By Tom Granahan
Recently, two surveys were unveiled on the same day – within nine minutes of each other, no less - attempting to put into perspective how Americans feel about the use of nukes for power. Their conclusions? Wildly different.
One, from the “nonpartisan” Civil Society Institute (aren’t they even partisan to civil folks?), showed nuclear power is viewed in a deeply skeptical way by a "strong and strikingly bipartisan majority" of Americans. The other, from the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, showed “strong support among Americans for nuclear energy.” This group went even further, saying the poll revealed a dearth of knowledge among those that are helping to shape opinion on nuclear energy. In other words, many of the loudmouths on the issue haven’t a clue what they’re talking about.
So, who to believe? For starters, it’s safe to say that if you have a strong feeling about this one way or another, survey results aren’t going to change your mind. Reasonable people can make very persuasive arguments for whatever dog they have in this fight, and reasonable people can pretty much ignore those arguments because they’re so set in their own beliefs. Happens every day.
Second, as we all know, these surveys can be structured in such a way that a respondent’s answers are skewed to the point of being almost invalid. For instance, CSI touts that in its survey only 8% of Americans have “no concern about increased U.S. reliance on nuclear power.” No concern? None, nada, zero? That’s a pretty tough hurdle to clear. No matter how strongly you support nuclear, you have to concede there are risks involved. Meanwhile, the CASEnergy poll pointed out that, “after people heard several sentences about nuclear energy, nuclear’s net favorability doubled.” Did I mention that CASEnergy is a pro-nuclear group? I’m guessing those extra few sentences didn’t touch on Three Mile Island, Chernobyl or terrorism, not to mention the sight of a cooling tower up the block.
So, forget the surveys. Perhaps the best way to figure out how we may or may not benefit from the use of nuclear power is to look at other countries that are actually using it on a substantial level. France is one example. The country generates almost 80% of its electricity from nuclear power, versus the 20% we do in the U.S. Sweden gets about half of its power from nuclear, and Germany nearly 30%. (Meanwhile, the Chinese alone are likely to double the world’s nuclear output, and India has plans to dramatically increase its nuclear use in coming decades.)
John Engler, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, recently noted that if the U.S. dismisses the nuclear option and continues to be burdened by fluctuating prices of foreign energy sources, it will undermine our competitive position in the global marketplace. Seems to make sense - even more so given the latest developments out of Iran, which, incidentally, is doing a masterful job of playing to our weaknesses.
Alas, the tide may be turning. Even some in the Green crowd are starting to come around, attracted by the emission-free power of nuclear. With consumers getting whacked by higher gas prices, and the intense criticism being leveled at “Big Oil,” there just might be enough momentum building – regardless of what any survey says - to get the country thinking more seriously about nuclear, a clean, efficient, reliable source of energy.
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Just don’t build it near my house.