Study: Biggest Factor Holding Back Nuclear Power Is ‘Public Perception’

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Nuclear power’s public image problem is biggest hurdle to building enough nuclear power plants to stymie global warming, according to a new study published Thursday by the University of Pennsylvania.

Nuclear power generates none of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions blamed for global warming, but Americans’ negative views on reactors are largely responsible for preventing their widespread adoption, the study author’s contend.

“The most pressing problem right now is public perception of the risk of nuclear power,” University of Pennsylvania professor Dr. Reto Gieré, who involved in the research, said in a statement. “Engineers and scientists have good solutions to the challenge of waste management.”

Gieré and his colleagues found people living close to reactors tend to have more favorable attitudes towards nuclear power than those living farther away. Industry polling has found public perception is an issue for nuclear power, but their findings suggest the more people know reactors, the more likely they are to support them.

“Our own polling (which is quoted in this study) shows that nuclear energy is generally well accepted around the United States, and that reactors are very popular in the communities that call them home,” Eric McErlain, a spokesperson for the Nuclear Energy Institute, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The people closest to the plants appreciate how they can anchor a town’s economy for decades, and are well aware of the risk if the plants were to close their gates forever.”

Gieré’s study concluded nuclear power was “an appealing alternative” to mitigate global warming and used less space than wind or solar power. McErlain told TheDCNF nuclear power plants also generate several positive benefits to society that don’t get factored into power markets.

“Unlike wind and sun, reactors are not paid for producing electricity that is emissions-free,” McErlain said. “They are not compensated for the high reliability that is created because they have many months of fuel on site, something that contributes greatly to the resilience of the electric grid.”

New York and Illinois recently put in place plans to keep nuclear power plants from closing down, but reactors lack the lucrative government support other CO2-free power sources, like solar and wind, receive.

A two-reactor nuclear power plant can prevent nearly 9 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually, representatives of a nuclear plant previously told TheDCNF. Nuclear power accounts for 63 percent of non-CO2 emitting power sources in the U.S., and is “the most cost-effective zero-emission technology,” according to The Economist.

“The principal issue in the US continues to be dysfunctional federal and state economic paradigms that are providing preferential treatment for other energy sources while taking nuclear’s clean 24/7 baseload reliability for granted,” David Blee, executive director of the Nuclear Infrastructure Council, told TheDCNF.. “This is not to say that public perception isn’t an overriding issue in other countries as Germany, Japan and, more recently, South Korea, can attest.”

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