The crisis at the Fukushima and Daini nuclear plants in Japan comes at a sensitive time for an industry that’s been looking for new life in the United States. There’s been renewed interest in building nuclear plants – including from the Obama administration – given both oil prices and concerns about the environmental impacts of burning fossil fuels. But public safety concerns remain a strong element of the discussion.
Accidents matter: In 1988, two years after the Chernobyl disaster, just 30 percent of Americans in a Harris poll supported building more nuclear power plants in this country. That’d advanced to 52 percent in an ABC/Post poll in January last year (it was a similar 49 percent in a poll we did last June). And in March 2010 a Gallup poll found 62 percent support for the use of nuclear power in general (not specifically for building more plants), a high in its polling since 1994.
But compunctions have remained in place: In our January 2010 poll, while slightly more than half supported building nuclear plants in general, far fewer, 35 percent, said they’d support construction of a nuclear plant within 50 miles of their own home. And we noted sharp differences in views on nuclear power by political affiliation (lower among Democrats), age (lower among young adults) and sex (lower among women).
Support for renewable energy – e.g. wind and solar power – has been far higher and far less divisive. Whether nuclear power can regain a place at the table may well depend much on unfolding events, not here in the United States, but at the imperiled nuclear stations on the coast of northern Japan.