Saturday, March 19, 2011

Editorials and Polls

It’s too soon to understand what impact the events in Japan will have on the American nuclear energy industry or even on public opinion about nuclear energy. But the approach to these open questions taken by newspapers has been interesting - editorials for the most part remain supportive of nuclear energy and some even offer constructive advice. Polls, meanwhile, provide a snapshot that show the industry remaining in good shape.

First, some editorials:

Here is the Denver Post:

Just this past week, more than 300 people turned out in Pueblo to voice their opposition to a proposed nuclear energy park there. But now is not the time to be making long-term decisions about the future of nuclear power in the U.S. First, we still don't have all of the details about what's happening in Japan, how it might be avoided elsewhere, and exactly what the impacts will be to people, the environment and the industry. … Then, when the emergency has subsided, cooler heads can debate the future of nuclear energy in the U.S.

That’s judicious enough for right now.

Here’s the Oshkosh (Wisconsin) Northwestern:

To be fair, completely swearing off nuclear power in wake of the disaster in Japan may be a short-sighted reaction. But the public and policymakers need to have an honest, comprehensive discussion about the risks, drawbacks and other options before opening reactors that will operate for decades.

A short sighted reaction, indeed. Policymakers and the industry are already discussing the elements listed above and more – we have some posts below about that. Again, reasonably judicious.

Other editorials have taken a sort of “a plague on all energy sources” approach. As USA Today put it, “No major source of energy the United States is using comes without a heavy cost.”

That seems to go too far. “No major source of transportation the United States is using comes without a heavy cost” is just as accurate but just as off.

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Here’s a USA Today/Gallup poll:

Americans oppose building more nuclear plants by 47%-44%, the poll finds. Support for using nuclear energy was at 57% when Gallup asked a similar question about a week before Friday's earthquake and tsunami left Japan struggling to avert catastrophic meltdowns and fires at three damaged nuclear plants.

And here’s a Fox News poll:

But a slim 51-percent majority of American voters said they still believed nuclear power is a safe source of energy, down only 2 percentage points from the 53 percent who thought so earlier.

Among groups, men (64 percent) are much more likely than women (40 percent) to believe nuclear power is safe. A 61-percent majority of Republicans thinks it is safe, while the largest number of Democrats says it isn’t (48 percent). For those ages 55 and older, 57 percent think nuclear power is safe, compared to 40 percent of those under age 30.

All over the map, perhaps, but not unexpected – actually, rather better that I would expect – after the tide of alarmist and sensationalist reporting (and admittedly, some good reporting, too) on the cable news channels. People are voicing reasonable if cautious support.

These are a snapshot in time. Opinions – both in polls and on newspaper editorial pages - are bound to stabilize as the emergency in Japan passes.

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