Environmental Protection

Survey: Americans Want to Hit The Brakes on More Nuclear Power

While a drop in public support for nuclear power would be expected after an incident like the Fukushima reactor crisis, the nuclear disaster in Japan has triggered a much stronger response among Americans, a majority of whom would freeze new nuclear power construction, stop additional federal loan guarantees for reactors, shift away from nuclear power to wind and solar power, and eliminate the indemnification of the nuclear power industry from most post-disaster clean up costs, according to a major new survey conducted by ORC International for the nonprofit and nonpartisan Civil Society Institute (CSI).

Beyond major nuclear power policy questions, the survey also found a majority of Americans living near nuclear power plants ill equipped to deal with a major disaster.  According to the survey, over half (52 percent) of Americans living within 50 miles of a nuclear reactor do not know "what to do in the event of nuclear reactor emergency," such as "the evacuation route and what other steps to take."   The poll indicates that nearly one in four (24 percent) of Americans say they live within 50 miles of a nuclear power reactor.

Conducted March 15-16, 2011, the national opinion survey of 814 Americans also found that:  

  • More than half (53 percent) of Americans would now support "a moratorium on new nuclear reactor construction in the United States," if "increased energy efficiency and off the shelf renewable technologies such as wind and solar could meet our energy demands for the near term."  (Such a plan requiring no new nuclear power plant construction in U.S. was outlined in 2010 by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc., and is available online at http://www.civilsocietyinstitute.org/media/pdfs/Beyond%20BAU%205-11-10.pdf.)
  • 73 percent of Americans do not "think taxpayers should take on the risk for the construction of new nuclear power reactors in the United States through billions of dollars in new federal loan guarantees."
  • 74 percent of Americans would support "a shift of federal loan-guarantee support for energy away from nuclear reactors" in favor of wind and solar power.
  • Nearly three out of four (73 percent) Americans would favor Congress reviewing a 1957 law indemnifying nuclear power companies from most disaster clean-up costs.  Instead, Americans would hold the companies "liable for all damages resulting from a nuclear meltdown or other accident."
  • 76 percent of Americans say they are now  "more supportive than … a month ago to using clean renewable energy resources – such as wind and solar – and increased energy efficiency as an alternative to more nuclear power in the United States."  In fact, nearly half (46 percent) of all Americans now say they are now "much more supportive" of relying on more clean energy and energy efficiency than they were a month ago.

"The American public clearly favors a conservative approach to energy that insists on it being safe in all senses of the word – including the risk to local communities and citizens," said Pam Solo, founder and president, Civil Society Institute. "These poll findings support the need for a renewed national debate about the energy choices that America makes.    When Japan -- the nation that President Obama held up as an example of safe nuclear power being used on a large-scale basis -- is unable to effectively control its considerable downside, Americans are understandably leery about the same technology being used even more extensively in this nation.  And safety concerns about the existing nuclear plants also deserve serious attention.   The Japanese crisis is an opportunity for America to make smarter choices about energy and that process should start with a recognition that the problems with nuclear power cannot simply be ignored in the wake of the tragedy at Fukushima."

"The survey findings suggest that Americans would like to see the brakes applied to more nuclear power," said Graham Hueber, senior researcher, ORC International. "This goes beyond the simple gut-level question of whether nuclear power is supported or opposed.   When Americans are asked about their views on specific policy questions that go to the future of nuclear power, there is majority support across the board on every question for moving away from greater reliance on this power source."

"The United States is at a real crossroads today," said Grant Smith, senior advisor, Civil Society Institute, and executive director, Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana. "While the electric power industry remains obsessed with such dirty and needlessly expensive 19th and 20th century 'business as usual' solutions as coal-fired and nuclear power, there is an opportunity today to make the transition without multi-billion dollar gambles on unproven carbon capture and sequestration technology and risky nuclear loan-guarantee bailouts. In the wake of the Japan reactor crisis, there is  a new opportunity here to embrace the clean energy future that is within our grasp."

The 100-percent independent CSI think tank receives no direct or indirect support of any kind from any nuclear industry interest, or any other energy-related company, organization or related individual.

OTHER KEY SURVEY FINDINGS

  • Nearly six out of 10 (58 percent) Americans are now "less supportive of expanding nuclear power in the United States" than they were a month ago.   Only about one in seven Americans (14 percent) said their views had not been changed by the Japanese reactor crisis.  
  • Fewer than half (46 percent) of Americans would "support more nuclear power reactors in the United States" and 44 percent now oppose new reactors.  That support level is down by more than 25 percent from the most recent March 2010 Gallup Poll showing 62 percent support for nuclear power.
  • More than half (51 percent) of Americans would support "a halt to the United States extending the operating lifespan of its oldest nuclear reactors." 
  • 92 percent of Americans are "following news about the nuclear reactor crisis and related disaster in Japan."

METHODOLOGY

These findings are based on a telephone survey conducted by ORC International among a national probability sample of 814 adults comprising 404 men and 410 women 18 years of age and older, living in private households in the continental United States.  Interviewing for this survey was completed during the period March 15-16, 2011.  Completed interviews are weighted by five variables:  age, sex, geographic region, race, and education to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total population, 18 years of age and older.  

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