Solar/wind vs. nuclear energy: Which is better?
- About 454 nuclear reactors supply power for 31 countries worldwide, representing around 10% of global electricity consumption.
- According to the US Wind Turbine Database, in 2022, over 72,000 wind turbines were generating power in 44 US states, as well as Guam and Puerto Rico.
- A young French physicist named Edmond Becquerel discovered the basis of solar power, the photovoltaic effect, in 1839.
- A recent Pew Research Center survey revealed that 72% of US adults say that the US government should “encourage production of wind and solar power,” while only 35% felt the same about nuclear power.
Modern living and the progress of developing countries depend on the cheap, plentiful and reliable energy supplied by the fossil fuel and nuclear industries. Nuclear power, in particular, significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions worldwide while simultaneously meeting the increased energy demands of a growing world population and sustaining global development. Though constantly smeared, nuclear energy is, in reality, a safe, reliable, and effective means of energy production that emits practically no greenhouse gasses and produces manageable waste that does not harm the environment. Regarding carbon emissions, client scientists continue to disagree on whether the increased presence of CO2 in the atmosphere is solely a man-made and negative effect, as there are a myriad of factors that go into something as complex as climate. It’s too simplistic a view to lay all the blame on an ever-changing climate on carbon dioxide, a naturally occurring and essential chemical for all life on earth.
Conversely, solar and wind only provide energy on minuscule scales and are unreliable, weak sources of energy. They only work while the sun shines and the wind blows. They cannot be stored or saved. They require vast amounts of money and space to operate and rely on additional fossil fuels not only to build their panels and turbines but also as a backup when they inevitably cease to provide the power needed during harsh seasonal months when sunlight and wind are scarce. This is why, even with the help of government subsidies, no country has come close to being even 50% powered by renewable energy. To continue enjoying the amazing standard of living we have today, we need policies that allow nuclear energies to continue without hindrance.
Coal-fueled power plants have burdened our environment with airborne pollutants known to damage health. These plants also produce over 100 million tons of coal ash annually leading to polluted waterways and contaminated water supplies. However, the largest issue associated with coal-burning power plants is their carbon emissions, which are directly connected to global warming.
Clearly, we need to redirect our energy investments into options that don’t add to carbon emissions. Investing in a combination of wind and solar energy offers us the best solution to reducing carbon emissions from energy production without trading the issue of toxic wastes in the form of coal ash and air pollutants for that of nuclear waste.
Although a small amount of carbon pollution is created during the process of manufacturing solar power panels and wind turbines and developing solar farms and wind arrays, these plentiful energy sources are themselves pollution-free.
Nuclear power plants cast off huge amounts of waste. Although the majority of nuclear waste is considered “low level” waste, the International Atomic Energy Agency indicates that a nuclear reactor sufficient to power a city the size of Amsterdam (approximately 1000MW (e)) will produce around 30 tons of “high level” waste annually. This waste is highly radioactive, toxic, and extremely long-lived. It takes around 10,000 years for the radioactivity levels of “high level” waste to return to the levels it had when originally mined.
Energy produced with wind or solar power has no such safety risk attached to it—both methods are renewable, meaning “naturally replenishing resource[s] that produce[s] zero emissions.” In the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, it’s common sense to invest in solar and wind power going forward.