Nuclear power, who are the haterz?

Matt Springer of Built on Facts has a post up where he defends the potential of nuclear power. Regular readers of this weblog will know that I am broadly sympathetic. I understand that the "atomic age" is not going to be a utopia by any means nor will it solve all our problems, I do have a suspicion that much of the opposition is driven by the wisdom of repugnance.

I've surveyed attitudes toward nuclear power in the GSS before, the NUKEGEN and NUKEFAM variables asked people in the early 1990s how dangerous they thought nuclear power was to their family or the environment. There were five options:

-Extremely dangerous
-Very dangerous
-Somewhat dangerous
-Not very dangerous
-Not dangerous

I took the first two responses and put them together. Let's label these the "fearful." Who are these people? They are: the black, the female, the liberal, the uneducated, the religious, the fundamentalist and the dumb. I pruned the classes below so that most of the numbers exhibit no overlap on the 95 percent confidence intervals (where they do, it is the middle values who may overlap with the extremes, but the extremes do not overlap).

Nuclear Power is Extremely or Very Dangerous To....

My Family Environment
Sex Male 31.4 35.8

Female 47.8 52.1
Race White 36.3 40.6

Black 61.9 67.2
Religion Atheist & Agnostic 31.3 34

Know God Exists 42.2 46.6
Bible Is... Word of God 50.1 56.2

Inspired Word 36 40.7

Fables 36.1 37.6
Ideology Liberal 45.5 49.9

Moderate 41.5 45.1

Conservative 34.4 38.9
Education Less Than High School 49.3 55.1

High School 42.3 46

Junior College 37.7 52.6

Bachelor 32.1 36.3

Graduate 27.8 32.7
Intelligence Dumb (WORDSUM 0-4) 53.8 57.8

Normal (WORDSUM 5-7) 40.2 45.8

Smart (WORDSUM 8-10) 29 33.1

If you're curious, the correlation between the two columns is 0.96.

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Are women more strongly influenced by the wisdom of repugnance ("yuck factor") than men? My experience says yes, but I have no data.

Depends on the issue, of course. Men seem to experience a greater yuck factor towards homosexuality, for example, although men also engage in more homosexual behavior - makes sense as a signaling mechanism I guess. Women seem to experience the yuck factor wrt abstract ideas much more than men -- nuclear power, genetic engineering, pesticides. But my experience is mainly high IQ (college + grad school) men and women -- so high IQ men probably are just more capable of detached abstract reasoning than their female counterparts.

That said, among more average (IQ/education) people I know, it does seem that men consistently are able and willing to entertain novel and potentially disturbing ideas -- whereas the more average women just totally shut-down if an idea intuitively strikes them as wrong or just plain yucky.

It's interesting to note more radiation is dumped on the population per year from coal fired power stations that all of the accidents at Nuclear Power Stations, including Chernobyl.

It's like the sharks issue: don't swim in the ocean it's dangerous. But they'll drive miles in an automobile.

So true Ian, so true...

Perhaps we will return to nuclear after
safety is demonstrated in China?

If the Chinese can do it safely, then perhaps
that will demonstrate its safety (or not)

"The country [China] may build about 22 reactors in the five years ending 2010 and 132 units thereafter, compared with a company estimate last year for a total 60 reactors, President Ikuo Sato said in an interview. Japan Steel Works has the only plant that makes the central part of a large-size nuclear reactorâs containment vessel in a single piece, reducing radiation risk."

By Justin Loe (not verified) on 07 Sep 2009 #permalink

Is "Yuck" equal to the looming waste problem that has been developing over decades or is it an intuitive sense that relates to no pragmatic consequences.

The nuclear power INDUSTRY is where the yuck factor should be focused. From an engineering perspective, its been reasonably impressive. From a long term and far reaching design perspective it has been very disappointing.

Have you looked at the Second National Risk & Culture Study, from the Cultural Cognition Project at Yale?

Greg makes a good point about the industry. I'd feel a lot happier if (probably) the world's most experienced nuclear constructor (Areva) could actually pour concrete successfully and weld to specification. It's not like these are radical new construction technologies or anything.

I really do hope that China does demonstrate that it can be done successfully and safely. I just hope their quality control procedures are better than in some of that country's other industries...