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The complicated politics of nuclear power

Cardinal News, by Dwayne Yancey, December 5, 2022

Feelings about nuclear energy generally split along left-right lines. But while Gov. Glenn Youngkin is pushing nuclear energy in Virginia, it’s left-of-center governments that are now pushing small nuclear reactors internationally and a conservative state legislator in Southwest Virginia who opposes them.

The push to build such small portable reactors – the technical term is “small modular reactor,” or SMR – is pretty widespread, though………………………

It will not surprise you to learn that Americans are politically polarized over nuclear energy the way they are most other things. A Gallup Poll earlier this year found Americans almost evenly split – 51% in favor, 47% against. What’s more interesting, though (or maybe more predictable), is how they split: 60% of Republicans are in favor of nuclear energy, only 39% of Democrats are.

That left-right split is generally true around the world, which a) helps explain why this nuclear proposal is coming from a Republican governor, and b) makes the exceptions so interesting.

Globally, France is an obvious exception. …………….. there has been a general left-right consensus that nuclear energy is an important national priority. Not until the Green Party came along in 1984 was there any significant voice against nuclear power, according to a paper published by Oxford Academic.

Another interesting exception comes just to our north – in Canada, specifically with the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau……… Trudeau has also come down on the side of nuclear power. …………[Four provinces] called for making Canada “a global SMR technology hub” ………………………

Another left-of-center government promoting nuclear energy is our own – the Biden administration.

The Democrats’ so-called climate bill – officially the Inflation Reduction Act – that passed this summer contains numerous provisions promoting nuclear energy. More recently, Biden’s special presidential envoy for climate, John Kerry, has been one of the chief proponents.  In November, Kerry made two announcements that haven’t gotten much attention. First, he announced that the United States will partner with Ukraine on a pilot program to build a “secure and safe small modular nuclear reactor” in Ukraine. Second, he announced plans to help Europeans – particularly in central and eastern Europe – convert coal-fired plants to small modular reactors

……… All these exceptions to ideological orthodoxy have come on the left, but there are some on the right, too. I mentioned that the Gallup Poll found 60% of Republicans in favor – but it also found 37% opposed. One of those Republicans who opposes nuclear power – at least in Southwest Virginia – is Del. Marie March, R-Floyd County. She recently posted on Facebook: “Youngkin wants nuclear micro reactors to be placed in SWVA coal mines. I am very concerned about this new technology and prefer that SWVA isn’t used as the lab rat.

For too long NOVA harvests our taxes and our land. Now they want to use us to harvest power. Right now a Nuclear power plant is being targeted in Ukraine to be bombed. Look at the impact of a nuclear meltdown on generations of people and the ecosystem. We don’t need Geiger counters in SWVA!”

March’s concern about coal country effectively being used as a sort of “sacrifice zone” to generate energy for urban areas isn’t that different from what some liberal groups might say. ……………………

Now, none of this is meant to make a case one way or another on the wisdom of splitting atoms and whether some of that should be done in Southwest Virginia. It is meant to put the proposed SMR in Southwest Virginia in a global context and to show that the politics of nuclear are not always clear-cut. We in Virginia will get to see this play out in the General Assembly (and perhaps beyond). Youngkin has proposed $10 million to go toward research and development of innovative energy technologies, with half of that devoted to nuclear research. That may be exactly what we should expect of a conservative governor. Meanwhile, the liberal government in Canada has invested more than $18 million toward its own nuclear research. Who would have thought that Glenn Youngkin and Justin Trudeau had so much in common, or that Marie March would wind up aligned with Greenpeace?


December 5, 2022 - Posted by | politics, USA

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