U.S. Liberals on Nuclear: "It’s Complicated."

By Chris Mooney | April 5, 2011 12:22 pm

Conservatives have long alleged that liberals and environmentalists have knee-jerk negative views of nuclear power, and twist science to support this prior ideological commitment.  Indeed, they’re making the allegation right now. Expecting as much, I hazarded a few weeks back that Fukushima might be a test case for whether a leftwing tendency to reject nuclear power based on an overblown sense of its risks is really a problem in the present.

It’s certainly true that since then, we have since seen a lot of anxiety and fear–much of it whipped up by the media, which in its frantic coverage has imparted a very skewed perception of the dread-to-risk ratio in the current case. By far the worst display of this phenomenon was Nancy Grace.

It’s also true that many liberals who opposed nuclear power in the 1960s and 1970s seem to be reliving much of that era. And there has been, from some on the left, clear exaggeration of the dangers of nuclear radiation and the amount of deaths (past and future) attributable to Chernobyl–Helen Caldicott being the prime example that I’ve seen so far.

However, I don’t see much evidence–though I’m willing to be convinced–that many on the U.S. left are making claims like Caldicott’s. Far from a wave of knee jerk rejection of nukes or science abuse—at a time when, if ever, that’s what you would expect to see—I’m instead seeing a lot of nuance and shades of gray thinking, and even a few cases of outright pro-nuclear contrarianism. For instance, here’s George Monbiot, writing about “Why Fukushima Made Me Stop Worrying and Love Nuclear Power.” No kidding.

An even more striking example is climate author and environmentalist Mark Lynas, excoriating the Swiss for moving their embassy out of Tokyo based on trumped up fears and writing that “The political fallout from Fukushima will be far more dangerous than anything physically radiaoactive”—because it will lead us to rely more on fossil fuels. Lynas wants us instead to focus on the next generation of safer nuclear reactors—as does Frank von Hippel, writing in the New York Times and also pointing out the nuclear vs. fossil fuels trade-off.

And here’s CNN Money, of all places: “Climate Hawks Still Support Nuclear Power.”

Shades of gray, again. It’s not either-or, it’s but-and.

It’s hard not to contrast this with conservatives and climate change, where as we all now know, rejection of the fundamental science has become increasingly monolithic—and doesn’t seem burdened by much uncertainty. This despite the fact that the validity of the basic science a much less gray and less complex issue at this point.

So at this point, I raise the question for discussion: What is the cause of the difference cited above? Or are the climate and nuclear issues too incomparable (or too complex) to draw any conclusions?

Comments (34)

Links to this Post

  1. A Detailed Challenge to Nuclear Fears - NYTimes.com | April 6, 2011
  1. It’s worth noting that James Lovelock who is as much pro-global warming as anyone else on the planet is an absolutely vociferous proponent of nuclear power. In his latest book “The Revenge of Gaia”, Lovelock has offered to safely bury the annual nuclear waste from a medium-sized nuclear power plan in his backyard.

    As I mentioned before, I think the major difference between anti-nuclear lefts and anti-climate change rights is that the former are given much more to exaggeration and alarmism while the latter display outright denial. I think the differences have to do with the general levels of scientific understanding and education among the two camps. Many more liberals compared to conservatives are scientifically minded. Fewer liberals compared to conservatives are religious fundamentalists which also adds to the difference. Thus, even unscientific liberals may be less prone to bonafide denial and more prone to misunderstanding the risks and benefits.

  2. I think it has something to do with an assessment of the potential damage that could be caused by nuclear power versus the nearly unavoidable and far greater damage that will be caused by global warming. Global warming really wasn’t even on the radar in the 60s and 70s.

  3. isaacschumann

    Someone else pointed this out, but for the life of me I can’t remember who, so apologies. The point is that while conservatives almost universally reject biology, they accept without question, nuclear science as well as ‘western’ medicine in general (which, ironically, is based largely in biology). waddya gonna do?

    Curious,

    I agree, the outright deniers on the left (i.e. anti-vaxxers, ‘frankenfoods’ scaremongers, new age woo types) are decidedly a minority, most are confused muddlers; whereas denial of certain aspects of science is pretty much a pre-requisite on the other side.

    Plus, it bears repeating, that these kinds of conversations don’t really happen on the right to my knowledge.

  4. Jon

    What is the cause of the difference cited above?

    It’s a combination of ideology, a political base willing to hear ideological messages uncritically, and the availability of money to broadcast that message relentlessly, with the help of a variety of institutions.

    See David Frum (he’s not specifically talking about climate policy, but the logic applies):

    http://www.frumforum.com/backing-the-gop-into-a-paranoid-corner

    For more on the intellectual history that laid the groundwork, see this post by an intellectual history prof:

    http://us-intellectual-history.blogspot.com/2011/03/cronon-affair-and-political-culture-of.html

    (Lots to unpack here, but he covers a lot of ground.)

    Sam Tanenhaus has a kind of Cliff’s Notes version here:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2231128/entry/2231131/

    In other words, conspiracy theorizing is built right into the conservative movement, and is present even in its intellectual foundations (which helped build the institutions mention in David Frum’s post).

  5. The two do seem incomparable, especially if you read them in reverse, from the political implications that their science implies. Accepting climate science means that a long-time strut of the American economy, energy, will have to deeply change. Accepting radiation biology simply means that one form of energy cannot flat-out be rejected. The depth and breadth of the political response can be tied directly to predictions of the science’s political effect.

    I have no evidence for this; it’s only a working hypothesis.

  6. Dave

    @isaacschumann

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that one side requires craziness, where craziness on the other only comes from a few outliers. To be clear, people like Sarah Palin don’t speak for all of us (or even most, from what I’ve seen). They’re just the loudest and easiest to hold up as crazies.

    I come from a pretty conservative area in the US, and I see all kinds of debate about AGW and the like. And really, it’s become increasingly difficult to pin down what being a conservative means. I do know that for some, they simply assume that every conservative is a young-earth, AGW denying religious zealot that opposes stem cell research and thinks we should bomb everything east of Israel.

    That might be a convenient stereotype for some, but it’s absurd. I don’t know anyone that fits that description. But that’s the straw man, and I’d dislike him too.

  7. JP

    Very much respect your work, Chris, but you’re wrong on the science underlying health and radiation. The Fukishima accident is an unmitigated public health disaster that will largely affect the Japanese but will also have a global impact.

    1. No radiation is good radiation. The National Academy of Sciences BIER Committee assembles epidemiological data and biological/genomic research and periodically releases their findings. Their last review (BIER VII) firmly states that radiation’s impact on human health follows a no-threshold linear relationship. In other words, there is no amount of radiation below which radiation poses no risk. Indeed, background radiation is responsible for 10% of all cancer deaths. The on-going Fukishima accident has added to background levels worldwide, and correspondingly, cancer risk has increased. (I trust health information from physicians and medical researchers over that of physicists who have a financial interest in the outcome.)
    See http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=030909156X
    2. The report on Chernobyl’s health impacts performed by UNSCEAR is deeply flawed. It’s important to note that UNSCEAR is aligned with IAEA — an agency tasked with promoting nuclear power. UNSCEAR’s Chernobyl report limited the scope of impact to skew the results. UNSCEAR failed to consider data pertaining to predicted cancers outside Ukraine, Belarus and Russia — which were likely in the many thousands. Nor did UNSCEAR model the impacts from more than a handful of radioisotopes whereas over a dozen were widely released.

    Inasmuch as I wish nuclear power could be part of the solution to climate change — and I’m holding out hope for thorium reactors — for now, when one considers the very real health impacts of nuclear power, the waste problem, cost, risk to taxpayers in subsidizing the industry and associated national security concerns, together these far outweigh the benefit.

    Last straw, because nuclear power plants cost so much to build, (and after Fukishima more regs and more costs are surely coming,) and when you add the energy used in developing the uranium fuel, it takes about nine years before one gets a net electron. Renewables (even with storage) have a much faster return on energy investment. And we need a fast return on our energy investment — time is not on our side.

  8. Nullius in Verba

    I suspect the reason for the difference is the usual confirmation bias and ‘tribal’ stereotyped assumptions. According to the poll statistics, about 30% of Republicans believe in, and are concerned about global warming. About 20-30% of Democrats are sceptical about it. Source.

    And here you all are, telling us how the conservative side is “monolithic” and not burdened with any uncertainty, how “conservatives almost universally reject biology” (I’d be interested to see your data on that one!), or “denial of certain aspects of science is pretty much a pre-requisite on the other side”. Conservatives are united! And yet you are seeing a mixture of views, nuance, shades of grey on the liberal side. Well of course you are – because you have set out to look for it!

    You can find the same variations and shades of grey amongst climate sceptics, if you look. The problem here is that conformity to an orthodoxy is a binary issue – either you conform or you don’t. When such an orthodoxy becomes a shibboleth of some belief system, conformity to some parts and not others is no different to rejecting every part of it. You either believe everything climate scientists tell you, or you are “anti-science”. But since being anti-nuclear has been dropped from the left’s catechism, more complex beliefs on radioactivity and nuclear power can be recognised as such. Ignorance and doubt about many aspects are forgiveable.

    Of course, from the point of view of a climate sceptic, (the greater proportion of) liberals are being unscientific about climate science, too, so it isn’t really a competition they see themselves competing in – as in our climate scepticism versus your nuclear scepticism. As far as we’re concerned, it works out the same either way. And anyway, how could we non-liberals possibly compete with the pure, concentrated science of this guy? He’s so scientific he almost had me convinced!

    Each side contains a continuous spectrum of views and levels of expertise – scientific, unscientific, and totally bonkers. That some of you think liberals and their views are somehow immune to human fallibility is telling. I don’t really see that much of a difference.

  9. Jon

    Nullius Of course, from the point of view of a climate sceptic, (the greater proportion of) liberals are being unscientific about climate science…

    Not to mention, from your point of view, 98% of scientists are being unscientific about climate change, right Nullius? (Oh right, you throw in weathermen as scientists, so you can quibble about that number.)

  10. Nullius in Verba

    #10,

    You mean 85% of climate scientists, of course. I haven’t seen any polling figures for scientists generally, although not being the slightest bit interested in ‘ad populam’ fallacies I haven’t really looked for them.

    Yes, meteorologists are scientists, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything. I assume you’re referring to that poll of TV meteorologists turning out mostly sceptical – but ‘ad populam’ doesn’t cease to be a fallacy just because the conclusion goes the way I want. Being scientific or not is not about the conclusion, but about the methods by which you arrive at it. I don’t really expect you’ll understand, though.

  11. Jon

    You mean 85% of climate scientists, of course.

    No, I mean 98%:

    97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC (Anthropogenic Climate Change) outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.

    Is that 97-98% dispositive of anything in a scientific sense? No. It’s the science that’s dispositive. But this is a true statement: You’re saying most liberals, and also 97-98% of published climate scientists are unscientific.

  12. Nullius in Verba

    #12,

    You’re drawing conclusions that don’t follow from the paper you’re citing, which is itself a paper that used a seriously flawed methodology that doesn’t support its own conclusions.

    What they did was to compile a list of climate sceptics (based on the sort of all-or-nothing division I discussed above that sees no greys), then use Google Scholar (!) to locate papers they had written with the word ‘climate’ in the title (!!), and then counted up how many in the top 50 or top 100 were on their sceptics list.

    - This does not tell you the percentage of all climate scientists, or even the percentage of those surveyed, holding any opinion.

    - The use of the top 100 picks the tails of the distribution, which emphasises any differences between distributions disproportionately. This is also an order statistic of a type that doesn’t generally converge with increasing sample size, and is not ‘robust’ in the statistical sense.

    - It’s based on getting published, and of course, we know how easy sceptics find it to get published: “It won’t be easy to dismiss out of hand as the math appears to be correct theoretically…”

    - It means that at most we have an effective sample size of 100, which even an amateur poll-watcher would tell you is not very good.

    But none of that matters, because it’s still an ‘ad populam’ argument, and you’re only trying to distract attention away from Ted’s brilliance. ;-)
    Argument from authority, and argument ad populam are unscientific – and I’m afraid a lot of liberals rely on precisely those methods to come to their global warming conclusions. Your attempts to refute that point with junk ‘ad populam’ studies aren’t helping to do so as much as you probably imagine…

    Go watch the video again. Let Ted’s quiet wisdom sooth your nerves.

  13. Jon

    If you don’t like that survey, Nullius, there are 7 more listed below it.

    …It’s based on getting published, and of course, we know how easy sceptics find it to get published…

    Right, and if “skeptics” aren’t published, it’s only because of intellectual persecution. (See my comment # 4 for my context on that–claims of persecution seem to have a long pedigree. It seems certain people never draw false conclusions–they’re only victims of persecution.)

  14. Nullius in Verba

    #14,

    Yes, I know. I was thinking of the von Storch surveys, actually, with that 85%. And it’s STILL an ‘ad populam’ fallacy.

    Claims of persecution do indeed have a long pedigree – as does persecution. “It won’t be easy to dismiss out of hand as the math appears to be correct theoretically…”

  15. Jon

    Right. Not only are 98% of published climate scientists unscientific, but there was no persecution of Michael Mann–that’s the thought of fevered minds. Michael Mann was the *persecutor.*

  16. Nullius in Verba

    #16,

    Now what are you talking about? Is it your idea that if your suggestion that all claims of persecution are excuses for being wrong goes down in flames, you’ll just reverse it and claim that all claims that climate scientists got it wrong are persecution?

    Mann published a study claiming his reconstruction was validated by a high r-squared statistic – but refused to say what the number actually was. (Amongst many other issues.) Sceptics recalculated it based on their reverse-engineering of his algorithm, and found that it failed, with a score of 0.018 for the critical 1400 step. (And gave even worse results for some of the others.) He surely must have known this at the time it was published. When Congress asked him what he was thinking, I am told that he denied ever having calculated it, saying it would be a “foolish and incorrect” thing to do. A lot of people think something ought to be done about that sort of thing, and I can sort of understand their feelings.

    Mann of course claims it is all persecution, and that his results still stand, but nobody to my knowledge has ever got to the bottom of precisely what his explanation for these events actually is. I don’t actually care. As far as I’m concerned, the calculation of r-squared is sufficient to invalidate the result, and who did what when is irrelevant to that. Mann certainly has no difficulty getting papers published nowadays, even with some of the data pasted in upside-down, so I’m not sure why you think this is at all connected to the difficulty sceptics have getting papers past peer-reviewers and lead authors like Mann.

    Presumably it is yet another distraction from Ted’s liberal climate science lecture. That’s really got you upset, hasn’t it?

  17. Jon

    yes, there are whole websites dedicated to pouring over Mann minutia and telling stories about it, I’m well aware.

  18. As a liberal (very far left, in fact), and a burgeoning scientist, I am quite comfortable with nuclear power (it’s not my area of expertise by a long shot, but I understand the principles pretty well).

    I think that much of the anti-nuclear sentiment on the left back in the day was inexorably tied up with The Bomb. Everyone was terrified of nuclear war, and nuclear power was a sort of reminder about it, reactors made plutonium for warheads, etc. Coupled with that was a lack of knowledge (keenly on display now) about the the impacts of radiation, how much of a dose is dangerous, the various fuel pathways available, and the legal frameworks that create much of the ‘waste’ problem and you’ve got a pretty potent cocktail.

    Many (perhaps even most) anti-nuclear people, however, can be presented with facts, and are willing to learn. Especially if they did not grow up in the ’60s. When you present the Fukushima Daiichi situation to them as it is, (The third worst nuclear accident in history, caused by an unbelievably terrible natural disaster striking an old, somewhat unsafe reactor run by a company with a sketchy safety record… and not a single person has died. A small amount of land will likely be set aside from farming for a while (potentially decades), and some fisheries may be closed for a number of years, and that’s about it.) they think about it, and calm down. And sometimes they change their minds. Sometimes they don’t.

    The deniers of Climate change (in comparison to skeptics who proceed from a position of good will), on the other hand, have taken an ideological position, and no amount of data or rational discourse will persuade them. Ever. These people exist in the anti-nuke movement too, but they don’t wield nearly the political power the climate denier types do. Not by a long shot.

    And of course, the common link between them is the terrible, wretched coverage of the media of both subjects.

  19. Chris Mooney

    I have to say, I love blogging on the left and nuclear power.

    Every time I do it, I get new comments, from people who don’t comment regularly, who say: “Hey, I’m a liberal and I love nuclear power! And I’ve never heard these unreconstructed lefty denialist claims from the 1960s!”

    We’ve changed, folks. We’ve changed. I hope for the better. Now if we could only understand the rest of the country as well as we understand science….

  20. seamus

    The last 10 or so comments here are absolutely useless. Jon, why are you arguing with this character? His whole tactic is to draw you into a senseless debate and make you angry. Don’t play along. Don’t even read that crap, it will rot your brain.

  21. isaacschumann

    Dave,

    Thanks for the reply, I live in a pretty conservative area too. I actually know quite a few conservative scientists as I live and work near Purdue, a relatively right of center engineering school; I know many thoughtful conservatives. That being said, I would still say the majority of conservatives nationwide have doubts about evolution and climate change, I’ll try to find some poll numbers that deal with this. I would like to see more prominent conservatives calling out their side in the manner that monbiot has been doing. If thats happening and I’m not aware of it, let me know.

    I definitely agree that stereotyping the other side gets us nowhere, I’ll apologize for that. I see a pretty substantial segment of liberals that, while believing in global warming, reject alarmism, and are willing to criticize their own side. You think its unfair to use sarah palin as an example, but both her and michelle bachman are serious contenders for the presidential nomination, that has to count them as somewhat mainstream. Show me some conservative debates on AGW that are not like WUWT, i’d like to participate. I am no fan of the al gore types and can’t stand the stifling ‘the science is settled’ talk, but one has to accept the basic facts to be taken seriously. I guess I would just like to see a much more robust rejection of the bachmann types than I see now (which is not much rejection at all, excepting you of course)

    Cheers,

  22. isaacschumann

    Dave,

    Thanks for the reply, I wrote a longer reply to you but it disappeared. the jest of it was that I agree that stereotyping the other side gets us nowhere, so sorry. But people like sarah palin and michelle bachman are serious presidential contenders, that would be like cynthia mikinie being a talked about for the dem nomination. I live near purdue in indiana, I know lots of thoughtful conservative scientists myself (ususally in engineering), however, I distinctly view them and other reasonable conservatives such as yourself as a distinct minority.

    I’d like to see more conservatives calling out the creationist types like monbiot has recently been doing on the nuclear issue, if this is going on and simply not aware, enlighten me.

    Cheers,

  23. Most of the contributors here do not happen to live where they mine uranium. I happen to like the legal status of nuclear power in California. No new Nukes until there is a solution to the problem of nuclear waste. All of those spent fuel rods should not lay around forever. But, solutions cost a lot of money and there is a lot of nimby-ism.

    I don’t think that the California law goes far enough, though. There should also be no new nukes until there is a solution for the contamination of water supplies from uranium mining. That has caused a significant increase in the rates of breast cancer among women living on or near the Navajo reservation in Arizona / New Mexico. New research has shown uranium, even in it’s elemental form, to be a mimic of estrogen. We know the data. We know the mechanism by which it works. We only have to be willing to spend the money to protect lives… even if that means more big government regulation. Until that happens, I am asking all nuclear hawks in Congress to move their families to NW New Mexico.

  24. Jon

    Seamus in #21. Yeah, maybe it’s a waste of space. But I’m trying to draw him out as well. If you debate any “skeptic” on this blog for any length of time, they all sound like Chris’s profile of them:

    http://www.desmogblog.com/what-motivates-climate-skeptic

    In the past, Nullius has seriously debated with me whether climate scientists are like the statist totalitarians in 1984, whether scientists aren’t victims of “unconscious bias” toward statism, disputed that the quality control in climate science is any better than forgotten environmental tracts published by lone environmental scientists back in the early 70′s, whether social security wasn’t a ponzi scheme, etc. etc. …

  25. Eric the Leaf

    Unfortunately, a massive new nuclear fleet will demand a level of civil order and continuity without precedent. Nuclear power depends on a stable grid, supply chain, economy and environment far more than it can help to create these things. It’s the most complex and least resilient way we could possibly contrive to bring us our basic power needs. It’s not just a scientific problem, it’s a societal problem.

  26. Jamesqf

    Might I suggest that denialism really has nothing to do with one’s politics? It seems that humans are divided into realists/scientists and wishful thinkers. So if you’re a conservative wishful thinker, you go around denying global warming, demanding that we drill for oil that ain’t there, and so on. If you’re a liberal wishful thinker, you imagine that radiation is going to kill us all, we can get unlimited power from a few square feet of solar panels…

    And it doesn’t matter how often the scientist types of either political persuasion point out the sloppy thinking and errors of basic arithmetic, the wishful thinkers just keep on with their particular brand of wishful thinking, because (as the scorpion said to the horse), that’s their nature.

  27. Nullius in Verba

    “Don’t even read that crap, it will rot your brain.”

    Oh, is that the explanation? ;-)

  28. Peter

    Here is the great irony: The anti-nuclear movement will not admit this openly, but while they were vociferously denouncing all forms of nuclear power, the fact remained that carbon-emitting fossil fuels had to take up the slack. Thus by their own tactics, rather than call for safer nuclear, which will be a certainty post Fukushima, they influenced policy makers to not deploy safer green nuclear, thus exacerbating the problem the past 30 years. The Anti-nuclear movement had unwilling accomplices – namely Wall Street. In the great quest for infinite safety, which is not reasonable in a risk-based world, (i.e. Bhopal), they sought to drive the cost of large nuclear to infinite cost. Thus while their science may be flawed, since the effects of radiation have been greatly exaggerated in the polemic, their tactic of driving up costs worked. The nuclear industry has become more resiliant. Like the old phrase “that which doesn’t kill me will make me stronger”, so to will the next phase of nuclear power. Oh and the anti-nuclear movement truely picks and chooses their nuclear targets. After the radiation therapy accident in Goiana Brazil, that killed 4 people and contaminated an entire town, the press was no where to be seen. Radiation therapy continues today because it is perceived as a benefit. I am sure many in the anti-nuclear have benefitted from treatment. As Fukushima subsides, the fact remains that the media did a disservice in the science arena. When Bill Nye the science guy trudges out a picture of a PWR versus a BWR, to educate the masses, then we are all in trouble. Fukushima has made us more aware of the complicated technology and the dedication of those in the industry that are making all efforts to protect the public. The other item, the GE plants are but one aspect of plant design. While a reactor supplier true, the vast majority of plant safety relies on the construction and design by Architect/Engineers, and the safe operation of trained staff. In the USA, there are a wide spectrum of AE firms that built the plants that house the GE Mark I reactors. There is a spectrum of utilities that have differing levels of safety. What is lost in this argument by anti-nuclear forces is not their philosophy, but the apples and oranges comparison of all things BWR, all things nuclear, and all crises. Mother nature threw her worst at Fukushima, and all things considered it could have been alot worst. The hyperbole aside, Fukushima showed that when the landscape is devastated leaving 20,000 dead, the nuclear plant held its ground. Sure there will be improvements and Monday morning quarterbacking about LOCAs and spent fuel pools. The one person I would ask, Bill Clinton, is “Why did you cancel the Integral Fast Reactor”? That is the golden goose that Asia is now looking at as well. Its not proliferant technology either.

  29. One of the interesting things about modern nuclear power in the US is that few really understand how it works day to day, and I include in that bin most scientists and journalists who are commenting to the media on the topic. It’s kind of treated as a black box from which occasionally spews toxic goo. While not necessarily leading to incorrect assumptions, this is perhaps not the best way to look at any of our potential energy supplies if we are to make better decisions about them in the future. Hundreds of nuclear workers are busy every day at every reactor. What are they doing?

    I’ve worked in the US nuclear industry for 25 years. My novel “Rad Decision” culminates in an event very similar to the Japanese tragedy. (Same reactor type, same initial problem – a station blackout with scram.) The book is an excellent source of perspective for the lay person — as I’ve been hearing from readers. The novel is free online at the moment at http://RadDecision.blogspot.com . (No adverts, nobody makes money off this site.) Reader reviews are in the homepage comments.

    Unfortunately, my media presence consists of this little-known book and website, so I’m not an acknowledged “expert”. I just do the nuclear stuff for a living. And I think I have explained it well in a non-yawn-producing manner. But it’s a bit of a tree falling in a forest………

    I believe there isn’t a perfect energy solution – just options – each with their good and bad points. And we’ll make better choices about our future if we first understand our energy present.

  30. JimHopf

    #8,

    Even if you do (conservatively) use the linear no-threshhold assumption (LNT), it’s still true that few, if any, will die from the Fukishima event. Collective public exposures are minimal, due to the fact that much less was released than Chernobyl, they evacuated the population, and they are monitoring and controlling food. The threshhold for public evacuation that was applied (5 Rem) corresponds to a cancer risk of 0.2%, even assuming LNT. Few actual people will get that much, and the 0.2% value is clearly conservative (high).

    It should be noted that although the BEIR committee decided to stick with the (conservative and simple) LNT approach for the purposes of making policy and regulations, they also went on record saying that the practice of taking LNT to the extreme, and predicting deaths based on miniscule doses over huge populations, is bad science. The real truth is that any such effects are far too low to measure, and will never be proven either way. In any event, collective radiation exposure from nuclear power is a negligible fraction of what we get from other sources (e.g., radon) , and we’re not doing anything at all to reduce those exposures. Even people living near plants only get ~0.1% of the exposure they get from natural background. The undue level of attention nuclear gets is utterly hypocritical, whether LNT is true or not.

    It is also true that public health risks and environmental impacts from nuclear are negligible compared to fossil fuels (even assuming LNT). You may be right that Chernobyl will cause “thousands” of deaths. Calculations based on LNT estimate as much as ~10,000. This must be compared, however, to the hundreds of thousands of ANNUAL deaths inflicted by fossil fuel power plants (EPA, WHO), as well as global warming. It’s also true that it’s not really fair to include Chernobyl in any discussion of future nuclear policy, given that noone is proposing to build, or even use, reactors that are remotely like it. Even if Fukishima is included, (non-Soviet) nuclear power has caused few, if any, public deaths, over its entire 40+ year history. This, compared to millions of deaths over the same time period from fossil plants.

    Your about nuclear needing 9 years for energy payback is ridiculous. Nuclear’s energy inputs are negligible:

    http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf100.html

    Any studies you may have read that suggest otherwise are an example of the tripe that comes out of highly agenda-driven anti-nuclear organizations. Nuclear’s net CO2 emissions are also negligible, lower than most renewables:

    http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Magazines/Bulletin/Bull422/article4.pdf

    As for economics, no renewable sources are signifcantly cheaper than nuclear:

    http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/electricity_generation.html

    On top of that, renewables will never be able to meet most, let alone all, of our energy needs, due to intermittentcy limitations. For the rest, it’s between fossil and nuclear, and the comparison couldn’t be more clear with respect to health risk and environmental impact. Fossil fuels are orders of magnitude worse. The science is very clear on this.

  31. JimHopf

    #24,

    Uranium mining does have some impact. In fact, it is probably the one significant negative impact from nuclear power. That said, the uranium mining’s impact is much lower than that of coal mining, on a per unit energy basis. Natural gas extraction (shale gas fracking in particular) is also likely to be as bad or worse than uranium mining. It should also be noted that modern uranium mines will be much safer and have lower environmental impact than the old (1950′s) mines that are the source of much of what you are talking about.

    More importantly, whereas uranium mining is the main impact of nuclear, the (larger) mining impacts for fossil fuels are a tiny fraction of their overall impacts, with the impacts of their combustion being much greater. In addition to global warming, the EPA estimates that fossil power plant pollution causes 25,000 deaths annually in the US alone. The overall result is that nuclear’s overall impacts are negligible compared to fossil fuels.

    It should also be noted that renewables are not perfect either. On a per unit energy basis, sources like solar and wind require over 20 times as much steel and concrete as nuclear does. They also employ rare earth elements. For all of these materials, extraction is not completely benign. Finally, there is the fact that renewables require over 100 times as much land area to be set aside (i.e., developed – covered with industrial equipment) as nuclear does.

  32. The two of us have now been checking into solar energy for approximately a couple of years and then the two of us finally made the actual commitment primarily based upon the combination of governtment incentive packages together with seriously practical loans. My spouse and i will have already been checking into solar energy for approximately a couple of years and as a consequence my partner and i last but not least made the commitment based primarily upon the mix of the governtment incentive programs in addition to very practical lending. I basically could not imagine just how reasonable everything ended up being and as a consequence we have actually already been a solar powered home for approximately a calendar month and furthermore almost everything appears as though it is simply working out great. We are able to essentially sit back and watch just how very much electricity our organization aer preserving each week and it is undoubtedly really awesome. I alway assumed that solar was probably supported by just a good deal of hoopla however My partner and i will certainly tell everyone that the product is actually the genuine deal. My spouse and i wish my partner and i had done it a long time ago.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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