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Human beings have been using fossil fuels for hundreds of years, satisfying the demand of industrialization. The behavior of using fossil fuels, on the other hand, causes huge pollution, such as soil, water and atmosphere contamination. In addition, fossil fuels, such as solid, liquid and gas, are all facing on the exhaustion. It is evidential that the situations need to be checked or repressed. However, the solutions should satisfy the urgent requirement of energy as well. Nuclear and solar energy are two clean, practicable solutions for human beings. Because they have been tested and been put to use since the mid twentieth century. On the surface, nuclear and solar energy seem absolutely different in other aspects except for low direct pollution and practicability. In fact, they share some significant similarities while they are totally different in other aspects. This essay will concentrate on comparing and contrasting nuclear and solar energy by discussing the similarities in gas emissions, high expend in increasing efficiency and electricity price, and the differences in safety and equipments.
There are numerous similarities between nuclear and solar energy. The most significant one is that they are pollution-free and have no direct emission of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases. Both nuclear and solar energy will give a carbon dioxide saving of 1330kg for 1kw electric power per year (Bosshard, 2006). Even though they lead to indirect emission of gases, the quantity of pollutant is small and unavoidable.
However, at the price of low emission, the improvement of efficiency is expensive and difficult for both. In other words, they require high expenses in material and maintenance, especially when increasing the electricity production. Furthermore, according to Bosshard (2006) and Murray (2000), low efficiency is a traditional challenge for nuclear energy to conquer as it is in the solar energy field. Nuclear plant has efficiency about 7% in collecting radioactive energy to drive dynamotors. Merely 30-40% energy can be converted into electricity power by dynamotors. Likewise, neither silicon solar cell nor compound solar cell has an average efficiency which is over 16% (Edmonds, 2007). Even thought both nuclear and solar energy have plans for increase of efficiency—fusion for nuclear energy and Thin Film Poly for solar energy—that will make a great improvement in efficiency, these techniques will not be conquer and put into application within a decade.
Another common point that these two kinds of energy share together is the price of electricity. According to Thamm (2007), the price for solar energy is $0.35-$0.6 per kWh for solar cell and $0.085-$0.135 per kWh for solar thermal, while Fell (2006) claimed that the nuclear electricity price was from $0.3/kWh to $0.6/kWh; whereas, comparing to fossil fuels energy, which is merely 0.04 dollar per kilowatt-hour; hence, the expensive costs these two energies need will influence the competitive ability of worldwide market obviously.
In spite of the similarities, safety is the main problem. It caused the differences of worldwide application in fund input and popularity between nuclear and solar energy. According to Duncan (2002), radioactive materials are regarded as the most basic sources for nuclear plant, which is extremely deadly pollutant. Therefore, as a solution, it will be stored in deeply in the earth with high-end and mature technology. Nuclear energy becomes one of the luxury goods for some wealthy countries. In contrast, solar energy application is much safer, such as solar cell, it can not only be built in solar station but also be applied in every aspect of daily life in both developed and developing countries. For instance, it supplies energy to homes or even playthings. Furthermore, the two famous nuclear accidents, The Three Mile Island in 1979 and The Chernobyl in 1986, are regarded as the another main evident reason for environmentalists to refuse nuclear power and for many counties to prefer putting more fund into other clean energy like solar energy.
There are three differences of the equipment applied to generate electricity for these two kinds of energy. The main difference involves the principle of operation of energy transformation. In this area, solar energy is more direct. Gonyeau (2003) stated that nuclear plant applied some special substance to absorb the radioactive energy from radioactive material in order to convert the energy into the heat of vapor, which would drive the thermoelectric generator to produce electricity. Moreover, heavy water, which is so difficult to produce that its value is higher than gold, is requite as Refrigerant. In contrast, Solar equipments prefer to generate electricity more directly by collecting photon energy and transforming it into potential energy in the cell or just gather the heat of light with water or parabolic dish collector (Corporation, 2008). As result, solar energy is more convenient than nuclear energy. Not only the ways of energy transformation are distinct, protection problem is also regarded as the area where difference exists. Nuclear plant needs frequent examination and to be well protected, because every little mistake will deal to the over heated of the reactor which is likely to cause the disaster that beyond retrieve. However, solar equipments are more easy to be controlled and do not requite as much care as nuclear plant does. The last point of difference is in energy gathering. It is obviously that nuclear plant can generate hundreds of times electricity than solar equipments (Edmonds, 2007). In addiction, difficulty in gathering energy is regarded as the disadvantage of solar energy, while the nuclear plant is good at this work.
From what has been discussed above, it is easy to identify that solar energy is more promising than nuclear energy for its pollution-free production, safety, and convenience. Also, while nuclear energy, especially the fusion reaction that will be applied in future, is much danger and shouldering the pressure of nuclear proliferation, solar energy has wider and wider application in all aspects in society. Moreover, solar energy is one of the energies which are almost infinity for humankinds, because it can be found even outside the solar system; while nuclear energy is suffering the shortage of source. In brief, solar energy will develop well and become far more popular than now.
In conclusion, by comparing and contrasting these two kinds of energy, it is clear that nuclear and solar energy share the common point of low greenhouse gas emissions and high cost of electricity. However, they still differ in many areas such as safety and principle of operation of devices. It is evidently that the application of nuclear and solar energy will grow in the future; while solar energy is more promising. Although there are several difficulties for both nuclear and solar energy to conquer, great progresses will be made. Consequently, they will serve Human beings and satisfy the increasing demand of consuming energy.