Thursday, March 24, 2011

Nuclear vs. Solar

"Nuclear energy is safe."

Unless you put nuclear plants near earthquake prone areas that are also susceptible to tsunamis.  Additionally, there is the having to deal with the waste produced by the nuclear fusion process.  Spent energy rods tend to need a place far away from humans for about a quarter of a million years so, there's that.  Worst case scenario in a nuclear power plant is the cooling systems fail, the plant melts down making the area within a 20 mile radius inhabitable, while releasing tons of radioactive material into the atmosphere, and killing tens of thousands with cancer.

Solar energy on the other hand does not require the same production footprint.  While there are waste products created in the construction of solar panels, and fossil fuels consumed to create them, once completed, solar energy produces no emissions.  The worst case scenario is a newer more efficient one is developed, and you have to toss the old one in a land fill.

The difference between the two is efficiency.  A small nuclear power plant can power over 25,000 homes. To produce that amount of energy you'd need around a million solar panels, or around 30 to 40 per house.  The real difference is that nuclear power plants work all day and all night, while solar power only works its best during clear sunny days.

So, while solar panels have never killed anyone, they aren't washing the market clean of other energy sources.  Even though solar energy is ambient, meaning that it is just sitting out there, most of it is still just sitting there waiting to be collected and employed.  One doesn't even need solar cells to collect it, a series of mirrors all aimed at the boiling pot of a steam engine will produce usable clean energy.

Rather than fully employ a rather benign energy source that is all around us, it is cheaper to attempt to control a nuclear reaction.  $9,000 per kwh for solar and we kill no one vs. $1,500 per kwh for nuclear, and we could possibly destroy 100 sq miles for decades and kill tens of thousands of people... which seems more reasonable?

We need energy, because we are a consumption nation.  So let's invest in energy sources that won't kill us, and we don't have to kill anyone for...  Rather than create a process we can't 'always' control, that makes waste that remains toxic for millennia, why not just fully employ what is all around us and is perfectly safe?

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