Quote for the Day

By Keith Kloor | October 12, 2011 10:26 am

Dig into the political history of nuclear power, as I did for “The Fallout,” published in the magazine this week, and one swiftly discovers that the success and failure of this technology hinges to an extraordinary degree on the political culture of the governments behind it.

–Evan Osnos in the The New Yorker.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: nuclear power
MORE ABOUT: nuclear power
  • Tom Scharf

    I have noted a common thread in some liberal positions on science.  Fear of things they cannot touch / feel.

    Nuclear energy: fear
    AGW:  fear
    GMO: fear

    Possibly some people have a difficult time understanding and trusting things that are “virtual” to the senses.  Areas of real science, but abstract in measurement and control.  FUD of anything not directly manipulative by human senses.  

    A common thread to inconsistent thinking on science?

  • Keith Kloor

    I have noted a common thread in conservative positions on science. Fear of things that upset their worldview.

    stem cell science
    climate change 

    It is possible that some people have a difficult time understanding and trusting things that conflict with their religious and political ideology.

    A common thread to inconsistent thinking on science? 

  • jeffn

    Stem cell science- has been progressing all decade because the “ban” on it never was a ban.
    Evolution isn’t an issue anywhere other than in the fevered imaginations of the hyper-partisan
    Climate change? Explain why climate change would have any affect on a conservative’s “world view.” Conservatives have been proponents of nuclear power and domestic production of natural gas for decades. The only “conflict with religious and political ideology” there is the warmers who think climate change is a big enough issue to challenge assumptions about capitalism, but not about environmentalism.
    When climate change is a big enough issue to upset Greenpeace’s world view, I’ll take notice.

  • charlie

    Very interesting essay:


    “The knowledge that every problem has an answer, even and perhaps especially if that answer may be difficult to find, meets a deeply felt human need.  For that reason, many people become obsessive about artificial worlds, such as computer games, in which they can see the connection between actions and outcomes. Many economists who pursue these approaches are similarly asocial.  It is probably no accident that economics is by far the most male of the social sciences.
    One might learn skills or acquire useful ideas through playing these games, and some users do. If the compilers are good at their job, as of course they are, the sound effects, events, and outcomes of a computer game resemble those we hear and see ““ they can, in a phrase that Lucas and his colleagues have popularised, be calibrated against the real world.  But that correspondence does not, in any other sense, validate the model.  The nature of such self-contained systems is that successful strategies are the product of the assumptions made by the authors.  It obviously cannot be inferred that policies that work in Grand Theft Auto are appropriate policies for governments and businesses. ”

    Hmm. does this sound familar? 

  • Tom Fuller

    Numbers 1, 2 and 3, you guys are torturing the data to make it fit into a liberal/conservative confrontation. It isn’t.

    Most people are ignorant about these issues. That is why they are afraid. They are most afraid of what the people they trust put first on the agenda. People who are anti-vaxers are not necessarily cool with GMOs. They just hear about it more.

    This is not a domestic political issue. It is part of the human condition that has prevailed for a very long time. Get the Dem/Rep stuff out of the debate and it is simpler, more logical and probably easier to agree on. 

  • jeffn

    Tom- agree 100%. It was always a mistake to make this a partisan issue. Still is.
    There are “solutions” to energy that have widespread bi-partisan support. Do them instead of attempting to claim “evolution” is a hot political topic.

  • harrywr2

    the success and failure of this technology hinges to an extraordinary degree on the political culture of the governments behind it.
    The success or failure of many things depends on openness and dispelling myths. The fear of the unknown is great.
    Lot’s of people chose to live in earthquake prone , hurricane prone , flood prone areas. History tells us that for the most part, life goes on after such events.(For some it doesn’t).
    The nuclear industry hasn’t done itself many favors by arguing that a nuclear plant will never cook off. It’s the wrong argument.
    The argument necessarily needs to be that in the very unlikely event that a nuclear plant cooks off X will happen and for the most part life will go on after a period of ‘substantial inconvenience’.
    Fukushima is simultaneously the best and worst thing to happen to the nuclear industry in 30 years.
    The whole ‘if an accident occurs thousands or millions will be killed and thousands of square miles of land will be rendered uninhabitable for thousands or tens of thousands of years’ meme that lives in the imaginations of some will be dispelled by actual facts and be replaced by ‘in the unlikely event of an accident few if any people will be killed and we will have a substantial temporary displacement and a cleanup to do’.
    Life goes on after a nuclear accident, just like after a tornado or flood or hurricane or earthquake.


  • hunter

    You perhaps could have thought through your knee jerk resopnse to Tom and sounded a whole lot more well informed.
    The only stem cell research objected to by conservatives was that which destroys embryos. Since the important advances in stem cell research has come from non-embryonic stem cells, that has turned out to be a good call.
    But cultural values do in fact inform our research and policy choices at all times.
    PETA people reject diong science from proven sources like animal research. That is non-scientific, but based on their values. It also happens to hurt the science product. PETA is generally considered a leftist organization. Ending the use of animals in research will hurt a lot more than using teh effective and proven stem cell sources Conservative are comfortable with.
    I am a conservative and Christian and believe in evolution, so your broad brush might be fun, but most conservatives are closer to my pov than your stereotypical position would like.
    The climate always changes. Lefties are convinced climate only changes when evil people are around. Which is less scientific?
    The use of reactionary stereotypes by so many on the AGW believer side of the issue does not help and I wish it would stop sooner than later.

  • Barry Woods

    Keith lefties like MarkLynas and George Monbiot..

    might agree with 2 out of three of these #1

    Nuclear energy: fear
    AGW: fear
    GMO: fear

    These knee jerk reactions are not like you..  #2

    of course, not everyone tha comments here is American, so the constant democrat/rebublican thing, really grates. 

  • Matt B

    Does the “public” in any developed country make sense on these types of issues?

    France – raw milk dairy products and nuke power OK, no to GMO’s

    Germany – raw milk dairy products & E-Coli organic sprouts OK (or at least not banned), no to GMO’s & nukes

    US – nukes & GMO’s OK, no to raw milk dairy

    And the list can go on…….if there is an easy pattern to any of these issues I would love to hear it.

  • harrywr2

    if there is an easy pattern to any of these issues
    The Raw Milk and Organic issues are tied to how does one give a relatively small farm an economic advantage over a large farm and  how does one give domestic farmers an edge over foreign farmers without violating free trade agreements.
    In the US even our ‘small farms’ are considerably larger then European farms.
    As far as ‘irrational fear of radiation’ as far as I can tell it’s tied to various disinformation campaigns from the Cold War. I.E. The only way NATO could ‘hold the line’ in Germany in the event of a Soviet excursion would have been to resort to the use of tactical nukes. Hence there was a vigorous nuclear weapons debate in Germany.
    So the pattern is that  ‘concerns’ get elevated for reasons that have nothing to do with the actual concern.


  • Dean

    Possibly more to the point, nuclear power (so far) depends on attitudes towards government. As a capital intensive technology with a potential for catastrophic failure, it takes large government to fund it and to attempt to guarantee it’s safety. The two countries best known for using it a lot are France and Japan. France is a country where trust in big government is fairly broadly held, and Japan is a country where people tend to defer to authority (or at least they used to). Both allow government to take this on and trust them to do it safely.

    The US has a culture that does not trust government and it isn’t just environmentalists who don’t like nukes here. Finance doesn’t either.

    Windmills may require government subsidy so far, but we will never have to evacuate a large swath of land and abandon a city because of windmills.

    Nuclear advocates claim that next generation reactors will be smaller and safer. Whether that’s true or another case like too cheap to meter, only time will tell. But for now it isn’t.

  • harrywr2

    Dean Says:
    <i>The US has a culture that does not trust government and it isn’t just environmentalists who don’t like nukes here. Finance doesn’t either.</i>
    Vogtel 3 and 4 are going ahead and VC Summer 2 & 3 are going ahead.
    Finance doesn’t like
    1) Regulatory Risk
    2) Construction Risk
    3) Demand Risk
    The final regulatory hearings on the Vogtle and VC Summer projects have occurred, all anyone is waiting for is the required ‘Federal Register’ waiting period. Risk #1 is no longer an issue.
    The construction of Vogtle and VC Summer will answer risk #2.
    Risk #3 will remain an issue in unregulated markets where natural gas has a delivered price of less then $6/MMbtu.  

  • jeffn

    Dean: “Windmills may require government subsidy so far, but we will never have to evacuate a large swath of land and abandon a city because of windmills.”
    I don’t think that’s true. Turn off the power to Washington D.C. and New York in August (when the Atlantic high pressure systems settle in and the wind never blows and the heat index climbs over 100). There’s more than one type of evacuation/abandonment and people forget that there are a bunch of places that were considered all but uninhabitable in the middle of summer before air conditioning. Washington DC was one of them. The entire state of Florida was another.
    The argument for “renewables” is an overestimate of your fellow American’s willingness to do without electricity. Looked at in this light, the last 22 years of debate have been: “turn off the juice!” “no” “ad hom, ad hom, ad hom” “no”

  • harrywr2

    jeffn Says:
    when the Atlantic high pressure systems settle in and the wind never blows and the heat index climbs over 100.
    The same phenomena occurs on the West Coast –  heat wave or cold snap = NO Wind.
    We had no wind power on Oct 8th and 9th, most of the 10th then a couple of good days and back to nothing yesterday and so far nothing today. 3.5 GW worth of windmills doing absolutely nothing.
    7 day rolling statistics for the Northwest – http://transmission.bpa.gov/Business/Operations/Wind/baltwg.aspx
    Let’s check California
    California 24 hours rolling statistics – http://content.caiso.com/green/renewrpt/DailyRenewablesWatch.pdf
    The wind in California didn’t do much yesterday either…peaked out at 128MW out of 3,000MW + capacity
    So yesterday there was negligible wind in California, Oregon and Washington.
    /sarc on The wind is always blowing somewhere..if we just put up enough windmills and transmission towers it will average out. /sarc off


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Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at http://www.keithkloor.com/

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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