Proponents of wind turbine energy tout its environmental advantages over fossil fuel energy sources that produce carbon dioxide emissions.
But what they don't talk about is the vast
amount of radioactive waste and other toxic substances resulting from the
mining of the rare earth minerals needed by wind turbines, according to a
disturbing report from two energy experts.
Wind turbines use magnets made with neodymium
and dysprosium, rare earth minerals mined almost exclusively in China, reported
Travis Fisher and Alex Fitzsimmons, policy associates with the Institute for
An MIT study estimated that a 2-megawatt wind
turbine contains about 752 pounds of rare earth minerals.
Simon Parry of Britain's Daily Mail
traveled to Baotou in northern China to view the mines, factories, and dumping
grounds associated with China's rare earth industry, including a 5-mile-wide
lake of industrial waste.
"This vast, hissing cauldron of
chemicals is the dumping ground for 7 million tons a year of mined rare earth
after it has been doused in acid and chemicals and processed through red-hot
furnaces to extract its components," Parry wrote.
"Rusting pipelines meander for miles
from factories processing rare earths in Baotou out to the man-made lake where,
mixed with water, the foul-smelling radioactive waste from this industrial
process is pumped day after day."
As the lake of waste grew larger, local
farmers told Parry, "anything we planted just withered, then our animals
started to sicken and die."
Residents of a nearby village said their
teeth began to fall out, their hair turned white at young ages, and they suffered
from severe skin and respiratory diseases. Children were born with soft bones
and the incidence of cancer and osteoporosis soared, the Mail reported.
The lake's radiation levels are 10 times
higher than in the surrounding countryside, official studies found.
In Baotou, most people wear face masks
wherever they go, Parry noted.
The report from Fisher and Fitzsimmons,
published by Rightside News, disclosed that mining one ton of rare earth
minerals produces about one ton of radioactive waste.
Last year the United States added 13,131
megawatts of wind-generating capacity, and at least 4.9 million pounds of rare
earths were used in the turbines installed in 2012. That means at least 4.9
million pounds of radioactive waste were created to make those turbines.
In comparison, the U.S. nuclear industry
produces between 4.4 and 5 million pounds of spent nuclear fuel each year. So
the U.S. wind industry most likely created more radioactive waste last year
than America's entire nuclear industry — while accounting for just 3.5 percent
of all electricity generated in the country.
And the MIT study revealed that the demand
for dysprosium could rise by 2,600 percent in the next 25 years as the wind
industry grows, the Rightside News authors warn.
They conclude: "All forms of energy
production have some environmental impact. However, it is disingenuous for wind
lobbyists to hide the impacts of their industry while highlighting the impacts
"From illegal bird kills to radioactive
waste, wind energy poses serious environmental risks that the wind lobby would
prefer you never know about."