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.