WASHINGTON, D.C.—Eighty percent of residents living near nuclear energy facilities favor the use of nuclear energy as one way to provide electricity in the United States. Half of them “strongly favored” the use of nuclear energy, compared to 11 percent who were “strongly opposed.”
Americans believe that companies that operate nuclear energy facilities are taking appropriate safety measures and are prepared for the most severe events that could impact U.S. reactors.
Eighty-three percent gave U.S. reactors a high safety rating—scores of five to seven on a seven-point safety scale. A score of one on the scale means “very unsafe;” a score of seven means “very safe.” The accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant in March had little impact on the public’s view of their nearby nuclear energy plant. Compared to a similar survey in 2009, residents near nuclear plants increased their low marks for safety by three percentage points (7 in 2009 and 10 in 2011).
The nationwide survey of adults who live within 10 miles of U.S. nuclear energy facilities was conducted June 11-18 by Bisconti Research Inc. and Quest Global Research Group. Bisconti Research has conducted biennial surveys of public attitudes of residents near U.S. reactors since 2003. The national sample includes 1,152 full-time residents, 18 near each of the 64 nuclear plant sites, and excludes households with anyone who works at the plant. Respondents were evenly split among Democrats, Independents and Republicans. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.
Key measures show some drop-off in the range of 4 to 9 percentage points between July 2009 and June 2011, but opinions about nuclear energy and the local plant are highly favorable.
“Continued plant neighbor support for nuclear energy and their local plant, coming just three months after the nuclear accident in Japan, attests to the fact that nuclear power plants in this country are a known and familiar part of their communities and, on average across plants, are seen as safe and beneficial,” said Ann Bisconti, president of Bisconti Research. “The findings also highlight the importance of continuing excellence both in plant performance and outreach to the public.”
Plant neighbors are overwhelmingly favorable to the nearby nuclear power plant: 86 percent have a favorable impression of the nearby nuclear power plant and the way it has operated recently, and 59 percent have a very favorable impression. Eighty-seven percent said they have confidence in their local electric utility to operate its nuclear power plant safely, including 60 percent who strongly agree with that statement. Nearly eight out of 10 (79 percent) said they are confident that the company has prepared the plant to withstand the most severe natural events that may occur in this region. Fifteen percent disagreed with that statement.
Nuclear energy facilities in Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia have safely withstood strong tornadoes this spring, while two nuclear power plants in Nebraska have been protected against record flooding.
Two-thirds of nuclear plant neighbors surveyed said it would be acceptable to add a new reactor at the site of the nearest nuclear power plant if a new power plant is needed to supply electricity. Twenty-eight percent said it would not be acceptable.
Another reason for the strong public support is the central role the nuclear energy facilities play in the local economy and the life of the community. Large majorities agreed that the plant helps the local economy (87 percent) and provides good jobs for local people and local businesses that provide services to the plant (also 87 percent).
Eighty-seven percent said that nuclear energy will be very important or somewhat important to meet America’s electricity needs in the years ahead; nine percent said not too important or not important at all. Sixty-two percent said nuclear energy use will be “very important.”
Other key measures in the survey include:
86 percent agree that when their original operating license expires, we should renew the license of nuclear power plants that continue to meet federal safety standards; 13 percent disagree.
79 percent agree that we should keep the option to build more nuclear power plants in the future; 19 percent disagree.
80 percent agree that “electric utilities should prepare now so that new nuclear power plants could be built if needed in the next decade” and 72 percent agree that those companies “should definitely build more nuclear power plants in the future.” One quarter of respondents disagreed with the latter statement.
Eighty-one percent said they are informed about what action to take in case of an emergency at the nuclear power plant nearest to where you live, including 45 percent who said they are “very well informed.” Eighteen percent said they are not well informed about the first action to take in the event of an emergency.