Solar's NIMBY Problem: A lawsuit along I-90 demonstrates that "clean" energy has its dirty side

As we reported in last week's cover story ("The Atomic Reboot," March 17), many of the people living near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation are happy to have the job-creating site as a neighbor. But opponents still insist nuclear power is a risky and dangerous energy source, preferring wind and solar, which don't carry the threat of Chernobyl-like accidents.Developer Victor Jansen hasn't weighed in on the nuclear debate, but he claims solar has its own toxic issues. Last week he filed suit to stop construction of a plant that would manufacture silane gas—a necessary component of solar panels. According to Jansen, the gas, if inhaled in too high a concentration, will make your "lungs crystallize, resulting in permanent injury and death." And he's worried it will seep into the air over 61 acres of land he owns adjacent to the site in Moses Lake, a town most Seattleites know as a place to stop for fuel and food between here and Spokane on I-90.Norwegian-owned company REC Silicon, Inc. has been making parts for solar panels in Moses Lake since 2002. The company plans to start manufacturing 9,000 metric tons of silane gas every year at the site.Jansen is asking the court to stop construction, saying that REC Silicon didn't go through the proper channels to get permission from the state. Beyond that, he claims, the company has a history of failing to monitor chemical emissions and accidents. REC hasn't yet responded in court.

 
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