Americans divided on nuclear power following Fukushima

New York City, March 14, 2012 — One year after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, American attitudes about nuclear energy have become polarized, according to Harris Poll.

The most recent results show a shift towards believing the risks outweigh the benefits, and now slightly more Americans believe the risks of nuclear energy outweigh the benefits (41 to 40 percent). In 2009 and 2011, the benefits of nuclear power outweighed the risks (44 to 34 percent in 2009 and 42 to 37 percent in 2011). Harris Poll research in 2011 was conducted before the Fukushima disaster.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,056 adults surveyed online between February 6 and 13, 2012 by Harris Interactive.

This research points to some distinct geographic differences among Americans. Regional differences may be a reflection of familiarity. The South has the greatest concentration of nuclear power plants (almost twice as many as the East) and the highest percentage of adults who believe the benefits outweigh the risks (43 percent, compared to 33 percent in the East and 41 percent in the Midwest and West).

There is also a clear age divide as Baby Boomers (ages 48-66) and Matures (67 and older) are more likely to say benefits of nuclear power outweigh the risks than both Echo Boomers (ages 18-35) and Gen Xers (ages 36-47) are. Party preference is indicative of attitudes about nuclear power as well.

Republicans are the most likely to believe the benefits outweigh the risks (51 percent) and Independents are more likely than Democrats to say the benefits outweigh the risks (43 percent among Independents and only 32 percent among Democrats). Democrats seem to be a large driver of the sentiment that risks outweigh benefits for nuclear.

These polarized attitudes are likely to continue as the economic and environmental impact of the Fukushima disaster becomes clear.

“Fukushima has been a reminder to Americans about the impact nuclear energy can have on communities. As the lasting economic and environmental impact is revealed, American voters and policy makers are likely to have shifting opinions,” said Sarah Simmons, Senior Research Executive. “As America’s demand for inexpensive energy continues to grow, the nuclear industry, policy makers and regulators must focus on safety and transparency if they expect to gain the trust of Americans.”

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