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On Nuclear Energy and Public Opinion

Earlier this week, Michael Mariotte of NIRS posted a critique of public opinion polling on nuclear energy over at The Daily Kos.While I found some of his conclusions to be interesting, I thought it might be a good idea to share his piece with Ann Bisconti of Bisconti Research. After passing Mariotte's piece to Ann, she shared the following response with me:
A recent discussion about public opinion on nuclear energy by Michael Mariotte, a representative of the antinuclear advocacy group, NIRS, makes some valid points but reaches the wrong conclusion.  I would like to offer a different perspective from Bisconti Research. 

Our studies of public opinion on nuclear energy include nearly 100 national surveys conducted over a 29-year period.  Each survey asks 20 to 30 questions about various aspects of public opinion on nuclear energy. Some of these questions are open-ended to let us hear from the public in their own words. The result is a unique resource for examining long-term trends in public opinion, as well as trends among demographic groups.  The resource also allows analysis of why people feel the way they do on the issues.

Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) sponsors this survey program.  An entire industry depends on this data resource for an accurate and unbiased view of public opinion to inform business decisions.  This is a responsibility we take very seriously.

Where is Mr. Mariotte correct? We agree that the public prefers solar energy to nuclear energy. That’s been true for at least the past 30 years. Questions that pit nuclear energy against solar energy will find solar energy the “winner” every time. However, what Mr. Mariotte misses is that the public does not want to put all their eggs in one basket. That is prudent.  Solar energy, for all its appeal (I would have solar panels on my roof if my house were less shaded), produces just 0.04 percent of U.S. electricity and is not a 24/7 energy source. The prevailing public view is that nuclear energy should be part of a balanced, diverse low-carbon energy mix.

Here are a few of the opinions expressed by the public in our February 2012 national public opinion survey conducted with GfK Roper: 81 percent believe that nuclear energy will play an important role in meeting the nation’s future energy needs, 82 percent support license renewal for nuclear power plants that continue to meet federal safety standards, and 58 percent agree with definitely building more nuclear power plants in the future.  Also, 82 percent agree we should take advantage of all low-carbon energy sources, including nuclear, hydro, and renewable energy, to produce the electricity we need while limiting greenhouse gas emissions. 

One reactor provides a lot of power. As Rachel Maddow pointed out, in a recurring spot on MSNBC, some important projects like the Hoover Dam are just too big for private companies to build without government support. Each new reactor now being built in the U.S. will generate twice as much power as the Hoover Dam. 

Because one new reactor provides so much electricity, new nuclear power plants will not be built in every community.  They will be built where they are needed and wanted. The most likely sites are where existing plants are an integral and positive part of the community.  Our biennial surveys of nuclear plant neighbors assess that openness to new plants. Last June‘s survey found that 86 percent of nuclear power plant neighbors nationally have a favorable impression of their local plant and how it has operated recently, and 67 percent would find a new reactor acceptable at the nearby plant site if a new power plant were needed.  Those national numbers are lower in some plant communities and higher in others.
NEI publishes Ann's work regularly in Perspectives on Public Opinion. Click here for the May 2012 edition.


Bill said…
"Each new reactor now being built in the U.S. will generate twice as much power as the Hoover Dam."

Hmm, questionable.
"Hoover Dam generates, on average, about 4 billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power each year" -- i.e. an average power of about 500 MW, which is indeed about half that of an AP1000.
But "[t]he plant has a nameplate capacity of about 2,080 megawatts", which is about twice as much as an AP1000.

To confuse things, the original design capacity was smaller -- only 1,345 MW.

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