With fossil fuels diminishing and climate change on the rise, the world is looking for more environmentally clean energy sources to be the new champions of our Earth’s colosseum. Stepping from the ashes of the coal giants and the other fossil fuels, the great warriors of nuclear energy and solar energy emerge. Nuclear energy is the energy stored in the nucleus of an atom. Releasing this energy from the atoms is what gives way to the nuclear energy that we can use. The main way this is done by mankind is through nuclear fission. Nuclear power plants use nuclear fission to split apart atoms to form smaller atoms, which releases energy and generates heat that typically turns a turbine.
Solar energy harnesses the power from the sun. We can take radiation in the form of light from the sun and convert it into electricity. This is typically done through photovoltaic cells, or PV cells, which are made of semi-conductive materials like silicon. When sunlight is absorbed by the PV cells, photons of light can transfer that energy to electrons, which creates energy in the form of an electric current as the electrons flow through the material.
Solar energy is classified as a renewable energy source, since it is a source of energy that can theoretically regenerate and replenish itself indefinitely. While some argue that nuclear energy should also be classified as renewable, most agree that it is a sustainable energy source. This means that while nuclear power may not be seen as infinite, the rate that it is consumed is insignificant compared to the amount of the supply. It’s like the kale of energy sources. Sure, there is only a finite amount of the stuff, but who would ever eat so much kale that the world would run out?
So how did nuclear energy all get started? In 1954, the Russian installation APS-1 was the world’s first nuclear power plant that generated electricity for commercial use. Today, there are around 450 nuclear power plants world-wide, in operation and under construction. The United States is home to 99 of those power plants, which is more than Russia, China, and India combined.
In 1941, the first solar cell was invented. Today, there are over 75 solar thermal power stations around the world that have a capacity of over 0.25 megawatts.
Nuclear power supplies about 4.8% of the world’s total energy while solar power supplies less than 1.4%. Nuclear power generates around 10.6% of the electricity used around the world while solar energy supplies less than 6.3%. It looks like we have nuclear energy to thank more for the electricity flowing through our technology.
When looking at horrific accidents like the disaster in Chernobyl, Nuclear Energy can get a bad reputation for being an extremely dangerous form of energy. With the fear of harmful radiation, radioactive waste, and the possible threats of nuclear reactor meltdowns, many people want to move away from nuclear energy. But in reality, very few deaths actually occur directly or indirectly from nuclear power plants.
While the power of nuclear energy should not be underestimated, it might actually be safer than solar energy. Based off of recent findings, solar energy appears to have a death rate of 0.44 deaths per terawatt hour. Nuclear energy appears to have a death rate of only 0.04 deaths per terawatt hour. More research would be helpful to further these findings, but if nuclear truly is safer, then his is made even more significant by the fact that nuclear power supplies a far greater amount of the world’s total energy than solar power does.
So nuclear energy seems to cost less lives, but does it cost less money? In the United States, solar energy costs around 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. Nuclear energy costs around 2 cents per kilowatt-hour in the United States.
Not only does nuclear energy seem to be far cheaper in terms of operating costs at around 1/6 the price of solar, but it also doesn’t require large amounts of land either. It would take around 45 square miles of solar photovoltaic panels to be able to produce the same amount of electricity that a single, multi-reactor nuclear power plant could produce. In all fairness, with solar panels having the ability to go on the roofs of homes and buildings, it might not take up that much extra space, but the difference between their spatial needs is still staggering.
France is a big fan of nuclear energy, with over 75% of their electricity coming from nuclear power plants. Our friends in France make Nuclear energy look very enticing since they are the world’s largest net exporter of electricity. They also rank 2nd in total nuclear power generation at 419 billion kWh , with the United States in the lead at 798 billion kWh.
Germany and China pave the way in solar energy production with over 80,000 megawatts of installed photovoltaic power between them. The United States doesn’t seem to be as big of a supporter of solar power; Americans get around 25,000 megawatts of installed photovoltaic power. The United Kingdom only has about 10,0000 megawatts of installed photovoltaic power; pretty low for the birthplace of The Beatles. The UK must not have been listening when they sang Here Comes The Sun.
Both nuclear and solar energy have great potential for power sources of the future. If there’s one thing for certain, the world can always use better advancements in our energy production so that we can continue to fuel our ever-advancing society.
We hope you enjoyed this battle of nuclear and solar energy. Which energy source do you think reigns supreme? What other video topics would you like us to do in the future? Let us know in the comments below! And if you like our videos and want to help us continue to make more of them, please head on over to our Patreon and show us some love. As always, don’t forget to give this video a like and make sure to subscribe so you can keep up with the show!