CNN Poll: Public says yes to nuclear energy but no to new plants
March 22nd, 2011
12:01 PM ET
9 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. CNN The Masters of Spin

    Errrrr this poll had to of only Libs......

    March 22, 2011 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  2. Bill from GA

    The attitude that we justify creating a waste product that can kill for hundreds of future generations to satisfy our desire for "cheap" electricity to power our toys is absurdly selfish. Clean coal can be done; it cannot be done as inexpensively as 'dirty' coal. Same for solar and wind.

    Maybe the government should subsidize 'clean coal' and pass the cost on to future generations, like they do with nuke energy. Not acceptable? What's the difference. other than your ignorance?

    March 22, 2011 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  3. a little sad

    Opinions on whether to build new plants or not are somewhat irrelevant since there appears to be NO interest in investing in them by the private sector. Available loans are going begging.

    March 22, 2011 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  4. The Greedy Old Parasites love dirty energy!

    Wind and solar along with clean coal and non-phracked natural gas are the way to go, along with increasing energy efficiency to get by with less.

    March 22, 2011 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  5. Bill from GA

    The cost of nuclear generated electricity is way too high for us to build more plants. The power companies build them (two nuke generators are in the works in Georgia) because they get a guaranteed return on investment. They also have a state-sanctioned monopoly; try selling your solar-generated electricity to someone and you get sued.

    March 22, 2011 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  6. Bill from GA

    If power companies were forced to pay for the cleanup of old plants when decommissioned (maybe a mandatory trust fund as the plant is operational), the storage of spent fuel for generations to come, and insurance on damages caused by a potential accident, they would have no stockholders, except that they can raise rates to get their guaranteed return.

    The only way nukes makes sense is to ignore the long term cost.

    March 22, 2011 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  7. normajean

    In reference to the presidents actions regarding Libya...This action is in company of several other nations and is not something we took on ourselves. As to the comments.."'s hell if he, does, and hell if he doesn't!!!!!None of you know any more than Washington about what is going on or how to handle it, so just shut up and give your president the support he never never gets from the Repubs. if you are a Repub, take your thumb out of your mouth and try to be productive for the first time in over two years.and get behind the CURRENT administration!!!!

    March 22, 2011 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  8. Usarnaem

    DemoCommunists for a Better Way:

    Not everyone is a collage-age trust fund baby that can afford their own solar/wind off the grid setup.

    March 22, 2011 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
  9. Matt

    I'm not sure how CNN can post scientific fact as being an opinion. "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". This is like saying most Americans don't believe in gravity. It is more of an indictment of Americans and their lack of a critical mindset than of the nuclear power industry. Being ranked 29th worldwide in science is pretty embarrassing, but it could be worse, I guess.

    March 22, 2011 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  10. Ken in NC

    While I support the use of Nuclear power, I am infavor of replacing older plants that have reached or are close to their max. life span. I am of the opinion that newer plants would be safer than older plants that have many years of wear behind them and newer designs should be safer than many of the older reactors in use today. I can say that there is much that should be learned from every accident or natural disaster.

    March 22, 2011 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  11. The Real Tom Paine

    @DemoCommunists for a Better Way – Bankruptcy

    The simple fact is, there is not cheap way to generate electricity. The problem with nuclear plants is the cost of building them and the fact that we cannot keep the site in operation for more than 50 years. After that, they need to be mothballed for safety reasons. Do you really want to pay for the cost of building (provided it can be done at the price projected) and then only get 4-5 decades use? Renewables offer the best solution for the long term, since not every stream can be dammed, and efficiency programs need to be put in place as well. Solar cells are now in place that generate substantial amounts of electricity on cloudy days, so that argument is no longer holding water. I also don't want nuclear sites to become a terrorist target: can you imagine what that could result in? It seems that for someone who rants and raves about Liberals throwing money down the drain on a pipedream, you need to ask if spending billions on a technology that will not buy us any long-term breathing space for our energy needs is really a good idea. Are you willing to saddle our children and grandchildren with the expense of maintaining derelict nuclear sites so you can get some watts of power for a few years? Are you that afraid of American innovation finding a solution, because it means leaving behind old and failed technologies?

    March 22, 2011 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  12. marty

    60% of our reactors are over 50 years old. Its time to build newer & safer reactors.

    March 22, 2011 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
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