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Japan Crisis Effects US Public Support Of Nuclear Power

March 23, 2011

Amid the ongoing nuclear emergency in Japan, public support for the increased use of nuclear power has slipped in the United States.

Pew Research Center for the People & the Press reports that 39% of the public favors promoting the increased use of nuclear power, while 52% are opposed. In October 2010, it was a tie at 47% of the population in favor and 47% opposed.

On March 15-16, 2011, the Civil Society Institute (CSI) and ORC International conducted a telephone survey of 814 adults living in the United States. The survey found that 58% of Americans are now “less supportive of expanding nuclear power in the United States” than a month ago. Only 14% said they have not changed their views since the Japanese reactor crisis. It also found that 46% of Americans “support more nuclear power reactors in the United States” and 44% oppose these reactors.

Last year, President Obama announced loan guarantees for companies to build the first U.S. nuclear power plant. But Americans are less likely to embrace more nuclear energy after the Japanese 9.0 magnitude earthquake crisis and fears of public safety.

The ORC International survey found that “73% of Americans do not think taxpayers should take on the risk for the construction of new nuclear power reactors in the United States through billions of dollars in new federal loan guarantees.”

Pam Solo, president of the CSI, told Reuters, “The Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster in Japan is causing a renewed and intensifying skepticism about the future of nuclear power.”

Public safety is a major issue for Americans, especially after the 1979 Three Mile Island plant disaster in Pennsylvania. The ORC/CSI survey also found that 52% of Americans who live within 50 miles of a nuclear reactor “do not know what to do in the event of nuclear reactor emergency, such as the evacuation route and what other steps to take.”

Obama ordered a comprehensive safety review of all U.S. nuclear power facilities. He maintains his support for the energy source, but seeks to learn from the Japan crisis.

For example, 30 percent of New York’s power is provided by the Indian Point plant, which is situated near two geological fault lines and is at the greatest risk from seismic activity.

The Indian Point nuclear power plant sits north of New York City. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has made this plant a top priority when it evaluates the seismic risk at U.S. nuclear plants, says New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Entergy Corp, owner of Indian Point, purchased a full-page ad in the New York Times publicizing the U.S. Energy Secretary Steve Chu’s comments about the reactor being safe and the NRC reporting that all U.S. nuclear plants remain safe.

Reuters reports that Entergy is also considering a strategy to have mobile emergency generators off ““site which can be relocated to Indian Point in an emergency. The Japanese plants overheated when the tsunami knocked out the backup generators that powered the cooling system, when the main power was cut off.

“The Japanese crisis is an opportunity for America to make smarter choices about energy and that process should start with a recognition that the problems with nuclear power cannot simply be ignored in the wake of the tragedy in Fukushima,” says Solo.

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