One Year Post Fukushima, Americans Are Divided About the Risks of Nuclear Power

NEW YORK , N.Y. – March 14, 2012 – One year post-Fukushima and the nuclear disaster in Japan, American attitudes about nuclear energy have become polarized. 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%). In 2009 and 2011, the benefits of nuclear power outweighed the risks (44% to 34% in 2009 and 42% to 37% in 2011). Harris Poll research in 2011 was conducted before the 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 very 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%, compared to 33% in the East and 41% 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%) and Independents are more likely than Democrats to say the benefits outweigh the risks (43% among Independents and only 32% 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.

So What?

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 and Industry Thought Leader. 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.


 

 

TABLE 1

BENEFITS VERSUS RISKS FOR VARIOUS ENERGY SOURCES

There are many sources of electric power used in the U.S. To the best of your knowledge, would you say the benefits of each source outweigh the risks or do you believe the risks outweigh the benefits?

Base: All adults

 

BENEFITS OUTWEIGH RISKS (NET)

Benefits strongly outweigh risks

Benefits somewhat outweigh risks

RISKS OUTWEIGH BENEFITS (NET)

Risks somewhat outweigh benefits

Risks strongly outweigh benefits

Not at all sure

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Solar

2012

79

63

15

8

4

4

13

2011

77

64

13

8

3

6

14

2009

82

68

14

5

3

2

13

Wind

2012

76

61

16

9

5

5

15

2011

75

61

14

10

3

7

15

2009

78

62

17

7

4

2

15

Natural gas

2012

66

34

32

17

12

5

17

2011

64

31

34

17

11

6

18

2009

66

30

36

14

11

3

20

Geothermal

2012

53

32

21

10

6

4

37

2011

52

33

18

10

5

5

38

2009

52

32

20

7

5

2

40

Coal

2012

42

15

27

40

23

17

18

2011

38

15

23

43

24

18

19

2009

36

13

23

42

22

20

22

Nuclear

2012

40

15

24

41

19

21

20

2011

42

20

22

37

18

19

21

2009

44

21

23

34

17

17

22

Biomass

2012

30

13

17

12

8

4

58

2011

30

14

17

12

7

6

57

2009

28

12

16

12

8

4

60

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding


 

TABLE 2

BENEFITS VERSUS RISKS FOR VARIOUS ENERGY SOURCES – By Generation and Region

There are many sources of electric power used in the U.S. To the best of your knowledge, would you say the benefits of each source outweigh the risks or do you believe the risks outweigh the benefits?

Percentage Saying Benefits Outweigh Risks

Base: All adults

Total

Region

Generation

East

Midwest

South

West

Echo

Boomers

(18-35)

Gen X

(36-47)

Baby

Boomers

(48-66)

Matures

(67+)

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Solar

79

78

74

80

83

75

74

83

84

Wind

76

72

76

77

80

72

75

80

79

Natural Gas

66

60

66

67

71

53

65

71

84

Geothermal

53

48

56

50

59

50

49

54

62

Coal

42

35

49

48

33

33

39

47

54

Nuclear

40

33

41

43

41

34

34

43

53

Biomass

30

28

32

29

33

31

31

32

24

 

 

 

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between February 6 to 13, 2012 among 2,056 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

 

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

J41216

Q905, 910

 

 

The Harris Poll ® #28, March 14, 2012

By Regina A. Corso, SVP, Harris Poll, Public Relations and Youth and Education Research, Harris Interactive

About Harris Interactive

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