The Dirty Truth About Britain's Clean Green Wind Power Dream
On the outskirts of one of China’s cities there is an immense lake of bubbling toxic waste covered in black dust. This is where vast fortunes are being made; the region has more than 90% of the world’s legal reserves of rare earth metals. These rare earths, particularly neodymium, are needed to make the magnets in the most striking of green energy producers, wind turbines.
The reality is that, as Britain flaunts its environmental credentials by devastating its unspoilt land and seascapes with thousands of giant wind turbines, it is contributing to a vast man-made lake of poison in northern China. This is the deadly and sinister side of the massive profitable rare-earths industry that the “green” companies profiting from the demand for wind turbines would prefer you knew nothing about.
This vast, hissing cauldron of chemicals is the dumping ground for several 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. The foul-smelling radioactive waste from this industrial process is pumped day after day. The lake’s radiation levels are ten times higher than the surrounding countryside, causing high rates of cancer in local people.
There are 17 “rare earth metals” which usually occur together and once mined have to be separated. Neodymium is used in the manufacture of the most powerful magnets in the world. These in turn are components in such things as hi-fi speakers, hard drives and lasers, but only after the rise of alternative energy solutions has it really come to prominence in hybrid cars and wind turbines. A direct drive permanent-magnet generator would use 4,400lb (2 tons) of neodymium-based permanent magnet material. The fact that the wind-turbine industry relies on neodymium, which even in legal factories has a catastrophic environmental impact, is a real dilemma for environmentalists who want to see the growth of the industry. We have to recognise the environmental destruction that is being caused while making these wind turbines as well as when they are placed.
It’s a long way from the grim conditions in northern China to the beautiful hills of the Stewartry. But the environmental damage wind turbines cause will be felt here too. The Stewartry is the latest battle ground between the wind-farm developers and those opposed to them. Despite having designated categories of landscape (National & Regional Scenic Areas) the Stewartry is still being targeted by the wind industry. They want to put access roads to otherwise inaccessible areas, fill large holes with enourmous volumes of concrete to hold large turbines in place up to 130m high and possibly create miles of pylons to get the electricity to grid connections. For the same theoretical output of a conventional power station they need 500 x 3 MW turbines. These turbines are at best 30% efficient which raises the number to 1,500.