COLUMN: How about a nuclear plant on Gasparilla Island? –

Every person that I know is in favor of protecting our environment. None of us wish to see air pollution, water pollution, or anything else that may negatively impact our quality of life and that of our friends, neighbors, and families.

That said, here in Charlotte County, we should ask questions about any of the so called “clean energy “ options that some are in favor of. Solar and wind power, along with “carbon taxes”, are proposed by folks who call themselves “environmentalists.” All aspects of these proposals should be carefully examined. Babcock Ranch is one of the largest producers of solar energy in Florida. This would seem to be excellent progress, however some caveats exist. Where are the tens of thousands of solar panels that create that energy for us produced? The vast majority used in the U.S. are manufactured in China, often by underpaid, forced labor. The same is true for many of the components of wind turbines and lithium batteries.

Even if we wished to produce these components here, we lack many of the raw materials in this country, and thus would have to import them. The International Energy Agency has pointed out in a major report that today, 84% of the world’s energy is produced by oil, natural gas and coal. Wind, solar and battery technologies are built from a wide range of minerals that need to be mined, such as lithium,graphite, nickel and rare earth minerals. To move towards an energy transition such as envisioned by President Biden, demand for such minerals would explode, rising 4,200% for lithium alone by 2040. The world does not now have the capacity to meet such a demand.

The IEA states that green energy machines use far more critical minerals than conventional energy machines. A typical electric car requires six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car. An offshore wind plant requires nine time more mineral resources than a gas fired power plant. To produce all of the minerals required for this “green “ transition will require big footprint mines, the transport of massive amounts or rock and other solid materials, large chemical processing and refining facilities, along with the destruction of huge amounts of land for the mines.

I find it strange that all of our local environmental activists ignore the one source of clean power that does not have most of these negative issues. Nuclear power. There has never been a nuclear accident in the U.S. that caused any deaths, including the one at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.

Today, modern nuclear plants are far smaller and far more efficient than in the past. France gets nearly 80% of it’s electricity from nuclear plants, and has created an efficient means of dealing with spent nuclear fuel called glassification. Current research on nuclear fusion show that these plants will create no spent fuel waste when that technology is perfected some day.

Could our part of SW Florida be home to a small efficient, nonpolluting nuclear plant? Where could it be sited so it could have access to a sufficient amount of cooling water?

We actually do have one location that could be considered. The abandoned phosphate dock area at the end of Gasparilla Island. The advantage here is the tremendous flow of water through Boca Grande Pass. A small plant would not use enough sea water to raise the water temperature in the pass. However this would have to be carefully researched to make absolutely sure the environment of the pass would not be damaged. This kind of research was done when Vermont Yankee was built on the Connecticut River at the border of Vermont and Massachusetts. The study showed no negative effects on the river, and that river’s flowage is far less than the amount of water coming through Boca Grande Pass.

We need to look at ALL of our options to create clean energy for Florida. Solar and wind are not the only ones. We need to seriously look at safe nuclear power, and urge the government and industry to continue the research which will make nuclear fusion power a reality for us and our descendants’ future.


June 5, 2021 Mary Sparks