The survey of 1,000 adults March 18-21 by Bisconti Research Inc./Gfk Roper is the latest in a series of polls commissioned by the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry association.
Surveys conducted by Bisconti Research show a change in the public's view of nuclear energy over time. Favorability has climbed from 49 percent in 1983 to 74 percent today.
The NEI said in a statement about a similar poll conducted in 2006, "Bisconti Research surveys for NEI, on principle, do not introduce any ideas, positive or negative, before key attitude questions.
Sunrise over the Comanche Peak nuclear power plant in Texas (Photo credit unknown)
Support for "definitely" building more nuclear power plants in the future has increased - up from 47 percent in 1998, when the question was first asked, to 70 percent today, an increase of 23 percentage points.
This most recent survey found that 84 percent of Americans believe that electric utilities should begin preparation now to build new nuclear plants if needed in the next decade.
Eighty-seven percent believe nuclear energy "will play an important role in meeting this nation's electricity needs" in the years to come.
"This unprecedented support for nuclear energy is being driven largely by people's concerns for meeting future energy demand and environmental goals, but it coincides with statements by President Obama and other national leaders who have voiced strong support for more nuclear power plants," said Ann Bisconti, PhD, president of Bisconti Research Inc.
"The President's State of the Union speech and his subsequent announcement of federal loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors in Georgia clearly has elevated the issue in peoples' minds," Bisconti said.
Dr. Bisconti teaches about communicating on nuclear issues, such as waste and radiation, at Fundamentals of Nuclear Communications, a course sponsored by Nuclear Energy Institute. She also teaches about ongoing and crisis communications at World Nuclear University, a summer institute for future leaders sponsored by the World Nuclear Organization with support from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The March survey found that the public is far more concerned about job creation and economic growth than energy and the environment at the present time. Moreover, air pollution is a greater concern than global climate change, although some respondents care very much about climate change.
The survey found broad support for nuclear industry actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
The poll also shows that Americans are highly supportive (72 percent) of the federal government playing an active role in encouraging investment in solar, wind, advanced-design nuclear power plants or other energy technologies that reduce emissions of greenhouse gases linked to the threat of global climate change.
Expansion is planned for the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia backed by a federal loan guarantee. (Photo courtesy Southern Nuclear)
Public confidence in nuclear plant safety also is at record levels. When asked to rate the safety of nuclear power plants on a 1-to-7 scale, 73 percent gave ratings of 5 or above, 5 compared with 35 percent in 1984, when the question was first asked. Also, 82 percent agreed that U.S. nuclear power plants are "safe and secure."
This confidence is evidenced by support of a record-high 87 percent for license renewal for nuclear power plants that continue to meet federal safety standards.
Nuclear power plants operating in 31 states produce 20 percent of the nation's electricity, even though they constitute only 10 percent of installed electric generating capacity.
Although the public is somewhat confident in the nuclear industry's ability to safely store used reactor fuel at nuclear power plant sites (59 percent), eight out of 10 of those surveyed expressed a strong desire for the federal government to move used nuclear fuel rods to centralized, secure storage facilities away from the plant sites until a permanent disposal facility is ready.
The permanent geologic nuclear waste disposal site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada was approved by Congress and President George W. Bush and has until recently been going through the permitting process, but the Obama administration has stopped funding Yucca Mountain and has halted the permitting process.
Concerns about water intrusion and earthquakes breaching the long-term security of the Yucca Mountain site as well as the united opposition of Nevada elected officials led to the cancellation of Yucca Mountain, leaving the United States with no place to dispose of spent nuclear fuel. The spent fuel is now being held in storage at the utilities where it was used.
The survey showed strong support (79 percent) for recycling used fuel from nuclear energy facilities to generate additional electricity and ultimately reduce the amount of waste that must be permanently disposed.
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