Why is there strong political support for coal & gas, but not for nuclear power?

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Good question – what do you think? I thought it was probably the strong anti-nuclear lobby feeding a media who know that fear makes for high ratings. I’m sure that’s a contributor – but the dominant causes could be just routine democratic politics. Today reddit.com is hosting a Science AMA Series with members of the UC Berkeley Department of Nuclear Engineering. Here’s the question “I recently watched Pandora’s Promise and was surprised how many misconceptions that I had regarding nuclear energy and renewable alternatives.”

And Prof. Rachel Slaybaugh’s reply:

The documentary seemed accurate to me (a good rundown can be found here, though I didn’t go through and fact-check everything. I did feel like the end of the film was a bit overly rosy, but not necessary non-factual.

In terms of public sentiment driving politics, the public sentiment about nuclear is frequently viewed as being negative, but polls often show that this is not actually the case. There is a large and active anti-nuclear crowd, however, and they can dominate the air waves (like all loud-but-not-representative groups). I think the reasons behind lack of political support are deeper and more complex than public opinion. In large part the lobbying behind fossil fuel is much larger than other electricity sources. Wind, solar, and geothermal are still small contributors, so don’t have the lobbying support on the same scale. Nuclear produces similar amounts of electricity as coal or natural gas, but because the energy density of nuclear is so much higher than there are far fewer people and sites producing that electricity – meaning they also have a smaller lobby. Further, when politicians are making decisions, they’re thinking about who is in their district or their state. Every single state has coal and gas – that just isn’t true of the other electricity sources.

This reminds me of the “Aha!” that I had when I learned about the power of the American teachers’ unions. Think about – every political district has a population of union members in about the same proportion to the population. If you were a politician would you want to make the unions hate you?

I’m fairly sure that coal & gas interests love wind & solar – because they know that renewables will never threaten their market dominance. Nuclear is different – it can eliminate coal & gas in the electric utility markets, and eventually even in the industrial sectors such as nitrogen fertilizer production.

2 thoughts on “Why is there strong political support for coal & gas, but not for nuclear power?

  1. I think that the opposition is due to several intersecting causes:1. Irrational fear engendered in the general populace by the press which basically publishes press realeases from the anti-nuclear lobby;

    2. General ignorance of science;

    3. Entrenched competing energy interests;

    4. Politicians and their short-sighted concerns for electoral matters;

    5. Strongest of all, the anti-nuclear lobby which at heart is against ALL forms of energy development. They think modern industrial society is a plague upon the earth and that we should all return to a pre-industiral state which they somehow think would exclude themselves.

    Fred — Sent from Mailbox for iPad

  2. Yes, it really is hopeless isn’t it. That’s why I increasingly favor the Charter Cities option. Or in this case Nuclear City: http://seekerblog.com/tag/nuclear-city/.

    A non-violent approach is to leave the Foxes in charge of the henhouse, check out of the henhouse, immigrate to a clean henhouse with good rules. The new constitution would prescribe a Swiss-like legislature populated by elected reps who are only employed as lawmakers for 3 months/year. The executive and upper house would all be elected by sortition.

    http://seekerblog.com/2010/11/22/lets-toss-for-it-a-surprising-curb-on-political-greed/

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