Prior to the release of the 2010 GSS data set, finding questions on the perceived danger of nuclear power generation required going back as far as the early nineties. In response to a commenter, I attempted just that. Now, more contemporary responses are available, albeit still prior to the Japanese tsunami.
Responses are on a 5-point scale that has been inverted from the GSS for ease of viewing. A 1 indicates the belief that the perils of nuclear power are minimal, a 5 that nuclear power is extremely dangerous. Respondents are broken up into five categories; Really Smarts (wordsum score of 9-10, comprising 13% of the population), Pretty Smarts (7-8, 26%), Normals (6, 22%), Pretty Dumbs (4-5, 27%), and Really Dumbs (0-3, 12%). The average (mean) response for members of each group is shown. One standard deviation for the entire respondent pool is 1.14 (n = 1301):
Although there is some perception that SWPLs-types oppose expanding nuclear power generation because of the environmental dangers it putatively imposes, catastrophic anthropogenic global warming concerns mitigate this. Nuclear power is the only way to viably produce power on a large scale without significant carbon dioxide emissions, so opposing nuclear power while simultaneously maintaining good standing in the Gaia church means putting modernity on the very weak backs of wind and solar, or simply looking like a luddite. So it comes as little surprise that more intelligent people are more supportive of nuclear power generation than less intelligent people are.
Parenthetically, over the 16 year interval since the nuclear question was posed in the GSS, the pretty smarts and really smarts have become even less fearful of nuclear power than they had been, while the sentiments of the other three groups have remained the same.
Will the Fukushima Daiichi evacuation and closure change that? Smarter people will more easily discern that had the emergency generators required to cool the reactors been on higher ground (they could handle 20-foot high waves, but needed to handle 50-foot high waves last March), no meltdown would’ve occurred–an unfortunate shortcoming, but an irrelevant one for most of Europe and the US. Germany has announced that it will close all of the country’s nuclear power plants by 2022, but other European nations haven’t followed suit (and if that remains the case, Germany will probably end up buying energy generated by nuclear power from places like France in the future).
GSS variables used: NUKEGEN, YEAR(2010), WORDSUM(0-3)(4-5)(6)(7-8)(9-10)