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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A new peer-reviewed study quantifies how much more nuclear power the public might support if "dread" melted away and opinions were more consistent with actual risk. The short answer? A lot.

Why it matters: The novel analysis, published in the journal Energy Policy, comes amid heightened urgency around "deep decarbonization" of power systems to help keep temperature rise in check.

What they did: Researchers conducted surveys that asked respondents to build a hypothetical low-carbon power portfolio that cuts emissions by 50% in 2050.

  • They were given information about emissions and health risks from different technologies.
  • Half the respondents were given labels for the various options: wind; coal; solar; coal with carbon capture; natural gas; and nuclear.
  • The other half were given risk data but without knowing which generation type it was about.

What they found: Respondents who were given labels included significantly less nuclear power in their chosen generation mix, researchers with Carnegie Mellon University and the University of California-San Diego found.

"Our results suggest that dread about nuclear power leads respondents to choose 40% less nuclear generation in 2050 than they would have chosen in the absence of this dread," they write.

Absent this "dread," the paper states, the respondents might support what amounts to 40 additional large nuclear reactors worth of power in 2050, with nuclear providing over 25% of U.S. generation at that time.

Where it stands: Right now nuclear power — which does not emit CO2 — provides a little under a fifth of nationwide generation, but even maintaining that share decades in the future would require a mix of delayed retirements and new projects.

  • Efforts to build new U.S. reactors have largely stalled, and a number of existing units are slated for retirement in coming years.
  • The Energy Department's statistical arm currently projects that nuclear's share will fall to 12% in 2050.

What's next: The paper argues that the nuclear industry's emphasis on the improved safety of newer reactor designs isn't enough to overcome dread — it needs more effective engagement and communication.

The authors also warn that public opposition that's out of step with risk could hinder deployment of carbon capture and storage absent effective public engagement.

What they're saying: Co-author Parth Vaishnav said the findings matter because it's important to ensure that "no options get taken off the table" when it comes to decarbonizing the power mix.

Our thought bubble: Right now, public fears aren't what's ailing nuclear. The biggest headwinds are huge costs for new reactors and competition from cheap natural gas and renewables.

  • Vaishnav, however, said nuclear would become more attractive if there was a price on carbon emissions. "Nuclear cuts greenhouse gases and the economics improve when you properly account for that fact," he told me.

Go deeper: Nuclear energy could be competitive, but it requires pricing carbon

Go deeper

Cuomo asks New York AG and chief judge to choose "independent" investigator into sexual harassment claims

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at a press conference on Feb. 24. Photo: Seth Wenig/pool/AFP via Getty Images

A special counselor to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement on Sunday asking the state's attorney general and chief judge to jointly pick an "independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation" to investigate claims of sexual harassment against the governor.

The state of play: The statement is an about-face from Cuomo, who had previously selected a former judge close to a top aide to lead the investigation, the New York Times reported, a move that was widely criticized.

Republican Sen. Sasse slams Nebraska GOP for "weird worship" of Trump after state party rebuke

Sen. Ben Sasse, (R-Neb.) Photo: Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images

The Nebraska Republican Party on Saturday formally "rebuked" Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) for his vote to impeach former President Trump earlier this year, though it stopped short of a formal censure, CNN reports.

Why it matters: Sasse is the latest among a slate of Republicans who have faced some sort of punishment from their state party apparatus after voting to impeach the former president. The senator responded statement Saturday, per the Omaha World-Herald, saying "most Nebraskans don't think politics should be about the weird worship of one dude."

Cuomo barraged by fellow Dems after second harassment accusation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a barrage of criticism from fellow Democrats after The New York Times reported that the second former aide in four days had accused him of sexual harassment.

Why it matters: Cuomo had faced a revolt from legislators for his handling of nursing-home deaths from COVID. Now, the scandal is acutely personal, with obviously grave political risk.