Why is the Left so afraid of nuclear power?

…well, not everyone on the left, but there is a very strong anti-nuclear attitude that emanates from most people that call themselves environmentalists and by extension liberals. I am firmly on the left side of the political spectrum, but I just don’t get it. Most of the arguments I have heard against nuclear power in the United States are based on things like “they would be targets for terrorists” or “where would we store the waste” or “what if we have another Chernobyl”. Solutions to minimize these issues exist, but seem to be ignored completely by anti-nuclear types. The word “nuclear” seems to have become as much of a dirty word to the Left as “socialism” is to the Right.

I am having a difficult time understanding this. Do environmentalists really think the solution is solar power and windmills all over the place? Do they ignore the environmental degradation that even these clean energies provide? I rarely even hear them discuss things like ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), which is novel if not yet exactly practical. I’m interested in getting more insight into this situation, especially with the recent news that President Obama does seem to be breaking from the liberal mainstream and new nuclear plants might actually get built in the U.S. sometime soon after a decades’ long hiatus.

There is currently a small but growing splinter of greens who are in favour of exploring usage of Nuclear power as a way of lowering Carbon emissions.

James Lovelock’s 2004 article helped a lot:

Give it another 10 years and I think many more environmentalists will be more willing to discuss Nuclear rationally.

Here’s a recent (just yesterday, in fact) interview with anti-nuclear activist Howard Wasserman, if that sheds any light on the OP’s question.

I think partly there is a generational divide. The “Old Hippie” wing of the Democratic Party seems to be so steeped in in “No Nukes” rhetoric that they will never accept nuclear energy as an option. I don’t get the mindset. Wind and solar just can’t provide enough clean power to wean us off of oil. As between coal and nuclear, the latter seems like a much cleaner option.

I don’t know why so many liberals are afraid of nuclear power. The interview with Wasserman doesn’t shed much light–he just reiterates that nuclear power is bad. Maybe it’s the association with nuclear weapons? Or maybe they’re worse than average on gaging risk. Anti-nukes harangue about the dangers of nuclear power and yet in today’s SD article Cecil mentions that the WHO “estimates air pollution results in about two million early deaths each year”. If going full-bore nuclear could cut that by just 10% (200k lives) we’d still be saving lives even if we had a Chernobyl-like disaster every year (according to wiki, ~100k deaths).

I think that’s a great deal of the problem; fear of nuclear weapons metastasized into a general hostility to anything with the word “nuclear” in it. That’s why NMR ( Nuclear Magnetic Resonance ) was changed to MRI ( Magnetic Resonance Imaging ); same technology, but the new acronym avoids the dreaded word “nuclear”.

Also, there’s a strong faction that seems to have fastened onto “wind and solar” as innately superior because they see them as somehow more “natural”.

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The article doesn’t mention their stance on nuclear power, but I am sure it would have been quite instructive as well.

The negatives of nuclear power is a lot more than pollution. And it lasts for thousands of years. I’m not completely against nuclear power, but if we’re going to do it, let’s make damn sure all of our bases are covered

Er, isn’t the nuclear waste “pollution”? I mean, to the degree that it’s a problem at all.

Paranoia, mostly. Chernobyl* and Three Mile Island** happened in comparatively short order, and it scared off a generation of enviornmentalists. Younger people on the left (and the left is comparatively younger than the right) don’t have this fear. I suspect that if President Obama is successful in pushing nuclear power back into the spotlight, we’ll get back into the mindset of accepting it.

*An overrated disaster; 100,000 deaths is radically inflated, and you can really only get numbers like that by counting the people who will die, statistically, a year or two earlier because of increased cancer risk. The WHO and the IAEA figured that 56 people died directly and that maybe 4,000 will die from cancer caused by the meltdown among the 600,000 most exposed. Sucks, true, but the deaths caused by air pollution from coal is much higher. Deeg, read your wikipedia page more carefully- the 100,000 figure is how many people in the exposed population will die from cancer from other causes.

**No one died.

EDIT: Here I go, illustrating my own point- Chernobyl was 1986 and Three Mile Island was 1979. Since I’m 22, I have no real sense of when this happened.

I remember a bumper sticker from years ago-“Split Wood, Not Atoms”

OK, we burn how much wood to equal the output a nuclear power plant?

And where do we get that much wood? From the forests? And all that smoke, where does that go?

Think, people. :smack:

As opposed to, say, heavy metals from solar power panels that remain poisonous for billions of years ( at least! )? That “remains poisonous for thousands of years” sounds impressive, but the dangers are hugely overstated, and there are plenty of poisons that don’t decay at all on a human timescale.

I think those incidents served to confirm their fears, not create them. The No Nukes movement was active in the 60s.

And to put things in perspective.

I did a back of the envelope calculation a few years ago. EVERY PERSON ON THE PLANET would have to have their own personal Three Mile Island accident to add up to the amount of radiation released by Chernobyl.

And as far as cancer from Chernobyl, the only easily measured cancers are hundreds of thyroid cancers. Thyroid cancer has a very high cure rate. And THOSE probably wouldnt have happened if the Soviets had not been such dipshits post disaster wise.

Chernobyl killed a good number of workers and post disaster workers, created a fair number of thyroid cancers. The other stuff is low enough you have to use careful statistical analysis to eek out the numbers. Its nearly in the noise, if not actually in the noise.

Its not the mega disaster some folks think it is.

If you want the perfect illustration of how the anti-nuclear Left views nuclear power, take a look at how it’s portrayed in The Simpsons. Nuclear power is shown as the very incarnation of everything that is wrong with American society: conformity to the military-industrial Establishment, profit at the expense of ecological degradation, a disaster waiting to happen, and all so the Sheeple can live their smug, complacent middle-class, white bread lives bought off by consumerism. The only way they could make the message more blatant is if they showed a Crustyburger outlet powered by it’s own nuclear reactor. There’s a faction on the Left that doesn’t want a technological solution to the carbon problem; they want the entire current paradigm of civilization, which they scorn as vulgar and unenlightened, scrapped.

*not this author’s view

I think it’s also based on distrust of industry and corporations (and perhaps capitalism in general). “How can we trust them to run nuclear plants? They’ll just let safety features rot, cut corners, and dump nuclear waste in rivers just to make a few bucks!”

One thing that bothers me is that the core meltdown Chernobyl problem was susceptible to isn’t even an issue for modern reactors. A few years ago I went to a Green Festival (I really do consider myself as an environmentalist!) and got into a discussion with an anti-nuke guy who hadn’t even heard of CANDU reactors. He lost a lot of credibility in my book with his ignorance on the subject. I’m certainly not an expert on this subject, but I think I know enough from reading to see that the benefits far outweigh the risks. For example, I’ve read that a typical coal plant releases more radioactivity (primarily in the form of soot) than a nuclear plant with a similar power output does. (If someone has a cite, please let me know.)

The nuclear waste problem is unsolvable. The plants cost a lot more than estimates. They are poster boys for cost over runs. If they were financially positive ,the power companies would build them themselves. It they are indeed safe and make money, they could get private banking to give them the money. They could get the plants insured if they were safe,couldn’t they? But like the banks, the tax payer will cover their mistakes. I thought you people hated the tax payer being liable for private corporations?
They are built by companies that can make more money by cutting corners. They will cover up if they do something wrong. They lie. Karen Silkwood ring a bell?

I agree. We have one that had a crack just discovered and it leaked into a river. It also made electricity rates increase not decrease. I grew up with in a few miles of Millstone 1, 2 and 3 and our electric bill was the highest in the state. Nuclear power is very expensive compared to coal. It creates tons of hazardous waste that we still don’t know what to do with. It has a half life of thousands of years. Then there is always the risk of a Chernobyl or Three Mile Island. Some of these plants are getting might old.

This Frontline report shows why people in France got to like Nuclear power.


Many high ranking civil servants and government officials trained as scientists and engineers (rather than lawyers, as in the United States)

I think I see difference and the problem. :slight_smile:

While it is true that a good chunk of the left is against nuclear power (I’m not BTW) I think it has to do more with NYMBY than any political affiliation.