Wind energy’s dirty secret

Mining mineral for windmill magnets causes environmental disaster
by Christina Blizzard, Toronto Sun

What’s the fastest growing cash crop in rural Ontario — after pot, that is? Try wind turbines. These ugly eyesores are sprouting like weeds and are being foisted on unwilling hosts in rural Ontario.

Two weeks ago, Energy Minister Brad Duguid scrapped plans to put offshore turbines in Lake Ontario — close to his riding. On Thursday, though, he announced a fresh crop in rural Ontario — this time for Smithville, in Tory Leader Tim Hudak’s Niagara riding.

While the Liberals insist it’s all about clean energy, a recent article in a British newspaper shows wind turbines are anything but green.

A story by Simon Parry and Ed Douglas in the Daily Mail, Jan. 29, describes a horrific toxic stew brewing in China as a result of our search for the great, green holy grail.

The toxic lake left behind after mining for “rare earth metals” needed for the turbines’ magnets is creating an environmental boondoggle of epic proportions.

(There are 17 rare earth metals, so called not because they’re scarce, but because they occur in scattered deposits of minerals and are not concentrated. According to the article, one of those, Neodymium, is commonly used to make the most powerful magnets in the world.)

The city of Baotou, in Inner Mongolia, is home to more than 90% of the world’s rare earth metals.

“On the outskirts of one of China’s most polluted cities, an old farmer stares despairingly out across an immense lake of bubbling toxic waste covered in black dust. He remembers it as fields of wheat and corn,” says the lead paragraph. It continues.

The process used to extract the element from the ground and processing it, “has an appalling environmental impact that raises serious questions over the credibility of so-called green technology.

“Hidden out of sight behind smoke-shrouded factory complexes in the city of Baotou, and patrolled by platoons of security guards, lies a five-mile wide ‘tailing’ lake. It has killed farmland for miles around, made thousands of people ill and put one of China’s key waterways in jeopardy,” says the article.

“This vast, hissing cauldron of chemicals is the dumping ground for seven 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.”

So, you’re still convinced this is the clean, green energy of the future? This makes the oilsands look pristine.

“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. No signposts and no paved roads lead here, and as we approach security guards shoo us away and tail us. When we finally break through the cordon and climb sand dunes to reach its brim, an apocalyptic sight greets us: A giant, secret toxic dump, made bigger by every wind turbine we build.”

And here in Ontario, we’re building them by the thousand. What’s our share of this mess?

The story quotes retired farmer Su Bairen, 69: “‘At first it was just a hole in the ground,’ he says. ‘When it dried in the winter and summer, it turned into a black crust and children would play on it. Then one or two of them fell through and drowned in the sludge below. Since then, children have stayed away.’”

Plants withered. Livestock died.

“Villagers say their teeth began to fall out, their hair turned white at unusually young ages, and they suffered from severe skin and respiratory diseases. Children were born with soft bones and cancer rates rocketed,” says the Mail.

Still gung-ho to go green?

Every time I see a new turbine I’ll think of those children dying horrific deaths. And I’ll hang my head in shame at the environmental disaster we’ve created.

18 thoughts on “Wind energy’s dirty secret

  1. The further down this wormhole you go, the more you realize this whole situation is a gigantic lie.

  2. This is not about wind turbines. This is about bad mining practice.

    The operators/owners of these mines should probably be strung up so they won’t interfere with the trial and the subsequent investigation… but it still has nothing to do with turbines. It’s conflating of issues…

  3. David, Are you saying that there is a safe way to mine this neodymium? Even if there is obviously China does not care about safe practice in their quest to exploit it.

  4. Melodie:

    Our family is in the business (as is Steve McIntyre of Climate Audit). What I see in the photos is disgusting. However it is a few photos and very little back-story.

    There are safe ways to mine and dangerous ways to mine. Mines are not clean — but they can be safe. Dealing with tailings (waste) properly is both an art and a science. It can be done and it can be safe and there need be no long term environmental damage — if any. As Syncrude about waste ponds and publicity…

    If you want to learn more — go here..
    http://www.pdac.ca/pdac/good-practices.html

    Properly designed mines and diligent work forces keep a mine as clean and safe as possible — because you make more money.

    As I said in my first post — there is a way to deal with these clowns… assuming the story is accurate.

    But yes I do know how to design a circuit and spec an ore-concentrator — not an expert, not a mining engineer — just someone who does that part too. And we do know how to minimize mercury usage and recover it…

    Rare earths are often in a mineral complex that includes thorium and heavy metals. There is often low-level radiation associated with the deposits. It would take a lot of exposure for the un-concentrated ore to cause damage (I think). The concentrated ores could be a different story. I am just coming up to speed on this issue myself and will know more in a couple of weeks. Good research takes time.

    You can find additional material on the web.

    From everything I read, and the photos I have seen, it is as bad as it looks. I have not been there and cannot give first hand reports.

  5. David R’s argument is cute but superficial.This disaster in China is an unintended consequence of W Turbines of which there are many, in addition to their fundamental inefficiency.

    How many WWF troops are marshaling in China? Most of the are probably not having their first latte yet and, on the Sat morning, not even awake.

    God save us from the green monsters at loose in our society.

  6. Peter Said:

    David R’s argument is cute but superficial.

    Thank you for the insult to start my morning.

    Now if wind turbines are the only use of rare earth minerals I shall be pleased to hear about it. In the meantime, if you feel you can tell the story more accurately in a few lines on a blog… please… do so. Try not to be cute or superficial.

  7. Mr. Robinson
    Safe mining?
    I’d suggest the point of this article is that if the demand for magnets would not exist to that extend, this situation as described may not exist.
    But again, quick profit takes priority.

  8. Can we all keep this discussion Science Based civil and fact based.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rare_earth_element

    Wiki has the various usages. That mine would exist whether there was single wind turbine on the planet.

    It is bad mining practice. It has nothing to do with wind turbines. Many wind turbines do not even use the magnets.

    Do you have strong refrigerator magnets? You probably support that mine.

    Had an XRAY lately? welllllll….

    Bought a super magnet from Lee Valley? Or an educational store?

    Shot a picture with a camera?

    You’re on my playing field. I am prepared to discuss this at length. It’s the wrong place though.

  9. Mining safety.. since all the metal users on this forum seem obsessed…

    http://www.masha.on.ca/statistics.aspx

    Mines can be run safely. The risk is never zero. People who mine do not like to involve chance. Risk is calculated measured and contemplated.

    All I ask is that you look at the facts and evaluate what you see for what it is. In most of the world the practices you see would not be tolerated no matter how precious the result.

    If you like to panic — then maybe you should. The re-opening of the Rare Earth mine in Monmouth, Ontario is being contemplated. (I have been to it.)

    One of the uses of Rare Earth Minerals is as a contrast agent for MRI and NUC MEd Cancer scans. That Chinese mine may have save a family members life — as bad as it is… There are a lot of tough choices in the World. Get used to it.

    That mine should be cleaned up. It’s disgusting. The technology is out there. There is no excuse.

  10. Lets not knock Christina for her article. No doubt there are always better, safer ways to mine and process waste chemicals. Her point is that is not happening.

    I applaud Ms Blizzard for helping to expose The Chinese. They are using shoddy and unhealthy practices to produce magnets. This needs to be exposed and challenged. Those that promote turbines never admit there are problems that must be addressed, either in manufacture or installation.

    Environmentalists and promoters often wrap themselves in a cloak of faux morality and preach about the problems with the oil sands and air pollution from coal but say nothing about the direct and indirect consequences of some of their own pet green projects, be it rare earth magnets, bio-fuel plantations, or ethanol. We have the right, even obligation to hold them to account. In that way, we all get a more honest discussion of true values and can make more rational choices.

    This government makes a big deal about eliminating coal pollution. We know that problem is also an unrelated issue to turbines. We need to hold them to account for the real health of Ontarians and the Chinese with the choices they make.

  11. John:

    Those that promote turbines never admit there are problems that must be addressed, either in manufacture or installation.

    Your arguments are sound.

    Put that way I have no argument. But please, everyone, do look at the Wikipedia reference and realize that the mine is not there solely for magnets. Strangely the most money would be derived from the heath related products and research products — go figger!

    I only object to the hysteria.

    If we get our facts wrong we will be crucified and get debate points deleted from our score.

    The Greens Get extra points for False Science and hysteria. They get accolades for outright falsehoods. Everyone take note of that point.

  12. I agree with David, that embellishment or distortion of the facts would only lead to an opening to discredit, and should be avoided. As highlighted, every cell phone, television, CatScan Device, Computer Disk Drive etc. is culpable in this mining practice.

    Green is a Religion Based On Faith Not Fact

    Lets stick to the facts.

  13. Let’s not forget the national security issues here if these rare earth’s are not allowed to be mined here because of eco-nuts.

  14. This article should be left up as a permanent monument…

    One of the largest single users of Rare Earth Elements (minerals) (REE) is Medical Technology. MRI, CAT scanners, X-RAY filters to reduce dosage etc.

    This is the sort of paper I normally go to fro my initial information. It is readable if you want to learn more.
    http://www.rareelementresources.com/i/pdf/RareEarths-CastorHedrickIMAR7.pdf

    If you want to protest the use of REEs the you should show up at hospitals, medical imaging clinics and cancer clinics. As well, companies designing anti-pollution equipment, advanced electronics, TV manufacturers and optics used for research and medicine should be the primary targets. People who make magnets for Wind Turbine installations should be way down the list…

    Here’s the deal, if that mine really bothers you, get me $2B and I will get the people to go in and help China clean up the manufacturing process. I will start immediately upon funding. Then we will clean up the oldest pollution — after we deal with the ongoing problem. Now I have heard from George Soros own lips that he is a heck of a nice guy and wants to improve the world — so there is your source of funds. Write him a letter. Get me my funding. I will work at a reduced rate.

    In the meantime…

    After careful thought I have this to add to the debate on this article and wish to paraphrase Willis Eschenbach…

    This article is so bad that it should be taken out to the crossroads at midnight. A Stake should be driven through its heart and its skull stuffed with garlic. When the bones are dry they should be scattered to the four winds so it can never rise again… Just hold up a Silver Cross when you are near the corpse! Christine should never have got suckered by the original article.

    It is really easy to get suckered in by bad research and worse science. The news organizations that ran similar articles should place the article on their “Wall of Shame” where such mistakes are immortalized.

  15. Well thanks David for all the trouble you have gone to to set the record straight. We get it. At least I get that people will continue to pollute the earth for financial gain. Let’s move on to a plan to shut Ontario down to stop the insanity of wasted money on wind turbines. What big splash can we make that will Oust McGuinty from power before he damages any more rule land. One big ad in the Sun or Star with a date to mobilize thousands to OUST McGuinty NOW campaign. I still like the idea of Tractor trailers blocking access to the 400 hwy north! A banner can say: Dalton, stay out of our rural lands. Your fired! Toronto should secede from our rural Ontario.

  16. Lets not get caught up in an argument between ourselves.

    Rare earth magnets in and of themselves are not a bad thing. They are used for a variety of products including modern medical equipment. There is no question that they save lives. But that does not give the Chinese or anybody else a pass from producing them in a safe manner. In fact, if for every life they save another is lost then there is a moral imperative to correct the situation.

    The wind energy industry has made environmental superiority the primary focus of their process. Fine. They therefore have a prime responsibility to ensure their turbines are produced and installed in as safe and healthy way as is possible. Christina simply exposes the hypocrisy of their claims.

    That in no way occludes any other consumer of rare earth products from demanding the same level of environmental responsibility.

    When the McGuinty government says wind turbines will save live due to elimination of coal fire generation, there is no shame in pointing out that his argument is invalid. And there is no fault in pointing out that if he is going to pursue that false logic, then lives are lost on both sides of this equation.

    Ultimately, sickened and dead Chinese peasants don’t vote in Ontario elections. Rural Ontarians do.

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