Australia’s clean transition to renewable energy – theme for January 2017
The whole point of renewable energy is that it is clean. And, for sure, the major fuels – sun and wind – are undoubtedly clean. However, renewable energy does require some components – rare earths – that certainly have a dirty radioactive history, and may still have a dirty radioactive present.
China is now controlling rare earths’ production in a cleaner way. but it would be naïve and simplistic to assume that its pollution problems have completely gone away.
Meanwhile Australian companies, too, are mining and processing rare earths. Lynas, in Malaysia, has had a history pf inadequate management of radioactive wastes, but now has improved its practices. https://www.lynascorp.com/Pages/Environment.aspx. Greenland Minerals and Energy, about to mine rare earths in Greenland, is criticised for unsatisfactory planning for its radioactive waste tailings. http://arcticjournal.com/oil-minerals/1583/uranium-opponents-look-other-sectors-job-growth.
3 main approaches are being taken to this problem:
Design for recycling. This is particularly appropriate for wind turbines.
Reduction in consumption of rare earths . This is not applicable to renewable energy, but rather to the rampant and wasteful consumption of modern electronic gadgets – often unnecessary, all too often a part of our throwaway culture. http://chinawaterrisk.org/resources/analysis-reviews/can-we-build-a-clean-smart-future-on-toxic-rare-earths/
Design for green technologies that don’t require rare earths
Of course, like all modern industrial technologies, mining and manufacture and transport of renewables do mean environmental disturbance. But this is a balancing act, considering the environmental benefits of renewable energy.
The nuclear lobby pretends that renewable energy is environmentally dirty. In the 21st Century, it is vital that we acknowledge environmental problems, including that fact of radioactive waste from rare earths, and make sure that the production processes are clean, even if this adds to their cost.