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Most Americans Uncertain about Nuclear Power According to Poll

by Melissa Lovin

     Less than half of Americans say they support nuclear power, a sharp decline from even a decade ago, according to an Associated Press Poll.  Although half of the respondents believe a serious nuclear accident is inevitable at a U.S. power plant, sixty percent believe using atomic energy to produce electricity is much safer now. Those figures are still in line from the 1989 poll.

     45 percent of adults say they support the use of nuclear energy according to the latest poll, taken 20 years after the serious accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant near Harrisburg, PA.   That is down 10 percentage points from 1989.  

     20 percent of the country's energy is supplied by nuclear power.   Although no new facilities are currently being built, many existing facilities are seeking relicensing.     Approximately one-third of the people surveyed say they opposed the use of nuclear power, while one-in-four said they didn't know.  According to the poll conducted by ICR of Media, PA, women were less likely to support nuclear power.  

     Even those who claimed to support nuclear power said they wouldn't want to live within 10 miles of a nuclear plant.  Industry officials say that even though no orders for new plants have been placed in more than 20 years, the 1990s has been a good decade for nuclear energy.  Scott Peterson, spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, says the industry has "more than 100 nuclear power plants operating at record levels of efficiency and safety."   Environmental concerns over pollution from coal and oil plants are seen by Peterson as a boost to the nuclear industry.   He said he also believes that in a decade's time there may be an appetite for more large-scale plants.

     Environmental concerns also shroud the nuclear industry, namely the storage and disposal of radioactive waste.  Among those polled nearly half said they do not believe that radioactive waste can be safely stored for many years, while one-third thought that it could.

     According to Tom Cochran, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, some existing nuclear plants might be able to compete economically with other types of plants in terms of energy production costs.  However, Cochran also feels that with the prohibitive cost of constructing new plants, the amount of nuclear power could be drastically reduced in the next 20 years.

     The telephone surbey of 1,015 people was taken Friday through Tuesday.  The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percent.

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