WASHINGTON—Even though nuclear energy is by far the largest clean-air energy source used to generate electricity, fewer than half of Americans strongly associate nuclear energy with clean air, according to a new national survey of 1,000 adults.
The survey shows that only 42 percent of Americans associate nuclear energy “a lot” with clean air. This is the case even though nuclear power plants provide 71 percent of all U.S. electricity that comes from sources that do not emit greenhouse gases or any of the pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The other clean-air energy sources for electricity are hydroelectric power plants (25 percent), wind power projects (2.3 percent), geothermal projects (1.3 percent) and solar power (one-tenth of one percent).
More than 100 nuclear power plants operating in 31 states provide electricity to one of every five U.S. homes and businesses.
The new telephone survey was conducted March 30-April 1 by Bisconti Research Inc. with GfK and has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points. In similar surveys of adults conducted by the same research firms for the Nuclear Energy Institute in May 2005 and March 2006, 55 percent of Americans in both instances strongly associated nuclear energy with clean air.
The new survey also shows that while 57 percent of Americans “have heard or read about” the need for nuclear energy within the past year, only 46 percent have heard or read about the clean-air benefits of nuclear energy. Thirty-nine percent have heard or read about the use of nuclear energy “as a way to fight global warming and climate change.”
“Amid the vast amount of media and public policy attention given to global warming concerns over just the past year, there seems to be a disconnect between awareness of the issue and the meaningful measures possible to reduce greenhouse gases,” said Scott Peterson, Nuclear Energy Institute vice president.
“For our nation to truly succeed in using the best mix of energy technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Americans should be better informed about the capabilities that each technology has. This survey shows continued solid support for nuclear energy. The task that lies ahead for our industry is to help the American people better understand that nuclear energy, which they already support, should be an important element of state and national policies to prevent greenhouse gas emissions.”
The survey also reveals that people who have heard news during the past year about nuclear energy’s role for clean air or addressing global climate change favor nuclear energy in greater numbers than people who have not. Among those who recall hearing about nuclear energy’s clean-air benefits, 73 percent favor the use of nuclear energy. However, among those who do not recall hearing this, only 49 percent favor the use of nuclear energy.
The survey shows that a plurality of Americans (41 percent) believes climate change “is a serious problem and immediate action is necessary,” with another 26 percent of Americans feeling climate change “could be” a serious problem, “and we should take some action now.” Only nine percent of those surveyed believe climate change is not a problem and does not require any action.
Another key finding of the survey is that the overwhelming majority of Americans sees nuclear energy as important to our future, but does not recognize how much electricity it supplies today. About 80 percent of those surveyed believe “nuclear energy will be important in meeting the nation’s future electricity needs,” with 41 percent feeling nuclear energy will be “very important” and 38 percent feeling it will be “somewhat important.”
When asked which sources of electricity are used most today (respondents could name more than one), only 10 percent mention nuclear energy; 32 percent mention natural gas, 31 percent mention coal, 22 percent mention oil, and 16 percent mention hydropower.
When asked which sources of electricity will be used most in the United States 15 years from now, Americans cite solar energy (27 percent) and nuclear energy (24 percent) most. Fourteen percent mention coal-fired power plants, even though coal-fired plants today provide 49 percent of the nation’s electricity and are likely to remain the leading source of electricity in the next 15 years.
“People have a similar view of solar and nuclear energy as fuels of the future, but not major sources today,” Bisconti Research President Ann Bisconti said. “That’s not new. It’s the same view the public has held for nearly a quarter of a century. Misperceptions about our energy supply, coupled with the fact a large segment of the public is not hearing about nuclear energy’s clean-air role, result in an underestimation of the magnitude of nuclear energy’s contribution right now in addressing concerns about global warming.”
The survey shows that 63 percent of Americans favor “the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity in the United States.” This is down from the historic high favorability of 70 percent recorded in 2005 and 68 percent favorability last September.
Two-thirds of Americans say that, if a new power plant is needed to supply electricity, it would be acceptable to add a new reactor at the nearest existing nuclear plant site.
The Nuclear Energy Institute is the nuclear energy industry’s policy organization. This news release and additional information about nuclear energy are available on NEI’s Internet site at http://www.nei.org.