Solar Waste Vs. Nuclear Waste (Important Facts to Know)

The reality of using the benefits of these types of energies comes with inevitable consequences. It is not uncommon for remarkable discoveries of technology to come with their advantages and disadvantages. However, which of these two energy sources exerts the most waste, and how damaging is it to the environment?

Nuclear waste is more damaging than Solar Waste as the elements are thrown away more frequently because of usage and disposal and are more harmful than the other. Unfortunately, these quantities of waste will become higher as recycling methods are more expensive than merely dumping them in a landfill.

However, we have still yet to analyze the various data gathered to announce these claims. How are both forms of waste stored and disposed of? How harmful is both waste to the environment truly? Could they possibly be detrimental to humans as well? Let us look in-depth to answer all of these intriguing questions.

Solar Waste  Vs. Nuclear Waste

The Disposal Of Solar Waste And Its Harmfulness

According to research by the International Renewable Energy Agency, by the year 2030, the annual amount of solar waste will largely increase, which could sum up to 78 million tons of solar waste by the year 2050. However, additional data analyzed by HBR (Harvard Business Review) reveals that the numbers previously calculated could be much more significant.

Not all solar energy consumers use the entire 30-year life cycle of solar panels. Therefore, people could potentially increase the amount of waste disposal because of early replacements. With no failures and early replacements by 2050, there will be approximately 18 gigawatts disposed of rather than the 16 gigawatts predicated by IRENA.

As shocking as these figures might be, this data only relates to residential installations, omitting commercial and industrial usage of solar energy. With these institutions added to the pile, the scale of replacements could increase substantially.

The Elevated Price Of Solar Waste Disposal

Solar waste

Solar panels get primarily manufactured from glass which is a highly low-value material. Because solar panels do not contain a minor number of valuable materials such as silver, solar energy producers have neglected their recycling infrastructure. In addition, the long lifespan of solar panels also contributes to disincentive innovation in this area.

First Solar, situated in the United States, is the sole panel producer known to have an up-and-functioning recycling program, which only works with the company’s products. Current financial statistics cost around $20 to $30 to recycle a single panel. However, sending that same panel to a landfill would cost a small amount ranging from $1 to $2.

The cost of transportation of these panels can also vary to other energy producers as the attachment and detachment of these panels require specialized laborers. In addition, certain governments consider solar panels as hazardous waste because they contain evidence of minor heavy metals such as cadmium and lead.

Solar Waste Effect On The Environment

Solar waste effect on environment

As solar panels deteriorate in landfills, the toxic metals it contains can spread into the environment and potentially cause various possible public health hazards such as extending into the groundwater supply and affecting plants. Solar waste also has a record for detrimental effects on human health.

Solar panels need very pure silicon to assist the cells in working correctly. However, the production of this component includes nitrogen trifluoride and sulfur hexafluoride, which are known to be some of the most harmful greenhouse gases discovered.

Background On Nuclear Waste Production

Nuclear waste production

Nuclear waste, also known as radioactive waste, is a byproduct of nuclear reactors, fuel processing institutions, hospitals, and research facilities. In addition, radioactive waste gets produced by the decommissioning or dismantling of aged atomic facilities. The waste gets classified into two groups: high-level and low-level waste. 

High-level waste mainly comes from spent fuel removed from reactors after electricity production. However, low-level waste gets produced from industrial reactor operations and medical, academic, and commercial uses of radioactive elements.

Storage And Disposal Of Nuclear Waste

SFP storage

All nuclear plants in America place nuclear fuel in containers labeled “spent fuel pools.” These pools get constructed from reinforced concrete, several feet thick, with additional steel liners. The water stored inside has a depth of 40 feet and cools the rods, and contains the radiation.

As these pools become highly occupied over the years, utilities move some of the older spent fuel into “dry cask” storage. These casks are stainless steel canisters which then get surrounded by concrete. Here the waste waits till these institutions can fully dispose of it. However, there are currently no permanent disposal methods of high-level nuclear waste.

Effects Of High-Level Waste On The Environment

Radiation Zone

High-level nuclear waste is highly hazardous because they emit fatal radiation doses during brief periods of direct exposure. In addition, if isotopes from these high-level wastes contaminate groundwater or rivers, they could potentially find their way into various food chains. 

The dosage of this indirect exposure would be much smaller than a dose directly; however, a much more significant percentage of the population could become exposed to this waste.

Effects Of Low-Level Waste On The Environment

Measuring Radiation

Easily depicted from the name, low-level waste is not as damaging as high-level waste. This concept is because low-level waste primarily consists of items that have become contaminated with radioactive elements or have become radioactive because of exposure to neutron radiation.

Individuals can find low-level waste in many places such as shoe covers, clothing, mops, filters, equipment or tools, medical equipment, and even tissues. The scale of radioactivity ranges from background levels found in nature to many elevated levels, such as parts from inside a reactor vessel in a nuclear power plant.


To conclude, solar waste can become quite a problem for the environment in the future if new ways of recycling panels do not become discovered. We can also see clearly that much more precautions get taken when disposing of nuclear waste because it has showcased being more harmful even though it has different levels of radiation waste.

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