The former nuclear power plant at the Duane Arnold Energy Center in 2003. (The Gazette)
Windmills are so common in Iowa that they are on our state license plate, confirming the windmill’s identity in our community and in a mental picture of the plains of Iowa. Solar panels have also become more common as they can provide efficient small energy sources for homes and farms with large roofs to house the panels.
The idea of solar farming fits into our state ethos as American producers and suppliers. Iowa’s farmers feed the world and our ethanol corn powers the country. It seems a natural next step to enter this new agricultural phase. While these clean energy initiatives are exciting, our state is missing an important piece of the puzzle: nuclear power.
Nuclear power plants accounted for 9 percent of total U.S. generating capacity in 2019, but produced 20 percent of the country’s electricity due to their reliable energy output. Until recently, Iowa had only one functioning nuclear reactor in a large building in Palo that employed about 600 people.
Duane Arnold opened in 1974. A larger factory in Vandalia and other locations were tentatively planned, but many plans were rejected due to cost, perceived risk and fear of radiation.
The plant director cited reasons for closure as the small plant’s inability to keep up with cheaper energy, as well as the cost of damage from the Derecho. It is worth noting that there are significant tax incentives for individuals and businesses to install wind turbines and solar panels.
This decommissioned nuclear site will be the site of a large 3,500-acre NextEra Energy solar park in Palo. The new solar project is expected to generate a $700 million investment, $41.6 million in tax revenue and approximately 300 construction jobs.
Let’s compare the power of wind turbines, the most popular clean energy source in our state, with nuclear power: Since 2005, an average of 3,000 turbines have been built in the US each year. There are currently 68,792 turbines in the US with a total rated capacity of 121,431 megawatts. Nuclear energy has by far the highest capacity factor of all other energy sources. This basically means that nuclear power plants produce maximum power more than 93 percent of the time during the year. That is about 2.5 to 3.5 times more reliable than wind and solar power plants, according to the Ministry of Energy.
That reliability is important because renewable plants are considered intermittent or variable sources and are usually limited by a lack of fuel, meaning sometimes the sun doesn’t shine or the wind isn’t very strong. In the future, power plants are likely to be built with one renewable energy source and one reliable energy source such as coal or nuclear power.
Duane Arnold is located near the border of Benton and Linn County. Following the announcement of the plant’s closure, an article appeared in the Des Moines Register claiming there was finally hope for Iowans to have “less cancer” in our communities.
While I disagreed with the celebratory tone of the article about the plant’s closure, the figures presented painted a terrifying story that may seem rather alarming at first glance.
The author stated, “In Benton and Linn counties … the cancer rate in children 19 and under was 7% above the rate in Iowa prior to Duane Arnold’s surgery.” And “from 2013 to 2017, the childhood cancer rate in Linn County was 20% above that of the state. …For Linn County residents under the age of 50 who lived near Duane Arnold for most or all of their lives, the cancer rate was 15% higher than in the state.”
If we look a little further at these numbers, we can see that Benton County is in the bottom half of the cancer incidence rate in Iowa County, and the cancer incidence rate in Linn County is roughly in the middle of the pack. Palo Alto County, hours north of the city’s nuclear power plant, has the highest incidence of cancer in the state, and there has never been a nuclear power plant in that county.
Linn County is the second largest county in the state, with easy access to cancer screening facilities. As with COVID testing, the more we screen for something, the more of that disease we will discover.
It is, of course, good to locate and identify cancer for treatment, but it is worth noting that people who live in (relative) proximity to a nuclear power plant are more likely to be tested for cancer because of the perceived radiation threat, even if they are not. be exposed to significant levels of radiation.
In addition, there is some evidence that higher background radiation levels are associated with slightly longer life expectancy, according to a study by BGU and scientists at Nuclear Research Center Negev. Background radiation is an ionizing radiation that occurs in the environment from natural sources. It includes radiation from space and radiation from terrestrial sources. With higher background radiation levels, life expectancy actually increased. This seems counterintuitive to the information we get from television shows and movies about radiation exposure, but it follows the still emerging science about nuclear radiation.
Of course, this does not mean that people have not been seriously injured by radiation exposure from living next to nuclear power plants that ignore safety procedures. However, there is solid evidence that living near a modern, well-controlled nuclear power plant will not have any negative effects on surrounding communities.
Energy production is a collaborative and diverse field that is increasingly aligned with the needs of the community. Installing solar panels on apartment buildings, on traffic lights and on houses is a sensible way to take advantage of the sun’s energy, but using farmland in Iowa is a high alternative cost, as the area can be used to produce food in Iowa. instead of the more unpredictable solar energy storage.
Fostering fear about nuclear power and romanticizing inefficient wind and solar power for large-scale use without other reliable sources is foolish. People who have a vested financial interest in producing and financing lower-risk energy production are not reliable sources for Iowa energy planning. We must follow and lead science with logic rather than fear of innovation.
Patricia Patnode is an editor of Gazette. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org