Safe, Energy Alternatives Are Available

George Erickson

Like the folks at Earth Talk, I’ve also been a fan of wind power, and I was thrilled to see Minnesota Power erect ten large windmills on the Laurentian Divide near my hometown of Virginia, MN.  But when I noticed that, even on windy days, one or two of them would not be turning, I checked with friends in the Thorium Energy Alliance and the Union of Concerned Scientists – and regretfully lost my passion for wind power. Why? Because if you run the numbers, you learn that windmills average about 35% of their rated power due to downtime for servicing and repair plus periods of low to zero wind. Running the numbers on a wind farm discussed in a recent issue of Discover magazine revealed that it (as predicted) operated at approx. 33% of rated capacity – which illuminates one of their problems – that in addition to bird and bat kills, plus noise and land use issues, they aren’t very efficient, and they exist primarily due to tax advantages and subsidies for those who build and operate them.
Unfortunately, when wind proponents write about the glories of wind power, they often provide figures based on the windmill’s maximum capacity – as in the Reader’s February 20 Earth Watch article, which said, “...the total amount of wind power available... has grown to 318,137 MW in 2013.”  Reality, however, tells us that about one third of that number – perhaps 106,000 MW – would be a realistic figure. 
Faced with the choice of building 12 new nuclear plants or the 30,000 windmills that would be needed to provide an equal amount of power, Great Britain recently chose nuclear – and the vote wasn’t even close. Japan, which shuttered its nuclear plants in an understandable burst of post-Fukushima caution, now plans to reactivate them – and stop pumping even more carbon dioxide into our beleaguered atmosphere. Even Germany, which also closed its nuclear plants – and is now paying twice as much for electricity – is beginning to rethink nuclear power.
Although solar is significantly better than wind, neither can deliver “baseload” power – the 90% of our power that’s provided by nuclear plants, natural gas, oil and coal. Of those four, only nuclear power – despite Fukushima, which was caused by repeated corporate stupidity and penny pinching plus lax government oversight – has been safely delivering Gigawatts of carbon dioxide-free power 24/7 for some 50 years. And although NO ONE has ever died from the tightly controlled commercial nuclear power production in Western Europe or the Western Hemisphere, MILLIONS have died from the burning of natural gas. oil and particularly coal, which expels mercury, radon, arsenic, polonium, uranium, cyanide and harmful particulates while exposing us to 100 times more radiation than our green nuclear plants.  Unfortunately, few understand the perils of burning carbon, but if you mention radiation or speak of nuclear power, their response is often Oh, dear, oh, my!
As the safety graphic reveals, today’s conventional nuclear power – including Fukushima - is 4,000 times safer than burning coal and 900 times safer than oil – and it’s even 4 times safer than wind!  The ash derived from burning coal for power – which causes 3,900 premature American deaths per year plus thousands of cases of lung and heart diseases - averages 40 tons per American lifetime.  Compare that to just two pounds of nuclear waste for the same amount of power. And that’s from today’s conventional, water-cooled reactors that, if carelessly built or operated, can create the hydrogen that exploded at Chernobyl and Fukushima.   
 Fortunately, there’s a super-efficient and far safer, proven technology waiting in the wings. Called the Molten Salt Reactor (MSR), it creates no hydrogen, can’t melt down,
can automatically shut itself off if needed and * TRUMPETS* can even “burn” the stored nuclear waste that conventional reactors have been creating since the sixties.  See for yourselves.
Check the web, especially http// 
 George Erickson -

Member, Union of Concerned Scientists -- Member, Thorium Energy Alliance -- past V P American Humanist Assoc.

Fukushima was NOT a NUCLEAR failure. Its owners refused to build a higher seawall like the Onagawa nuclear plant seawall that easily restrained the reactor-killing tsunami.