With all the devastating news from Japan, particularly the issues with the nation's nuclear power plants affected by the earthquake and tsunami, it's useful to revisit what people think in the U.S. about nuclear power. One easy way to do this is to view polling questions, including the recent USAToday/Gallup survey after the reactor issues this week.
Respondents were asked March 15 whether they favor or oppose the construction of nuclear power plants in the U.S. The results are an almost even split, with 44 percent favoring and 47 percent opposing (9 percent unsure). Okay, both sides in the nuclear debate can take something away from this, but have opinions changed of late? You'd expect so, given the news out of Japan. A Pew survey last year, for example, found 56 percent of U.S. adults favored incentives for increased development of nuclear power.
An argument could be made, though the questions are different, that the disaster in Japan has softened acceptance of nuclear power in the U.S. But hold on. ABC/Washington Post polls suggest less has changed than one might imagine. These polls asked whether the U.S. should build more nuclear power plants. In surveys from 2001, 2009, and 2010, the results look a lot like the ones asked just this week. Forty-six percent favored more construction in 2001, 52 percent in 2009, and 49 percent in 2010. In other words, roughly the same kind of split we see in this week's survey.
The takeaway? Perhaps the survey a couple of days ago was too soon to truly judge current public opinion about nuclear power. The same survey by this coming weekend could be much more critical about nuclear power plants, depending of course on how things go in Japan and the subsequent news coverage.
All we can truly hope for, of course, is good news out of Japan as it wrestles with these issues.