Ontario Power Generation, a government-owned electric company, recently proposed the development of a nuclear waste facility less than a mile from Lake Huron. Citizens have raised concerns about the proposal since some of the waste materials were found to be “hundreds of times more radioactive” than originally reported to the Canadian government. Radiation in Lake Huron could harm Michigan lake-based industries such as tourism and taint the source of drinking water relied upon by millions of Americans. Though some forms of clean electrical generation such as nuclear energy are more beneficial to the environment than coal-fired plants, the negative effects must be addressed first. Michigan should continue to work closely with the Canadian government and regulatory agencies to prevent the development of the proposed facility and formulate viable alternatives for the disposal of nuclear waste.
Clean energies harness essentially abundant resources — such as the sun or wind — to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the quality of the environment. Nuclear energy is a unique form of energy generation because it’s almost entirely free of greenhouse gas emissions and thus can ameliorate air quality concerns. Additionally, clean energy industries have the potential to stimulate job growth and the economy. As of 2010, the state of Michigan had more than 70,000 “clean” jobs. In Michigan alone, the nuclear facilities support more than 2,900 employees and buy more than $117 million worth of materials, supporting related Michigan companies.
Yet, there are several negative consequences from these clean energy options. Though nuclear power is efficient, nuclear waste disposal, like the process that would happen in the proposed site, is hazardous due to its radioactivity. These drawbacks, however, aren’t limited to nuclear energy. Wind turbines have shown to reduce bat populations by more than 600,000 in a given year because of the pressure changes associated with the blades. Similarly, solar panel waste is toxic and can pollute water supplies when improperly disposed of.
Though these problems are detrimental, there are relatively straightforward solutions to mitigate the effects. Proposed solutions for the bat population problem caused by wind turbines include the incorporation of radar or ultrasonic acoustics, painting turbines different colors or taking animal territory into consideration when placing the turbines. However, there is still not enough knowledge to fix all of the drawbacks of clean energy since the integration of these technologies is relatively recent. Two years ago, researchers at Michigan State University studied a bacteria, Geobacter, which could clean up nuclear waste. However, the bacteria is not yet able to be used for large-scale cleanup. For many clean energy sources, it is still unclear how to preserve the environmental benefits while reducing the negative effects associated with them.
Clean energy has the potential to be an environmentally and financially sound solution despite its drawbacks. More money should be invested into researching methods to reduce and even eliminate the negative effects of clean energy. There should also be more regulation to further ensure the prevention of environmental mishaps. Initiatives focused on the environment can reduce the stigma of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s failing environmental grade and make Michigan a frontrunner in environmental policy.