Gene Expression

Because of the increased prices in gasoline and the perception of scarcity in terms of power, there has been a lot of talk about nuclear. There have been many comments of late from the Right that the Left is opposed to the utilization of nuclear power, and often gleeful the observation that many European countries such as France and Sweden are highly reliant on this technology. But is it true that liberals are more averse to nuclear than conservatives? I checked the GSS for the following questions:

- Nuclear power dangerous to the environment?
- Likelihood of nuclear meltdown in 5 years?
- Nuclear power a danger to my family?

The tables below show the proportion of various ideologies in terms of responses to these questions. The responses to the left are more nuclear skeptical than those to the right.

i-9b35f2c8d9de502914fdc2a0b37fe9cf-nuke1.jpg

i-f1af3bbb65622053fb54eb70e5e86cfc-nuke2.jpg

i-abcda7ef331500a77a0eb4e06fa11e6a-nuke3.jpg

Also, in case you are curious, more educated people tend to be less terrified of nuclear power too. If you want to check in the GSS, the nuclear variable codes are NUKEGEN, NUKEACC and NUKEFAM.

Comments

  1. #1 FhnuZoag
    July 25, 2008

    Yeah, the Left has been traditionally very anti-nuclear, probably due to the cold war, by associating nuclear power with nuclear bombs. I suspect though that with climate change, and the fading memory of the nuclear threat, opinions have softened on recent years. What I see recently is that the core left argument regarding nuclear power is shifting to arguments about economic feasibility rather than the danger.

  2. #2 razib
    July 25, 2008

    yes. i know the greens in germany are also anti-nuclear. but do note the reason that conservatives in the USA point to sweden, and especially france: the american left often points to these two nations as exemplars in most other ways. it isn’t as if the left has never been in power in sweden and france (until recently sweden was a de facto one party social democratic state).

  3. #3 Brian X
    July 25, 2008

    I am both very liberal and very pro-nuclear power. I believe very strongly that fuel reprocessing and research on failsafe reactors are vital to any country’s energy independence, as well as all but required for clean power generation. Considering the staggering amount of depleted uranium out there that can be converted into plutonium and burned, you’d think it was a no-brainer.

    In politics, it’s considered a badge of honor to stick to your principles come hell or high water. In the real world, though, it’s time for anti-nuclear activists to admit they were wrong and start pushing for research on nuclear waste management rather than oppose it entirely.

  4. #4 Dr. Octoploid
    July 26, 2008

    Another pro-nuclear liberal here. The most common arguments I’ve always heard against nuclear power (excluding the ones that consist only of “Ew! Radiation bad!”) boil down to the idea that the risks outweigh the benefits. This might have been true based on what we knew (or didn’t know) 30 years ago, but I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that the alternatives to nuclear power come with substantial risks as well.

  5. #5 Kevin
    July 26, 2008

    … staggering amount of depleted uranium out there that can be converted into plutonium and burned…

    Burned? Oh please don’t. There are so many more useful things to burn, and so many other things to do with plutonium.

    …start pushing for research on nuclear waste management rather than oppose it entirely.

    Um. It’s not research that most people oppose. It’s doing stuff before a workable waste management has been completed and shown to be workable that people oppose. Not the research. By all means, research away.

    There was an interesting thing that happend here at Cornell a few years ago. The state shut down the nuclear research reactor. There were protests. Some liberals joined in, too. Quite a few if I recall. In fact, I think it was pretty much only liberals that were protesting. “Save the reactor!” they chanted. Very odd. But perfectly sensible — research: good; commercialization without a disposal plan: bad.

    -kevin

  6. #6 Jason Malloy
    July 26, 2008
  7. #7 tevebaugh
    July 26, 2008

    I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that the alternatives to nuclear power come with substantial risks as well.

    fossil fuels, sure. renewables? up for debate. with the added bonus that wind turbines make lousy military targets.

  8. #8 tom bri
    July 26, 2008

    Libertarian/conservative here. I live in sight of one of the biggest nuke plants in the US. Bought my house here. Not too worried, and it pays for some great schools for my kids.

    for Tevebaugh, I don’t like most renewables, because I don’t like the extensive environmental destruction that has to go along with them. The vast solar farms being proposed will require development of vast areas of land, obviously. Put them on top of houses, I have no problem. Build them on open ground, no thanks.

    Wind turbines are a problem. First, they kill loads of migrating birds and also local raptors.

    Second, they only seem to be being built in areas were the local inhabitants have little political power. Funny that, big machine liberals don’t want them in sight of their homes or playgrounds, but put them where I live, and they say “no problem”. I’d rather have a nuke plant down the road than a big turbine going whoop whoop all day and night.

    Third, as with solar plants, they require land to be developed, access roads built. Lots of wasted land there, better left in crops or wild.

    If they were competitive with other forms of energy I would be more willing to put up with them. Right now, I believe we are reaching the tipping point where they may be approaching financial viability. Fine, go for it, but in your own neighborhood, if you want them so much. Don’t foist them off on others.

  9. #9 tom f
    July 27, 2008

    tom bri:

    “Funny that, big machine liberals don’t want them in sight of their homes or playgrounds, but put them where I live, and they say “no problem”. ”

    You’re defining hypocracy very broadly. Imagine a citizen who supports an increase in taxes, but does not volunteer to pay extra to the feds if the increase fails to become law. There’s a rational and moral, nonhypocritical explanation for this behavior. Relatedly, liberals are neither against capitalism entirely nor the individuated pursuit of value. Therefore a liberal could make a principled argument that those who value, say, travel more than housing property are free to pursue their happiness and end up with wind turbines in their backyard whereas she will take the unaffected home and sacrifice a yearly trip abroad.

    Razib:

    “but do note the reason that conservatives in the USA point to sweden, and especially france: the american left often points to these two nations as exemplars in most other ways”

    As in, the democratic state more actively promotes collectivist notions of welfare and has a much stronger mandate to mitigate negative externalities produced by private economic actors.

    It seems worth considering whether the left’s aversion to nuclear power, at least today, isn’t based on the assumption that the growth of the nuclear would follow the basic pattern of capital-intensive economic development in the US: privatize the profits and socialize the risk. If we had a social democratic polity, then nuclear power would look far more attractive. This explains both the left’s aversion to nuclear and its embrace of Western Europe political economies.

  10. #10 tom bri
    July 27, 2008

    Hi Tom F

    …Therefore a liberal could make a principled argument that those who value, say, travel more than housing property are free to pursue their happiness and end up with wind turbines in their backyard whereas she will take the unaffected home and sacrifice a yearly trip abroad…

    Or, you could be a senator with vacation property who simply doesn’t want to see the things from your boat. So you push them out into the hinterlands, coincidentally also the areas inhabited by people who would never vote for you…

  11. #11 Brian X
    July 27, 2008

    Kevin:

    You make it sound as if we’re dealing with a blank slate here. We already have a substantial investment in nuclear power, most of which is obsolete technology. We have vast quantities of nuclear waste, much of which is spent fuel stored in one or another rather unstable form (a drum of uranium hexafluoride is not something I’d sleep better at night knowing was near me).

    We are at a rather critical juncture when it comes to energy policy. We’ve got a lifelong oilman pushing wind power and solar power; I won’t endorse him just yet as I don’t know exactly what his plan is, but I believe he’s on the right track. We have numerous nuclear power plants around the US that are on their last legs and will need to be replaced within the next 20 years; meanwhile, we have entire countries such as Japan and France who are heavily dependent on nuclear technology, a Navy with an unparalleled reactor safety record, and a neighbor to the north that pretty much wrote the book on cheap breeder reactors.

    The infrastructure is there, the know how is there, the need is there, and it pretty much has to all be done in parallel. It’s time for the anti-nukers to put down the protest signs and pick up some nuclear engineering books.

  12. #12 Right Democrat
    July 27, 2008

    Nuclear power is not a right-left issue. You have supporters of nukes across the political spectrum. Check out this link to a Left Manfiesto for Nuclear Energy. http://left-atomics.blogspot.com/2007/06/left-manifesto-for-nuclear-energy.html I am a “radical middle” populist who is strongly pro-nuclear and yet know conservatives and libertarians that oppose expanded use of atomic energy because they think it requires big government subsidies. Any solution to our energy problems is going to require a very active public sector role.

  13. #13 Arcane
    July 28, 2008

    fossil fuels, sure. renewables? up for debate. with the added bonus that wind turbines make lousy military targets.

    If you want to look at it from a military standpoint, wind turbines can be destroyed much more easily and more rapidly than nuclear power plants. Sure, nuclear power plants are easy to bomb with an airplane but, for now, the U.S. has total air superiority and, as long as Congress meets our funding requirements for additional F-22s, that’s unlikely to change. But with terrorists, nuclear power plants are much harder to gain access to than wind farms.

    We’ve got a lifelong oilman pushing wind power and solar power

    …and nuclear power. And he’s not a “lifelong oilman.” He’s the owner of the largest wind farm in the U.S. and is advocating his “Pickens Plan” because it’ll make him billions upon billions. I do like the points you make, though. :)

    What amazes me about many anti-nukers and anti-oil folk is that they have no problem building vast wind and solar farms on pristine green midwestern plains, but they are vehemently opposed to drilling in barren Alaskan plains and building nuclear power plants that take up only a few acres of space. They also ignore the incredible developments in nuclear technology over the past 20 years.

  14. #14 Arcane
    July 28, 2008

    Any solution to our energy problems is going to require a very active public sector role.

    No question there. I wish libertarians and conservatives would understand that fact.

  15. #15 DarwinCatholic
    July 28, 2008

    The anti-nuke argument that’s starting to really annoy me from left-leaning environmentalists is, “Sure, that would be a good system here like it is in France. But in France there’s no cultural resistance to building nuclear power plants. Given that it takes 20 years of fighting off complaints and lawsuits to build a new nuke plant, it’s not worth it.”

    Yes, well: Who exactly has built up this culture of resistance and now doesn’t want to do the work to roll it back?

  16. #16 deadpost
    July 28, 2008

    Also, in case you are curious, more educated people tend to be less terrified of nuclear power too.

    Ah. So liberals correlate to lower education, now, don’t they?
    Heh heh heh.

  17. #17 razib
    July 28, 2008

    Ah. So liberals correlate to lower education, now, don’t they?
    ;-) to be fair, correlations aren’t transitive, right?

  18. #18 brtkrbzhnv
    July 29, 2008

    Wikipedia says “Analysis of survey results show a strong correlation between education and ideology. Generally, the more educated a person is, the more likely he or she is to be liberal.”

    As Sweden has for the past three decades had a policy of slowly phasing out nuclear power, I think it makes sense for those who are moderately anti-nuclear to sympathise with Sweden. The current right-wing (mostly liberal) government has halted this phasing out, though, and there’s been a general shift in the political climate concerning nuclear power (now most Swedes are in favour of building more reactors [while the Liberal Party {7.5%} is the only party that is]), so this phasing-out policy might itself be phased out soon.

  19. #19 Left_Wing_Fox
    July 30, 2008

    Personally, I’m more interested in seeing what the ITER Tokamak reactor will accomplish when it opens in 2011.

    Again, I’m all for nuclear research, but I would prefer to see more done with renewable technologies in the near-term. Here in Canada, Geothermal compression systems are becoming increasingly popular for home heating, and my own province is planning on doubling it’s energy production capabilities through wind turbines.

  20. #20 Arcane
    July 30, 2008

    I’m all for nuclear research, but I would prefer to see more done with renewable technologies in the near-term.

    There is such a plentiful supply of the various elements used for nuclear power I can’t help but say that, in the near-term, we need more nuclear power. Then we can focus on renewables.

  21. #21 Daniel Murphy
    July 31, 2008

    gleeful the observation that many European countries such as France and Sweden are highly reliant on this technology.

    I’ve seen such observations. And it’s true that some European countries are heavy nuclear power producers. Of the 146 nuclear plants in the EU, 59 (40%), are in France. Another 46 (32%) are in the UK, Germany and Sweden. The other 41 (28%) are spread among 11 countries.

    But of the 27 European Union member states, 12 have no nuclear power plants at all — Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, and Portugal — and they have none under construction.

    According to the IAEA, there are 35 nuclear power plants under construction worldwide. Only 4 are in the EU (2 in Bulgaria, 1 each in France and Finland). Asia and the former Soviet Union account for 29 of the 35 plants under construction, and there’s one each in Argentina and the USA.

  22. #22 Arcane
    August 1, 2008

    Daniel,

    Sure, but you need to take into account that Europe still has more nuclear power plants than the United States. Last I checked the IAEA is saying that there are 104 operating nuclear plants in the U.S., 42 less than Europe. And when you actually look as to how much the various countries rely on those reactors, you will find that France and Sweden nuclear accounts for the majority of electricity production, with France getting almost 80% of their electricity from it (much of which they export to other European countries) and Sweden almost 52%. In the UK, nuclear power production makes up about the same amount as in the U.S., about 20%.

    No matter how you look at it, Europe has more nuclear power plants than the U.S. and some European countries are far more dependent on nuclear than the U.S.

  23. #23 Arcane
    August 1, 2008

    But of the 27 European Union member states, 12 have no nuclear power plants at all

    How can I forget this? 15 E.U. countries use nuclear power, ie, the *majority* of European countries have nuclear power plants. Also, over 79% of the E.U.’s electrical production comes from non-nuclear and non-renewable sources. Are you saying that non-nuclear and non-renewable sources are better because that’s what the E.U. relies upon primarily?

    What is your point exactly?

  24. #24 Randall Parker
    August 3, 2008

    France sells nuclear electric power to Italy that has no nuclear power plants.

  25. #25 Marcel F. Williams
    August 15, 2008

    I consider myself a moderate who is strongly in favor on nuclear energy. However, I’m not so hot on the private ownership of nuclear power plants and nuclear material.

    I’m all for private industry building nuclear power plants and operating nuclear power plants. But I believe the capital and ownership of such facilities should be through federal and state governments– especially since the federal government is stuck with the responsibility of how spent fuel will be reprocessed or disposed of. And of course it was funding through the US federal government that first invented the nuclear reactor in the first place.

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