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Are you biased against nuclear power? Yup, say scientists

Are you biased against nuclear power? Yup, say scientists
In the 1970s, you couldn’t escape the Pepsi Challenge on TV. Blindfolded men and women took sips of Pepsi and its better-known archrival without knowing which was which and — surprise, surprise — more people preferred Pepsi Cola. The message was clear: Judge the soda on its merits not its reputation.

Scientists at Carnegie Mellon and the University of California, San Diego recently did something like this but not with soda. In this blind taste test, they gave a bunch of random people accurate information about the benefits and risks that go along with different power sources. When they hid the labels (solar, coal, etc), people showed a greater preference for nuclear power..

On its most basic level, this study demonstrates a well-known fact: Fear of nuclear power looms far larger than the risks. But this didn’t lead the researchers to the conclusion that everybody just needs to be more rational. (If humans were convinced by calls to rationality, we would be well on our way to eliminating carbon emissions by now.) They came up with some suggestions for accepting the reality of nuclear dread, and building it into projections for the future.

Here’s how the study went. Researchers set up a simple online game, where people were asked to come up with a new electricity mix for the United States. As players tried to cut carbon emissions, the game gave them feedback about how many people might die from pollution or power-plant disasters. Using sliders, they picked the amount of electricity they’d like to see coming from solar, wind, coal, coal with carbon capture technology, nuclear, and natural gas. In about half the games, the researchers labeled these energy options as “Technology 1, Technology 2,” and so on, removing the labels and all the associations we have with them. When the names of the power plants were hidden, the players opted to build the equivalent of 40 more nuclear reactors, then the players who could read the labels.

The mini-game researchers designed. Abdulla, et al.

Other researchers might have used these findings as an opportunity to shame people for being scientifically illiterate, or seen this fear of nuclear as a reason to design even safer reactors. But these researchers noted previous studies suggesting that neither approach would work. Pummeling people with facts, or engineering safety tweaks does very little to dispel raw dread. Two of the study’s authors, Ahmed Abdulla and Parth Vaishnav, told me they were just as interested in the squishy social science on how people think about risk as on the hard facts.

“We are both very concerned about the blinders scientists sometimes impose on themselves,” Abdulla said.

Once you take off those blinders, you can see it may be impossible to bridge that gap between the actual risks of nuclear power and the dread it evokes. Accept that dread as a given and it points you toward a more nuanced, but useful path. So, for instance, if you figured out that the cheapest way to slash U.S. carbon emissions was by building 100 nuclear power plants, this finding suggests that you should trim that number by 40 percent, down to 60 plants, to account for the fear factor.

“That suggests that we should be a little less black and white when modeling energy paths, Vaishnav said. “In a lot of the literature researchers say, ‘OK, people don’t like nuclear, let’s model without it.”

But their finding implies that a binary, all or nothing thinking is the wrong approach. Despite their fears, people didn’t abandon nuclear energy altogether. They simply wanted to use less of it.




Source: Grist

By:  Nathanael Johnson on Apr 8, 2019 at 5:59 am



Limits to deployment of nuclear power for decarbonization: Insights from public opinion


•Public perception constrains the deployment of energy technologies.
•Researchers struggle to incorporate these constraints in energy system models.
•Here, 1226 adult U.S. respondents build a decarbonized generation portfolio.
•Half are exposed to the technology labels; half get risk information but not labels.
•Dread leads respondents to choose 40% less nuclear generation in 2050 in the U.S.


Decarbonization will require deployment of low-carbon technologies, but analysts have struggled to quantify which ones could be deployed in practice—especially where technologies have faced public opposition. For nuclear power, some analysts have tried to solve this problem with caps on deployment or nuclear-free scenarios; however, social science research has not offered nuanced guidance about these caps. We deploy an experiment involving a large U.S. sample (N = 1226) to disentangle public opposition due to the dread of nuclear power from opposition stemming from its actuarial risk. Respondents are asked to build a power generation portfolio that cuts CO2 emissions, given information about the actuarial risks of technologies. Half the sample is exposed to the nuclear power label while the other half is treated with the risk information but blinded to the label. Respondents who see the labels deploy 6.6 percentage points less nuclear power as a share of the U.S. electricity mix. Our results suggest that dread about nuclear power leads respondents to choose 40% less nuclear generation in 2050 than they would have chosen in the absence of this dread. These methods could apply to other technologies, such as carbon storage, where there may be gaps between actuarial and perceived risks.

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Dear Carol —

As we prepare to celebrate Earth Day, I want to thank you for your membership and support of Ohio Citizen Action. Now we need to join together to be heard over the noise of utility lobbyists in the state legislature.

Ohio lawmakers are proposing to tie the hands of wind and solar developers while passing out cash to FirstEnergy’s nuclear plants. Where will they get that cash? Directly from the pockets of Ohio consumers.

A bill is expected to be introduced this week that would grant FirstEnergy a bailout of their two old, uneconomical nuclear plants. A bailout funded by new charges on the electric bills of every single Ohio power consumer.

This is even more critical to the utility giant now that a federal bankruptcy judge has rejected FirstEnergy’s attempt to be relieved of past, present, and future liabilities for environmental cleanup of dirty coal-fired power plants and decommissioning of its nuclear plants.

“Scheme” – “Abuse of the system” -“Favored creditors” – These are just a few words used by federal regulators to describe FirstEnergy and FirstEnergy Solutions. THIS is the kind of company legislators want to bail out?

We have our work cut out for us for this spring, and we need your help. Make your special Earth Day gift now to keep the pressure on Governor DeWine and our legislators and let them know that we’re watching!

Earth Day contribution

Thank you for your support,

Rachael Belz

PS – Help us reach our goal of $20,000 by Earth Day – April 22nd! We need your help to fight for fairness in Ohio’s energy politics.

Source: email 4/8/2019

One Response to “Are you biased against nuclear power? Yup, say scientists”

  1. David says:

    This is the classic “keep studying it until you get the answer you want” approach.

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