Are you biased against nuclear power? Yup, say scientists

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In the 1970therefore, you could not escape the Pepsi Challenge on TV. Blindfolded people took sips of Pepsi and its better-known archrival without knowing which was which and — surprise, surprise — more individuals favored Pepsi Cola. The message has been obvious: Judge the soda onto its merits not its reputation.

Scientists in Carnegie Mellon and the University of California, San Diego recently did something like this but maybe not with soda. In this blind taste test, they gave a lot of random people accurate information about the benefits and risks that come along with different power resources. When they hid the tags (coal, solar, etc), individuals showed a greater taste for nuclear power. .

On its most basic level, this research shows a well-known reality: Fear of nuclear power looms much larger than the risks. But this didn’t lead the investigators to the conclusion that everyone just needs to become rational. (If people were convinced by forecasts for rationality, we are well on our way to eliminating carbon emissions by today.) They came up with a few suggestions for accepting the reality of nuclear terror, and building it into projections for the future.

Here’s the way the analysis went. Researchers setup a simple online match, where individuals were asked to come up with a fresh electricity mix for the United States. As players tried to reduce carbon emissions, the match gave them feedback about just how a lot of people might die from pollution or power-plant disasters. Using slidersthey picked the quantity of electricity they’d like to see coming out of solar, wind, coal, coal with carbon capture technologies, nuclear, along with natural gas. In roughly half the matches, the researchers tagged these energy options as “Technology 1, Technology 2,” etc, removing the tags and all the associations we have with them. When the titles of the power plants were hidden, the players chosen to build the equivalent of 40 longer nuclear reactors, then the gamers who may read the labels.

The mini-game investigators designed. Abdulla, et al.

Other investigators might have used these findings as a opportunity to pity folks for being scientifically illiterate, or noticed this anxiety of nuclear as a motive to design much safer reactors. But these investigators noticed previous studies suggesting that neither strategy will work. Pummeling individuals with details, or engineering security tweaks does very little to dispel uncooked terror. Two of the study’s authors, Ahmed Abdulla and Parth Vaishnav, told me they were equally interested in the squishy social science about how folks think about risk as on the difficult truth.

“We are both very concerned about the blinders scientists sometimes impose on themselves,” Abdulla said.

Once you remove those blinders, you can view it might be impossible to bridge this gap between the real risks of nuclear power and the fear it arouses. Accept that dread as a given and it points you toward a more nuanced, but practical route. So, for instance, if you figured out the most economical way to Boost U.S. carbon emissions was by building 100 nuclear power plants, this finding suggests that you should trim that amount by 40 percentage down to 60 plants, to account for the panic element.

“That suggests that we should be a little less black and white when modeling energy paths, Vaishnav said. “In a lot of the literature researchers say, ‘OK, people don’t like nuclear, let’s model without it.”

But their finding implies a binary, all or nothing thinking is the incorrect strategy. Despite their anxieties, folks didn’t leave nuclear electricity altogether. They simply wished to use it.

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