website and exacly what we all need less of.

    Reply this comment
  16. Chriss Street
    Chriss Street 7 June, 2012, 16:15

    Ted Steele: I completely agree with you that:

    “There is no case extant that stands for the proposition that vested, worked for, contracted and executed bargains go away.”

    But they do expire and the employer is not required under law to continue to offer the past contractual arrangements. I offered a Bill in the California legislature last year (submitted by Jim Silva) called AB 2452. This was a completely “voluntary” conversion at “present value” to a 401K like pension plan. This buyout would be in the form of a cash IRA Rollover. Going forward the employee would get 15% of compensation deposited into their IRA each month without having to make an employee contribution.

    Current unfunded liability for public pensions is approximately 70% = $380 billion, if you believe that pension plans will earn 7.5% compouded forever. But if the present value was paid today, these plans would have about 100% of the payoff amount at their current funding level.

    The reason employees are going to want to do this on a voluntary basis is that the employee contribution is going to go through the roof. In Orange County it has already gone from 3% of weekly compensation for the employee to 9%. But the County is currently having to make a 27% of compensation for general employees and a 52% match for safety. Eventuallly these contribution levels will have to be split 50/50 and the employees will financially collapse.

    Reply this comment
  17. The Ted Steele Legal System (tm)
    The Ted Steele Legal System (tm) 7 June, 2012, 16:36


    you wrote–But they do expire and the employer is not required under law to continue to offer the past contractual arrangements.

    I think you may be right on that. I am not sure but I wouldn’t argue the point without doing some research.

    The concern I do have is this–

    Sure reform is always required, always has been.Everything in the law and the social compact is dynamic in some ways and reform is ongoing and required. In pensions reform and changes have been the constant and some for sure you would posit has been bad.

    Stopping new employees from entering the pension fund is foolish. Less members equals less member contribution equals more tax dollars put in. The key to reform is lowering payout going forward, increasing employee contribution and reforming spiking etc. I hate us cut off the nose to spite the face, kick out members and be left with only the legaql obligation on behalf of us taxpayters to fill in the void. The sustainability of the system was NEVER in doubt until the increases came. I am an adult who has been to college and grad school and to be honest I have my doubts about the constant and overused phrase “unfunded liability”. The larger systems are working and have worked well. Sounds to me like certain dark forces want to really unfund the system by kicking out contributors instead of working on the bargaining table side.

    Seems goofy to me.

    Reply this comment
  18. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog Author 7 June, 2012, 16:40

    Ted: There is no “legal obligation” when an entity goes broke. A few years back, Highland Park, Mich. went bankrupt, and the already retired public workers on the city’s pension ended up with nothing. It’s going to happen again.

    — John Seiler

    Reply this comment
  19. Jeff
    Jeff 7 June, 2012, 16:52

    Those are great numbers, and I’d love to use them to irritate my greenie friends, but are you including the waste and energy from the production/mining of the nuclear rods themselves in this calculation, or simply their use and disposal? Because I know they’ll call me on it if we are including the production of the magnets but not the production of the uranium.

    Reply this comment
  20. queeg
    queeg 7 June, 2012, 16:52

    CWD….start banning the posters who are mean spirited name callers….liberal posts are derided and impuned not on merit but gutter talk..

    Couple of your top posters are most guilty! They relish ripping us on a level undignified for CWD as a reputable web site.

    Reply this comment
  21. queeg
    queeg 7 June, 2012, 19:47

    Teddy is harmless. He prods mean spirited posters to clean up….to no avail.

    Reply this comment
  22. Ted Steele, The Decider
    Ted Steele, The Decider 7 June, 2012, 19:52

    John– true enuf… well sort of….in Bk of course after process and order yes. And there will be more fails of small systems, yes. My pint is about the situation the rest of us are in. Like in OC, entities that think they can avoid the obligations can’t….so……they need to look to other solutions….like col bargaining.

    Reply this comment
  23. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog Author 7 June, 2012, 20:26

    queeg wrote: “CWD….start banning the posters who are mean spirited name callers…”

    I’m deleting them, and bans will be next if necessary.

    — John Seiler

    Reply this comment
  24. The Ted Steele Legal System (tm)
    The Ted Steele Legal System (tm) 8 June, 2012, 13:29

    Thanks John– It’s a shame you have to do that.

    Reply this comment
  25. Felix
    Felix 19 August, 2015, 06:58

    Fact: a 2MW wind turbine uses about 800-900 lbs of rare earth elements. This is produced from mining processes that creates about 1 ton of radioactive waste material. MIT did an analysis of this so your figures are a little overblown. So cut your figure in half. otherwise nice article

    Reply this comment
  26. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 4 September, 2015, 13:31

    Al Gore needs to appoligise for cheating people out of their money by selling his fruadulent junk science film the Oscars need to appoligise for giving this fruadlent film a award the Peace Prize Commity needs to appoligise for awarding this con-man and eco-freaks need to appoligise for supporting these damn bird and bat maming windturbines

    Reply this comment

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