CNN Poll: Public says yes to nuclear energy but no to new plants
March 22nd, 2011
12:01 PM ET
3 years ago

CNN Poll: Public says yes to nuclear energy but no to new plants

Washington (CNN) – Opposition to building new nuclear power plants in the U.S. has edged up since last spring, a likely reaction to the nuclear power plants crisis in Japan, according to a new national poll.

But a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday also indicates a majority of Americans approve of using nuclear energy to produce electricity.

Fifty-seven percent of people questioned in the poll say they approve of the domestic use of nuclear energy, with 42 percent opposed.

"Attitudes toward nuclear power in the U.S. are more positive than they were after Chernobyl in 1986, when only 45 percent approved of nuclear energy plants, or Three Mile Island in 1979, when 53 percent approved of nuclear energy and the number who said nuclear plants were not safe was 10 points higher than today," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

The survey indicates that 53 percent of the public opposes building more nuclear power plants in the U.S., up six points from last year. Forty-six percent support the construction of new plants.

What about the existing nuclear power plans in the country?

Sixty-eight percent say continue to operate all of them, with 27 percent saying that some should be shut down and one in ten calling for all of the plants to be closed.

According to the poll, 28 percent say domestic nuclear power plants are very safe, with just over half saying they are somewhat safe and one in five saying they are not safe.

The numbers drop for plants located in earthquake zones or near oceans. Twelve percent consider plants in those locations very safe, with 42 percent calling them somewhat safe and 45 percent say they are not safe. But two-thirds say they are confident in the federal government's ability to handle a nuclear power plant crisis here in the U.S., with one-third saying authorities would not be able to deal with a nuclear power plant severely damaged by an accident or natural disaster, similar to what happened in Japan.

While a majority approve using nuclear power to produce energy, public opinion on nuclear energy has some negatives as well as positives.

"Despite assurances from public officials, most Americans say that it is likely that a dangerous amount of radiation from the damaged nuclear power plants in Japan will eventually reach the United States," adds Holland. "Plus, six in ten would find a nuclear plant in their community unacceptable. And 57 percent say that the U.S. should rely less on nuclear power for its future energy needs."

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey was conducted March 18-20, with 1,012 people questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

-CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report


Filed under: CNN poll • Nuclear power
soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. ck1721

    I would venture a guess that 80%+ of those polled don't even know how nuclear power plants operate or the safety features in place to protect them. How about I pump an odorless, highly explosive gas into your home in order to heat it? Sounds dangerous, but we already use natural gas in our homes. We need a multitude of sources for energy if we are to become less dependant on foreign oil. How about we allow new facilities to be built (By today's standards, not those that are 30 years old like we currently have) and allow us to have updated and efficient energy sources? Just a thought.

    March 22, 2011 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  2. LouAZ

    Perhaps one of the questions should be – Which powerplant do you prefer in your back yard; a) Nuclear or b) Coal ? All participants MUST ANSWER or the survey is meaningless to get a real idea of what Americans think should be done about electric energy. Come on folks – Fish or cut bait !

    March 22, 2011 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  3. jules sand-perkins

    "Somewhat safe" is a loaded choice.
    The complex in Japan was "somewhat safe."

    March 22, 2011 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  4. Kathy

    Fools. YES to wind/solar, no to Nukes. At least wind and solar will never harm us.

    March 22, 2011 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  5. gt

    why arent we drilling in alaska..... we have been sold a bill of goods buy the seirra club and the other left wing groups... thats ok america when gas goes to 5 a gallon ...... we all can use wind driven skate boards....

    March 22, 2011 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  6. lefty avenger

    Nuclear Energy is dangerous and there are better alternatives. I'm part of the public and I say NO to nuclear energy. take that!

    March 22, 2011 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  7. ripp

    I agree with first poster most do not even understand nuclear energy. I would rather have 100 new facilities built so we can shut down the older aging ones. Those on the poll who want to keep operating these old ones need to have their head check and do some reading on the subject

    March 22, 2011 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  8. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Having been inside of Palo Verde nuclear power plant that is owned and operated by a public utility company I know no more than what I saw and that's more than what I can say for people who oppose.

    March 22, 2011 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  9. betterdays

    There's a nuclear power plant sixty miles to the north of me and another sixty miles to the east. As far as I'm concerned, they can build another one down the street from my house. But then again, I'm not from Washington, Oregon, California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York or anywhere in New England, where people are oh-so-much more brilliant.

    March 22, 2011 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  10. DemoCommunists for a Better Way - Bankruptcy

    The survey indicates that 53 percent of the public opposes building more nuclear power plants in the U.S., up six points from last year.
    ================================================================================================
    Might I suggest these 53% disconnect from the grid and install their own solar and wind capabilities?

    I don't think the US has built a new nuclear power plant in the last 30 years. Has electricity consumption increased over that time? Damn right it has! These idiots don't want coal plants because they pollute, dams because it inteferes with fish, oil plants because they pollute, and on and on. People in this country need to get real if they want lights and heat on in their homes 24×7.

    March 22, 2011 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  11. DemoCommunists for a Better Way - Bankruptcy

    Kathy - Fools. YES to wind/solar, no to Nukes. At least wind and solar will never harm us.
    ==========================================================================
    Oh really? What do you do when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining?

    And what pollution and hazardous waste is generated in the production and disposal of solar panels? And wind power is noisy and threatens birds. Want one next to your house?

    March 22, 2011 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  12. bordeaux lover

    No nuclear energy is safe. If you believe it is then you are extremely naive. No nuclear power, no exceptions. If you disagree then please educate yourself and then you will agree.

    March 22, 2011 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  13. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    I saw that we need nuclear fission for right now. Until we get nuclear fusion (putting atoms together) fully worked out, then we are stuck with fission as well as solar, wind and other types of renewables. If we can reprocess the spent fuel and have reactors that can use trans-uranic elements left over from that, we will have power for a long time to come. It is making sure those that build AND maintain the power plants do the job correctly is an important thing. We also need to build the plants to higher than needed specifications. As an example, if there is a fault in the area which could put out a 6.0, then the reactor needs to be built to withstand a 7.0 (maybe even a 7.5).

    March 22, 2011 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  14. concerned liberal

    Classic American thinking. I want, I want, but I won't actually do anything or take any responsibility. Can't I just get more power without building anything? That happens in the movies afterall.......

    March 22, 2011 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  15. terry, va

    This is another example of how stupid people in this country are. In order to continue nuclear power you must replace plants. To increase electrical power you must put in more plants. Either coal/gas or nuclear. Wind and solar is a joke. Obummie must realize this, and quit trying to kill coal. If Obummie wants wind power let him put the wind mills in Chicago and John Kerry's and the Kennedy's backyard.

    March 22, 2011 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  16. SJC2

    After 30+ years, it may be time to shut down some nuclear plants. We can get all the base load from natural gas combined cycle plants that are cleaner, safer and more efficient.

    March 22, 2011 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  17. anonymous

    I live in Wisconsin and am about 40 miles from a Nuclear plant. I'm fine with that. I don't understand this point of view of wanting nuclear power but not wanting nuclear power plants. I say bring them to Wisconsin and bring us jobs. This idea that to want something, we don't have to give up anything doesn't work out. That is why the states and the federal government are in such a financial mess. Conservatives and Liberals are going to ruin us. MODERATES, WE MUST RISE!

    March 22, 2011 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  18. Mon-Mon

    To those who argue wind and solar: Wind is highly ineffective. They barely sustain themselves let alone create enough power to replace that supported by Nuclear. Solar panels are exceptionally damaging to the environment; and again not as effective. It seems foolish of Americans to halt newer, better more efficient plants and continue to push old reactors. What we're seeing in Japan is older reactors failing....

    March 22, 2011 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  19. TK

    Another clever poll by CNN...

    March 22, 2011 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  20. Erik S.

    The public is ignorant, especially those who are easily scared. If you think the U.S. will go on without Nuclear power, I have a bridge to sell you on the moon.

    March 22, 2011 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  21. NC

    Wind and solar are a great choice. Drilling in Alaska and other parts of the U.S. is another great choice. We need to be more energy responsible here at home. Let's not be so dependent on countries that don't really like us that much. Vote for the Republican for president in 2012.

    March 22, 2011 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  22. Bill from GA

    No one knows how much nuclear generated electricity costs, because the cost of long-term storage (hundreds of centuries?) of spent fuel is unknown, as well as the cost of dismantling an old plant, and storage of its contaminated parts. If the total cost were included, instead of passing future costs to taxpayers, nuclear fueled electricity would not be affordable.

    If politicians were not owned by power companies, no nuclear plants would be considered.

    March 22, 2011 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  23. Anthony

    In related news, the public says no to huge deficits but yes to huge tax cuts (which caused the deficits in the absence of spending cuts).

    March 22, 2011 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  24. Alert U

    We need to dismantle older plants and rebuild new ones to safer current day standards. It is done to bridges and other structures like football stadiums. And, get the Republicans off the backs of subjugating REGULATION Requirements!
    Without good regulation, Japan today would be looking like Haiti on steroids.

    March 22, 2011 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  25. Waste Watcher

    I'm not so much worried about the use of electricity. I'm more worried about what we're doing with the nuclear waste. Some of this waste takes thousands of years to be "safe".

    March 22, 2011 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
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