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Local View: Wind vs. nuclear: Overcoming a tilted field, media bias

(Paresh Nath / Cagle Cartoons)

This being the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, it’s not surprising the media would feature an abundance of pro-renewable articles and articles that denigrate carbon dioxide-free nuclear power — which is, despite Chernobyl, the safest, most efficient way to generate electricity.

In that hyperbolic mix of anti-nuclear rhetoric, we are never told that, despite predictions of millions of deaths by the Caldicott crowd, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Radiation reports fewer than 70 deaths, with about half being firefighters. Neither are we told that the Chernobyl design was illegal everywhere else in the world or that the civilian facility was primarily intended to produce plutonium for nuclear bombs.

Unfortunately, at least two articles in the News Tribune in April shared those defects — not because of what they said but because of what they omitted.

For example, thyroid problems discovered after Fukushima were the result of testing with new methods that, when applied to distant, unaffected areas, showed similar results that cannot be attributed to Fukushima.

Regarding windmills, the list of their defects is long and largely ignored by the press. They include that in the U.S. alone, windmills are killing

2 million birds and bats per year, even as insect-borne diseases like Zika, dengue fever and malaria are increasing. How green is that?

Because windmills produce only 30 percent of their capacity, the missing 70 percent must be supplied by facilities and plants that primarily burn coal or natural gas, which is largely methane. Over its lifetime, methane is 20 times worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, but in the first decades it is 70 times worse. Those decades are critical because the fugitive methane leaking from fracking sites and the natural gas distribution system is more than offsetting any gains achieved by switching from coal to natural gas.

Bottom line: Our reliance on inefficient, carbon-reliant, bird- and bat-killing windmills is a disaster for wildlife and the environment.

In addition, those 30-percent-efficient windmills have 20-year lifespans, so they must be built three times to match the 60-year lifespans of 90-percent-efficient nuclear power plants. And it takes 1,000 of them to match the output of just one average nuclear plant. The carbon footprint of windmills, which are subsidized four times more than nuclear, is much larger than that of nuclear power.

To minimize weight, windmills use permanent magnets that include rare earth elements imported largely from China, where mines create huge lakes of toxic sludge. In contrast, ground-based generators use electromagnets that don’t require rare earth elements.

I was once a lover of windmills, but the facts have changed my mind. Many more must make that change, but it won’t be easy. Mark Twain would agree. The famous American author once said, “It is far easier to fool a person than it is to convince them that they have been fooled.”

Persuading our legislators and “green” organizations like the Sierra Club and the Nature Conservancy (to which I belong) to reverse course will be tough because they fear that opposing windmills will cost them members and income.

When I ask my “green” friends and these organizations why they promote inefficient, bird- and bat-killing windmills that rely on burying carbon for most of their output, I get no answers. In one case, I was simply told, “Stop hassling me.”

Why does the media exclude photos of burning windmills, windmill blades thrown a quarter of a mile or the photo of two Dutch engineers standing on top of a flaming windmill while they wait to die? Could money be involved? See the Caithness Windfarm Information Forum.

Yes, we’ve been fooled, and it’s all about the money and media-abetted ignorance.

George Erickson of Eveleth is a member of the Thorium Energy Alliance (thoriumenergyalliance.com) and the National Center for Science Education (ncse.com). He’s also the author of four books (see tundracub.com) and lectures on the safety of nuclear power and the need to slash the use of fossil fuels.

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To anyone who wants to read more about this topic, the writer suggests: tinyurl.com/EnergyReality

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