The more you know about nuclear power the more you like it, Part 2

This is a sequel to The more you know about nuclear power the more you like it, Part 1, where I promised to look at the relative nuclear support amongst print and TV media, scientists and the public. A personal favorite technical source on nuclear power is prof. Bernard Cohen’s textbook The Nuclear Energy Option. While the book is out of print there is a very well-executed online version. For this post we need Chapter 4 Is The Public Ready For More Nuclear Power?

Prof. Cohen analyzed a broad range of opinion surveys that were available at the time of writing ~1990. Here I just want to focus on the hypothesis that “The more you know about nuclear power the more you like it.” If we collected fresh surveys today we might find the absolute levels a bit different, but I claim the relative proportions should be very similar. Here’s the relevant paragraphs from Chapter 4:

While public support of nuclear power has only recently been turning favorable, the scientific community has always been steadfastly supportive. In 1980, at the peak of public rejection, Stanley Rothman and Robert Lichter, social scientists from Smith College and Columbia University, respectively, conducted a poll of a random sample of scientists listed in American Men and Women of Science, The “Who’s Who” of scientists.1 They received a total of 741 replies. They categorized 249 of these respondents as “energy experts” based on their specializing in energy-related fields rather broadly defined to include such disciplines as atmospheric chemistry, solar energy, conservation, and ecology. They also categorized 72 as nuclear scientists based on fields of specialization ranging from radiation genetics to reactor physics. Some of their results are listed in Table 1.

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From Table 1 we see that 89% of all scientists, 95% of scientists involved in energy-related fields, and 100% of radiation and nuclear scientists favored proceeding with the development of nuclear power. Incidentally, there were no significant differences between responses from those employed by industry, government, and universities. There was also no difference between those who had and had not received financial support from industry or the government.

Another interesting question was whether the scientists would be willing to locate nuclear plants in cities in which they live (actually, no nuclear plants are built within 20 miles of heavily populated areas). The percentage saying that they were willing was 69% for all scientists, 80% for those in energy-related sciences, and 98% for radiation and nuclear scientists. This was in direct contrast to the 56% of the general public that said it was not willing.

Rothman and Lichter also surveyed opinions of various categories of media journalists and developed ratings for their support of nuclear energy. Their results are shown in Table 2. [which I've rendered in chart form]

Click to embiggen

We see that scientists are much more supportive of nuclear power than journalists, and press journalists are much more supportive than the TV people who have had most of the influence on the public, even though they normally have less time to investigate in depth. There is also a tendency for science journalists to be more supportive then other journalists.

In summary, these Rothman-Lichter surveys show that scientists have been much more supportive of nuclear power than the public or the TV reporters, producers, and journalists who “educate” them. Among scientists, the closer their specialty to nuclear science, the more supportive they are. This is not much influenced by job security considerations, since the level of support is the same for those employed by universities, where tenure rules protect jobs, as it is for those employed in industry. Moreover, job security for energy scientists is not affected by the status of the nuclear industry because they are largely employed in enterprises competing with nuclear energy. In fact, most nuclear scientists work in research on radiation and the ultimate nature of matter, and are thus not affected by the status of the nuclear power industry. Even among journalists, those who are most knowledgeable are the most supportive. The pattern is very clear — the more one knows about nuclear power, the more supportive one becomes.

For the 2014 perspective, please read Geoff Russell’s wonderful new book GreenJacked! The derailing of environmental action on climate change

Geoff articulates how Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club and the like thwarted the substitution of clean nuclear for dirty coal. Those organizations could not admit today what will be completely obvious after reading Greenjacked!: that if they had supported nuclear power from the 1960s to today, then all of the developed world could easily have been like France, Sweden and Ontario province — powering advanced societies with nearly carbon-free nuclear energy.

The more you know about nuclear power the more you like it, Part 1


Image and caption credit Chattanooga Times Free Press: Houses in the Hunter Trace subdivision in north Hamilton County are within a few hundred yards of the Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant near Soddy-Daisy. Neighbors to the nuclear plant say they don’t mind living close to the TVA plant. Staff Photo by Dave Flessner

In 2002 I started looking into our low-carbon energy options. Over the next two years I learned there is no perfect-zero-carbon energy option. I learned that realistic low-carbon energy policy is about deploying scaleable and affordable electricity generation. To my surprise, like the five environmentalists of Pandora’s Promise, I discovered that my anti-nuclear view was based on fictions. I had carried around “The Washington Post accepted” wisdom for decades without ever asking “Why is that true?”

As I was studying the nuclear option, it became blindingly obvious that the people who feared nuclear knew essentially nothing about the subject. Conversely the people who were most knowledgeable about nuclear supported large-scale nuclear deployment as a practical way to replace coal.

And, very interesting, the people who live in the neighborhoods of existing nuclear plants tend to be very favorable to building more nuclear. Including new nuclear plants to be constructed literally “In their own back yard”, a reversal of the expected NIMBY attitudes. Of course there are economic benefits to the neighbors of a plant, including the taxes paid to the regional government entity. The economic incentives gave people a reason to want to be there, so it motivated them to ask some serious questions:

  • “Should I buy a home near that nuclear plant?”
  • “Will my children be harmed?”
  • “What if there is an accident?”

From reading the recent NEI annual polls I developed an untested hypothesis: the more contact you have with people who work at a nearby nuclear plant, the less you fear nuclear and the more you appreciate the benefits of clean electricity. It’s easy to informally ask your neighbors “what’s the truth?” about things that worry you. And you learn the people who operate the plant are just as devoted to their children as you are.

Here is another encouraging trend: there are significant numbers “voting with their feet” by moving into nuclear plant neighborhoods.

USA 2010 census: the population living within 10 miles of nuclear power plants rose by 17 percent in the past decade.

And if you read the same surveys that I did you will see how strongly the neighbors’ attitudes contrast to the typical media fear-mongering. Examples:

Neighbor of the Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant “This is a safer neighborhood than most areas and I really don’t think much about the plant, other than it provides a great walking area for me,” said Blanche DeVries, who moved near Sequoyah three years ago.

NEI 2013 survey similar to 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011 “familiarity with nuclear energy leads to support.” 

NEI 2013 survey “80 percent agree with keeping the option to build more nuclear power plants in the future”

BBC Living near a nuclear power station

  • Q: “What’s it like to have a reactor on the doorstep?”
  • A: “I live not more than 100 yards…and it doesn’t worry me.”

NEI survey 2009: “Eighty-four percent of Americans living near nuclear power plants favor nuclear energy, while an even greater number—90 percent―view the local power station positively, and 76 percent support construction of a new reactor near them, according to a new public opinion survey of more than 1,100 adults across the United States.”

NEI survey 2013 [PDF]: “81 percent of residents near commercial reactors favor the use of nuclear energy, 47 percent strongly.”

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UK 2013 Why we love living next to a nuclear power plant: “It’s cheap, it’s quiet and, say the residents of Dungeness, blissfully safe”. “Here, by contrast, everyone I talk to enthuses about a strong feeling of security and a rare kind of community spirit. Put simply, they live in houses that happen to be next door to a nuclear power station because it makes them feel safe.”

Next we will look at the relative nuclear support amongst print & TV media, scientists and the public The more you know about nuclear power the more you like it, Part 2.

A Marriage of Two Agricultures & Vermont, the Stupid State

Jason Sibert interviews Raoul Adamchak co-author with geneticist Pamela Ronald of one of our favorite books Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food. Jason introduced the interview with the story of the Stupid State Vermont, the first US state silly enough to:
  • Shut down Vermont Yankee, the nuclear plant providing >70% of Vermont electrical generation.
  • Attempt to ban GMOs by mandating labeling.

Jason wrote:

Just three weeks ago, Vermont became the first state to mandate the labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms. To understand just how feverish the debate over GMOs has become, consider that when the bill was passed into law, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin compared the issue to other state laws banning slavery and allowing same-sex marriage. “Today, we are the first state in America that says simply, ‘Vermonters have spoken loud and clear: We want to know what’s in our food,’” Shumlin declared.

The framing of a consumer’s “right to know” has proved to be a powerful political instrument. Around the country, state legislatures are considering labeling GMOs, with the goal of many to ban them. At the same time, the environmental benefits of organic farming are touted as the better alternative, as synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are prohibited. But is the whole argument misguided? And do genetic engineering and organic farming both have something to teach us?

Please read Jason’s short interview which leads with this smart question: Can organic and biotech be considered converging technologies?

Yes. They both aim for an ecologically sound form of agriculture and both aim to reduce toxic inputs. For example, both organic farmers and farmers of pest resistant GE crops use a nontoxic insecticide called BT.

Organic farmers spray BT, whereas farmers that grow BT cotton don’t need to spray because the bacterial gene encoding is built into the crops genetic code. BT is a favorite tool of farmers because it does not harm mammals and is specific to pests and that is why organic farmers have used it for over 50 years.

 

Greenpeace Inc.

A Greenpeace activist illegally destroys a genetically-modified (GM) wheat crop site in Australia. When ideology mixes with vast financial resources, the result can derail progress on climate change, energy, and food security.

Matthew Nisbet writing for The Breakthrough Institute pulls the covers off of Greenpeace, one of the most powerful global NGO’s. I have enormous respect for Mark Lynas, not least because Mark took responsibility for the bad things he did as a leader of the politically correct but oh-so-wrong activists. Personally I have a much harsher view than Mark of the responsibility that Greenpeace must take for both global warming and for hunger, poverty and malnutrition (anti-nuclear, anti-GMO respectively).

Matthew begins with this: 

A March 9 profile on The Observer spotlights writer and activist Mark Lynas, who has gained notable attention for arguing that environmentalists need to reconsider their longstanding opposition to nuclear energy and genetic engineering. As Lynas told The Observer, during his days as an activist, he had viewed the Green movement as a brave, scrappy underdog – a little David battling the Goliaths of industry, government, and conservatives.

But the more he critically examined the work of Greens on issues like nuclear energy and genetic engineering, the more he was surprised to discover the vast financial and organizational resources available to organizations like Greenpeace.

The financial might of today’s environmental groups has helped narrow the gap with industry and their political allies across issues. Yet, as Lynas rightly argues, in some cases this same organizational wealth has helped institutionalize an ideological bias that threatens progress on issues like climate change and food security.

“The anti-nuclear movement is partly responsible for global warming,” Lynas told The Observer. “Everywhere, pretty much, where a nuclear plant was cancelled, a coal plant was built instead, and that’s because of the anti-nuclear movement. The environmental movement has been very successful in regulating GM [genetically-modified agriculture] out of existence in some parts of the world.”

Read the whole thing as Matthew peels apart the Greenpeace finances (almost 30% of your donations go to fundraising!).

And please do not miss the Mark Lynas lecture at the Oxford farming conference.

Arnie Gundersen – The Facade of Believability

Whilst searching for factual information on the qualifications of anti-nuclear consultant-for-hire Arnie Gundersen I came across a new blog. The critical-thinking proprietor lives in Japan, and was thus disturbed by the unspeakably bad media coverage of the Fukushima Daichi accident. You can see all the related posts with the tag “Wall of Shame”. Among those is a deconstruction of the Gundersen resume, ending with this summary: 

Gundersen has got a lot of play in the international media, and his videos have spread virally via bilingual Japanese people who have translated and posted them on the Internet. I hope that I’ve shown that Gundersen is not a trustworthy source of information about Fukushima for the following reasons:

  • He has been dishonest about his qualifications and work experience
  • He misrepresents himself (or at least allows others to misrepresent him) as part of the nuclear industry
  • He has an undeclared direct financial interest in increasing his profile as an anti-nuclear power consultant in order to attract new clients
  • He subscribes to a theory of low-level radiation damage that has been discredited
  • He has made claims that have been proven to be false
  • He has made claims that don’t stand up to investigation, are anecdotal, and are unfalsifiable
  • As time goes on and Fukushima produces less dramatic news, Gundersen’s reports become more dramatic.

I hope this has been helpful. I wish that the media would be a little less credulous when dealing with experts, and challenge statements that sound wrong, but failing that, it’s our job to not take whatever an “expert” says at face value and to ask questions.

Please comment if you have any factual references on Gundersen’s career. Especially any evidence of experience relevant to commercial nuclear power generation (that is the “expertise” that he markets).

The best fact-based Gundersen reference that I know of is Rod Adams, e.g., on résumé inflation. Unfortunately it looks like Gundersen is “house cleaning” his on-line history, so one of Rod’s key links has been taken down at the activist NECNP.org. In fact Gundersen doesn’t even seem to exist at NECNP.org

UPDATE: a resourceful reader did the research necessary to locate the disclosure of the Gundersen CV, plus some additional expertise:

http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0808/ML080840527.pdf – Page 84 – CV

 
http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0808/ML080860095.pdf – Page 6 – Some other expertise

Swiss utilities are the latest neighbours complaining about subsidized German exports

Scott Luft of Cold Air Currents on how Germany’s energy train wreck is impacting neighbours. Snippet [emphasis mine]:

Add Switzerland to the list of Germany’s neighbors (Poland and the Czech Republic) that are complaining about uncontrolled power surges from Germany. Last week, Kurt Rohrbach, spokesperson for Swiss power providers, stated on Swiss television that power surges from Germany brought about by solar power are bringing down power prices “throughout Europe” and leading to losses totaling “a hundred millions francs” (the Swiss franc is currently worth roughly 1 dollar) for Swiss firms this year alone. The news moderator on Swiss TV station SF1 did not beat around the bush: “The German solar sector is ruining business for Swiss power companies.”

Anti-nukes: the Joyce Foundation

DV82XL has been kind enough to send me several references on foundations who are backing anti-nuclear activists. One of these with very deep pockets is the Chicago-based Joyce Foundation, where Barack Obama was listed as a member of the board of directors in 2002, and whose website is peppered with coal-related programs. E.g., New Era for Coal? E.g., a 2007 issue of their newsletter Back to the Source, which was one of DV82XL’s links:

Coal is abundant in this country and relatively cheap. That should make it an attractive energy source in an era when prices of oil, natural gas, and even corn for ethanol are all rising and Americans worry about dependence on foreign oil. No wonder electric generation from coal is projected to rise by 57 percent by 2030.

(…) “Coal is an important resource,” says Commission research director Sasha Mackler. “We have the largest coal reserves in the world. The coal industry supports a lot of rural communities. It’s an important part of the economy. We can continue to use coal even in an era of carbon limits.” The Commission’s report called for subsidies for deploying coal gasification (IGCC) and for demonstrating the feasibility of capturing and burying carbon. But although it kept a stern focus on environmental and climate costs in other areas, it gave scant attention to the environmental, health, and other upstream costs of mining coal.

Now, supported in part by Joyce funding, the Commission will remedy that by taking a broad look at coal production, which is expected to grow by 60 percent by 2030. It will solicit local input at stakeholder meetings in major coal producing areas in the western states, Appalachia, and the Midwest, and conduct detailed analysis of current and coming technologies for mining and processing coal, as well as the regulatory structure that governs the industry.

While memories of mining accidents in Utah and elsewhere are fresh in the public’s mind, it will look at what practices need to be improved to protect miners.

It will also recommend training programs for the next generation of high-tech mine workers, an industry where, in some areas, the average age is approaching fifty. On the environmental side, it will take a close look both at cleaner technologies and at regulations to ensure minimal environmental impact, and examine what can be done to remedy past harms. Meanwhile it will try to come up with more solid estimates of the true extent of the country’s coal reserves.

“No getting around it, coal production is a messy business,” acknowledges Mackler. “It has the reputation of being a 19th century resource—and that’s true. But there are opportunities to use state of the art advanced technologies that are clean and highly efficient, that get the most energy possible out of the resource.”

If you care to search their site, among the search words are “clean coal”, “cleaner coal”, IGCC, sequestration and gasification. Other code words are “National Commission on Energy Policy” (NCEP) which received Joyce funding “For a study by the National Commission on Energy Policy of the consequences of increasing coal production in the United States, including analysis of the environmental impacts of mining-collectively known as upstream impacts.”

I’m not sure if the commission is still alive. Their website is dead: http://www.energycommission.org. Searching for “National Commission on Energy Policy” found no mentions after 2007.

It’s clear that “clean coal” is prominent on the JF agenda. Is it there because the bootleggers are “baptizing” tactics to prolong the life of coal burning? Supporting that argument are the JF grants – who gets the money to do what. Most of the grants look to me like support for lobbying efforts: including anti-nuclear NGOs. E.g., I found almost $1 million going to NRDC in just two big grants.

Or is the funding because JF believes that proving the viability of IGCC –>> CCS is a top priority. It is a fact that China, India, … will satisfy their growing energy demand primarily with dirty coal unless CCS or nuclear are proven to be economic and achievable on time to match their demand projections. Today, nobody knows what CCS will cost, the best methods (IGCC may prove not be best place to start), nor where it is safe to bury the CO2.

The JF support for “clean coal via CCS” is consistent with the recommendations from the MIT Future of Coal study:

We conclude that CO2 capture and sequestration (CCS) is the critical enabling technology that would reduce CO2 emissions significantly while also allowing coal to meet the world’s pressing energy needs.

We believe that coal use will increase under any foreseeable scenario because it is cheap and abundant. Coal can provide usable energy at a cost of between $1 and $2 per MMBtu compared to $6 to $12 per MMBtu for oil and natural gas.

More on the MIT study and CCS in older posts, e.g. here, here, here, and here.