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Nuclear power in US: public support plummets in wake of Fukushima crisis

Several polls show that Americans are once again wary of nuclear power. Before the Fukushima disaster, support for nuclear power had hit record highs in the US.

By Staff writer / March 22, 2011

This Aug. 17, 2000, file photo shows a secure area next to the main generator of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon, Vt. Polls show that Vermont residents want it to close next year as scheduled.

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The massive earthquake that threatened a meltdown at Japan's Fukushima I nuclear plant has dramatically eroded public support for building new nuclear power plants in the US, throwing into question the "nuclear renaissance" hailed by industry advocates, new polls show.

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A new Civil Society Institute/OCR poll conducted last week shows that a majority of Americans now favor halting new federal loan guarantees to support reactor construction. At the same time, most respondents also favor removing the federal indemnification in the event of a nuclear accident.

Other surveys also show a serious weakening in support for nuclear-power development. While Gallup found 62 percent support for nuclear energy last March – the highest since the polling firm first asked the question in 1994 – support for new nuclear power has now dropped to 44 percent, a new USA Today/Gallup poll shows.

Similarly, a new survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press release Monday shows 39 percent now favoring more nuclear power while 52
percent oppose it – matching a September 2005 low in support for nuclear. Last October, a Pew poll showed 47 percent favored promoting the increased use of nuclear power and 47 percent opposed.

“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," Pam Solo, founder and president of the Civil Society Institute, the Newton, Mass.-based nonpartisan think tank, said in a conference call. "These poll findings support the need for a renewed national debate about the energy choices that America makes."

American views on nuclear power

The new CSI/OCR survey, she says, is an attempt to dig deeper into public attitudes on nuclear power. It shows, for instance, that 53 percent of Americans would support “a moratorium on new nuclear reactor construction in the United States” – but only if “increased energy efficiency and off-the-shelf renewable technologies such as wind and solar could meet our energy demands for the near term.”

That's a big "if." Nuclear industry boosters and others contend it is virtually impossible. A new plan by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc., a Boston energy-consulting firm, suggests nuclear power could be reduced by one-quarter, but only in a transition over four decades.

"If done in a gradual way, over time, there's plenty of time to backfill" the declines in nuclear power though systems like solar and wind, Bruce Biewald, president of Synapse Energy told reporters in a conference call hosted by CSI unveiling the findings.

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