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Toxic Waste From Solar Panels: 300 Times That of Nuclear Power

June 29, 2017

By Paul Homewood


So much for “clean” energy!



Guest post by David Middleton

Are We Headed for a Solar Waste Crisis?

June 28, 2017 by Mark Nelson

Last November, Japan’s Environment Ministry issued a stark warning: the amount of solar panel waste Japan produces every year will rise from 10,000 to 800,000 tons by 2040, and the nation has no plan for safely disposing of it.

Neither does California, a world leader in deploying solar panels. Only Europe requires solar panel makers to collect and dispose of solar waste at the end of their lives.

All of which begs the question: just how big of a problem is solar waste?

Environmental Progress investigated the problem to see how the problem compared to the much more high-profile issue of nuclear waste.

We found:

  • Solar panels create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than do nuclear power plants.
  • If solar and nuclear produce the same amount of electricity over the next 25 years that nuclear produced in 2016, and the wastes are stacked on football fields, the nuclear waste would reach the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (52 meters), while the solar waste would reach the height of two Mt. Everests (16 km).
  • In countries like China, India, and Ghana, communities living near e-waste dumps often burn the waste in order to salvage the valuable copper wires for resale. Since this process requires burning off the plastic, the resulting smoke contains toxic fumes that are carcinogenic and teratogenic (birth defect-causing) when inhaled.

The study defines as toxic waste the spent fuel assemblies from nuclear plants and the solar panels themselves, which contain similar heavy metals and toxins as other electronics, such as computers and smartphones.


By Jemin Desai and Mark Nelson

Jemin Desai is an EP Fellow and a student at UC Berkeley. Mark Nelson is EP Senior Researcher.

Energy Collective

Full post here.

  1. June 29, 2017 2:30 pm

    It is my understanding that in the UK the suppliers of solar panels have to take them back for recycling or disposal. Which begs two questions. How many of the suppliers will still be around in 25 years time and how many of the panels will magically disappear.

    • Mike Jackson permalink
      June 29, 2017 3:09 pm

      A1 — None. Those that look as if they might will rapidly morph into something quite innocent – “Nah, mate, before my time. Anyway, I’m just the janitor!”

      A2 — Lots!

      It is, however, no joking matter. My grand-daughter’s generation is going to have to mop up this mess and if the present generation of eco-activists and shysters have their way she won’t be able to afford to. And be sure they’ll find some way to avoid having to foot the bill. As no doubt will the politicians.

      • John F. Hultquist permalink
        June 29, 2017 7:46 pm

        Insofar as the free money (tax payer subsidy) has gone to the original investor, all that is left is the residual value of materials. Discarded cell phones and wine bottles come to mind. There is not a lot of demand for either, thus no real value.

        I’ve seen your A1 ( “the morph” ) happen. In one case, the last person left had the scrapbook and not much else.

  2. Richard permalink
    June 29, 2017 3:27 pm

    As if those householders smugly pocketing their high input tariffs even give a damn!
    I think it is tax free.

  3. Curious George permalink
    June 29, 2017 5:15 pm

    I never trusted these estimates – they tend to compare apples with oranges.

  4. mwhite permalink
    June 29, 2017 6:18 pm

    What are the toxic products exactly??

    • John F. Hultquist permalink
      June 29, 2017 7:53 pm

      The reason for this high waste is that solar panels contain lead, cadmium and chromium. Cadmium has an interesting history use.
      from artist’s paints to much else

      Chemistry is your friend.

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