The stars---public opinion, global warming concerns and safety---may be aligning for nuclear power to make a comeback.
Nuclear power is environmentally friendly---at least until you have to dispose of the waste---and powerful enough to fulfill most of our power needs. The problem? You can't mention nuclear power without thinking Three Mile Island or Chernobyl. It probably doesn't help that Homer Simpson's town can glow from time to time.
The Wall Street Journal examined the issue Tuesday in a story that captured the nuclear conundrum well. The ledger looks like this:
- Nuclear power is clean and emits no carbon dioxide.
- Popular opinion is coming around to nuclear power.
- Next generation reactors are more efficient and cheap.
- The systems that power nuclear plants are smart and feature automated safety features and better shutdown processes.
- Nuclear plants still cost more than fossil fuel versions.
- You still have to store the waste somewhere.
- When there is a rare accident the ramifications can be large.
- These plants are big terrorist targets (France has its reactors inside double containment buildings).
- Not in my backyard (NIMBY) is prominent.
Nevertheless, Gallup has 59 percent of the public favoring the use of nuclear power.
In a blog post, Gallup notes:
Support for nuclear energy had been fairly steady in the mid-50% range since Gallup first asked about it in 1994, apart from a 46% reading in 2001. The percentage who say they strongly favor nuclear energy had also been fairly stable at around 20%, before increasing to 27% this year.
Gallup has always found consistent and large gender differences in Americans' views of nuclear power, and the same applies this year -- 71% of men favor the use of nuclear energy, compared with only 47% of women. Both groups show their highest level of support for nuclear power to date.
Where do you stand? On paper, I'm all for nuclear power. Logically, these plants make sense. Yet there's a nagging feeling about them. But the real test is gauging how you feel if you're in range of one of these plants.