Public Warm to Nuclear Power, Cool to Nearby Plants

by Darren K. Carlson, Government and Politics Editor

Gender, politics affect responses

Against the backdrop of soaring gas prices, President George W. Bush spoke twice last week -- including a prime-time news conference -- about developing more oil refineries and nuclear plants as a way to lessen American dependence on foreign oil. A secure energy future for America, Bush said, must include more nuclear power.

On one aspect of the energy plan, increased reliance on nuclear power, Americans are currently more positively than negatively oriented. Gallup's recent Environment poll* found a slight majority of Americans favor using nuclear energy to provide electricity. But a majority opposes the idea of a nuclear energy plant being built in their areas.

Currently, 54% of Americans favor using nuclear energy as a way to provide electricity for the United States -- 17% "strongly favor" the idea, and 37% "somewhat favor" it. On the other side, 43% say they either "strongly" (22%) or "somewhat oppose" (21%) the idea of using nuclear energy for electricity.

These most recent results are right in line with public opinion from last year and also in 1994. In 2001, support for nuclear energy use was slightly lower.

Public Says 'No Thanks' to Nuclear Neighborhoods

Though more Americans than not favor the use of nuclear energy in a broad sense, most don't like the idea of a plant in their areas, which is understandable given the risks of nuclear power production. A majority of Americans (63%) say they oppose the construction of a nuclear energy plant in their areas -- 4 in 10 oppose the idea strongly, while another 1 in 5 say they're somewhat opposed. Slightly more than a third of Americans (35%) favor the construction of a plant near them -- 11% favoring the idea strongly; 24% somewhat favoring it.

Gender, Politics Affect Responses

Some groups are significantly more likely to favor nuclear power as an energy source, on both a national and local level. On the question of plants as an energy source for the United States, a majority of men (69%) favor the idea, while 29% oppose. Among women, just 40% favor the use of nuclear power, and 56% oppose. When asked about construction of a plant in their areas, 44% of men favor the notion, compared with just 28% of women.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats and political independents to favor nuclear power. On the question of using nuclear energy to provide electricity in the United States, 66% of Republicans approve, compared with 56% of independents, and 40% of Democrats. Nearly half of Republicans (46%) also say they favor the construction of a nuclear power plant in their areas. Among independents, just 31% favor this idea, and the percentage dwindles to just 27% among Democrats.

*These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national samples of 494 and 510 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 7-10, 2005. For results based on these samples, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±5 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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