Nuclear Energy Insight
Spring 2012—Nearly two-thirds of Americans favor the use of nuclear energy, a new survey has found. More than 80 percent believe nuclear energy will be an important source of energy to help the country meet its future electricity needs.
Fifty-eight percent believe that the United States “should definitely build more nuclear plants in the future,” and 65 percent would accept a new reactor built at the nearest nuclear energy site.
“Attitudes toward nuclear energy stand at approximately the level seen in a large number of the surveys in the past decade, but a bit below a pre-Fukushima peak,” said Ann Bisconti, president of Bisconti Research Inc., which conducted the survey. “The weight of public opinion toward nuclear energy and the building of new nuclear power plants continues to be favorable.”
For example, 82 percent say the United States should take advantage of all low-carbon energy sources, including nuclear, hydro and renewable energy.
But with such strong support for nuclear energy overall, what can the poll tell readers aside from suggesting a consensus view?
To put it simply, said Bisconti, “Public opinion is not monolithic.” Exploring how various groups respond to questions can show striking differences in views. This can be on any basis, including gender, age and political affiliation.
The poll asked respondents to select which aspect of electricity is most important to them. Of the six choices—safety, clean air, energy independence, affordability, reliability and efficiency—28 percent of all respondents chose safety, 24 percent clean air and 15 percent energy independence.
But opinions varied widely by group.
A third of women say safety is most important, while 23 percent of men agree. Men put energy independence first. Thirty percent of those ages 18 to 34 say clean air is most important, compared to 19 percent of those 50 and older. The older age group ranked safety at the top. More Republicans than Democrats see nuclear energy as a way to greater energy independence. More Democrats see it as a solution for climate change.
But Bisconti warns not to “rely on one survey to draw conclusions about subgroups.” Doing so fails to detect temporary attitudes driven by current events. The numbers are simply not robust enough to draw firm conclusions. Instead, it is important to validate the numbers in repeat surveys such as those conducted semi-annually by Bisconti Research since 1983.
Still, in reviewing any poll, it helps to delve into the details to better understand the multiplicity of views held due to different personal experiences and demographics.
According to Bisconti, the context for nuclear energy’s high numbers among all those surveyed is that Americans are concerned about climate change and see nuclear energy as one among several solutions. In the poll, 82 percent agreed that the United States should take advantage of all low-carbon energy sources, including nuclear, hydro and renewable energy.
Of the 65 percent who would accept a new reactor built at the nearest nuclear energy site, 69 percent and 68 percent live in the Midwest and Southeast respectively—the highest support in the nation. Bisconti Research/GfK Roper conducted the poll of 1,000 U.S. adults by telephone in February. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
—Read more articles in Nuclear Energy Insight and Insight Web Extra.