Iowa ignores the most efficient clean energy source – nuclear


The former nuclear site of Duane Arnold Energy Center in 2003. (The Gazette)

Windmills are so common in Iowa that they are featured on our state license plate, cementing the identity of the windmill in our community and in a mental image of the Iowa Plains. Solar panels have also become more and more common because they can provide small, efficient energy sources for homes and farms with large roofs to accommodate the panels.

The idea of ​​solar farming fits into our state philosophy as American producers and suppliers. The farmers of Iowa feed the world and our ethanol corn feeds the country. It seems like a natural next step to venture into this new agricultural phase. However, as exciting as these clean energy initiatives are, a major piece of the puzzle is missing in our state: nuclear power.

Nuclear power plants accounted for 9% of the total generating capacity of the United States in 2019, but produced 20% of the country’s electricity due to their reliable power generation. Iowa until recently had only one Functional nuclear reactor housed in a large building in Palo which employed around 600 people.

Duane arnold open in 1974. A larger factory in Vandalia as well as other locations were planned in advance, but due to the cost, perceived risk and anxiety over the radiation many plans were rejected.

The plant manager cited the reasons for the closure as the inability of the small plant to cope with cheaper energy as well as the cost of the damage caused by the Derecho. It should be noted that there is considerable tax incentives individuals and companies for the installation of wind turbines and solar panels.

This decommissioned nuclear site will be the site of a large NextEra Energy solar farm covering 3,500 acres in Palo. The new solar project is expected to generate an investment of $ 700 million, $ 41.6 million in tax revenue and around 300 construction jobs.

Let’s compare the potential of wind power, the most popular clean energy source in our state, to nuclear power: On average, 3,000 wind turbines have been built in the United States each year since 2005. Today , in the United States, there are 68,792 wind turbines with a total nominal capacity of 121,431 megawatts. Nuclear power has by far the highest capacity factor from any other source of energy. Essentially, this means that nuclear power plants produce maximum power more than 93% of the time during the year. It is about 2.5-3.5 times more reliable than wind and solar power plants, according to the ministry of energy.

This reliability is important because renewables are considered intermittent or variable sources and are mainly limited by a lack of fuel, which sometimes means that the sun is not shining or the winds are not very strong. In the future, power plants will probably be built with a renewable energy source and a reliable energy source such as coal or nuclear power.

Duane Arnold is located near the Benton and Linn County borders. Following the news that the plant was shutting down, an article appeared in the Des Moines Register claiming that there was finally hope for the Iowans to have “less cancer“Afflict our communities.

While I disagree with the article’s celebratory tone regarding the plant shutdown, the figures presented painted a chilling tale that at first glance seems rather alarming.

The author said, “In Benton and Linn counties… the cancer rate in children 19 and under was 7% higher than the rate in Iowa before Duane Arnold’s surgery. And “from 2013 to 2017, Linn County’s childhood cancer rate was 20% higher than the state. … For Linn County residents under the age of 50 who lived near Duane Arnold most or all of their lives, the cancer rate was 15% higher than in the state.

Taking a closer look at these numbers, we can see that Benton County actually sits in the bottom half of Iowa County cancer incidence rate and Linn County’s cancer incidence rate sits roughly in the middle of the pack. Palo Alto County, a few hours north of nuclear power plant town, has the highest cancer incidence rate in the state and there has never been a nuclear power plant in that county.

Linn County is the second largest country in the state, with convenient access to cancer screening facilities. Similar to COVID tests, the more we test for something, the more we will discover this disease.

It’s good to locate and identify cancer for treatment, of course, but it’s worth noting that people who live near (relatively) a nuclear power plant might be more likely to be tested for cancer. due to the perceived radiological threat, even if they are not exposed to significant levels of radiation.

In addition, there is some evidence that higher background radiation levels are associated with a slightly longer life expectancy, according to a study by scientists from the BGU and the Negev Nuclear Research Center. Background radiation is ionizing radiation that exists in the environment from natural sources. It includes radiation from outer space and radiation from terrestrial sources. With higher background radiation levels, life expectancy actually increased. It seems counterintuitive to the information we get from TV shows and movies about radiation exposure, but it follows the still emerging science of nuclear radiation.

Now, of course, that doesn’t mean that people haven’t been seriously injured by radiation exposure by living next to nuclear power plants that don’t follow safety procedures. However, there is strong evidence to support that living near a modern, well-supervised nuclear power plant will not have any negative effects on surrounding communities.

Energy production is a collaborative and diverse field that is increasingly adapted to the needs of the community. Attaching solar panels above apartment buildings, traffic lights, and homes is a smart way to harness the sun’s energy, but using Iowa’s farmland comes at a cost. High opportunity given that the area could be used to produce food rather than the more unpredictable solar energy storage.

It makes no sense to scare about nuclear power and romanticize inefficient wind and solar power for large-scale use without other reliable sources. People with a vested financial interest in producing and funding low-risk power generation are not reliable sources for Iowa’s energy planning. We need to follow science and lead with logic instead of fear of innovation.

Patricia Patnode is a member of the editorial staff of the Gazette. Comments: patricia.patnode@thegazette.com


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