US public opinion evenly split on nuclear

01 April 2019

The US public is evenly divided on nuclear with 49% in favour of using it as a power source and 49% opposing its use, a poll by analytics company Gallup has found. Over the long term, public views on the use of nuclear energy in the US seem to fluctuate in reaction to domestic energy prices.

The Gallup poll found an even split (Image: Gallup)

Questions on nuclear were posed as part of Gallup's annual environment poll, conducted on 1-10 March, which was based on a random sample of 1039 adults from all 50 US states plus the District of Columbia. A total of 17% were found to strongly favour nuclear as a US power source, with 32% somewhat in favour, while 28% were somewhat opposed and 21% were strongly opposed.

The percentage in favour of nuclear had increased 5% from 2016 - the last time the question was asked in the Gallup poll - when a total of 44% were strongly or somewhat in favour of nuclear power as a US energy source. The percentage against declined from 54% in 2016.

The 49% in favour of nuclear power is "well below" the record high of 62% observed in 2010, Gallup said. A high point came amid "surging" oil prices in the USA but, since then, increased production of domestic oil and natural gas has driven energy costs lower and Americans' support for nuclear power has subsequently decreased, the company said.

US views on the use of nuclear energy have fluctuated since Gallup first measured them in 1994. This seems to be in reaction to domestic energy prices, the company said: "Support for nuclear power climbed as the price of oil spiked in 2010. However, Americans' interest in nuclear power since then generally has trended downward as the prices of oil and natural gas have decreased and domestic production of these energy sources has increased. In early 2016, amid a glut of domestic oil and a price plunge, support for nuclear power hit a record low in Gallup's trend."

The "modest" increase in support for nuclear power observed in the 2019 poll is possibly in response to increased oil prices, Gallup said. "Or perhaps some of the increase in support stems from the fact that nuclear energy generates emissions-free electricity - 60% of Americans favour dramatically reducing the use of fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," the company noted, citing its own polling.

Asked whether, generally speaking, they considered US nuclear power plants to be safe or not safe, 47% said they considered them to be safe, with 49% not safe and 4% giving no opinion. "This is the first time in Gallup's 10-year trend on this question that a plurality of Americans have considered nuclear power unsafe. Even in the 2011 poll, conducted two weeks after the high-profile Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in Japan, a majority said they viewed nuclear power plants as safe," Gallup said.

The environment poll is part of the Gallup Poll Social Series (GPSS), a set of public opinion surveys designed to monitor US adults' views on numerous social, economic, and political topics. The topics are arranged thematically across 12 surveys and are administered during the same month every year. Introduced in 2001, the GPSS is the primary method used by Gallup to update several hundred long-term trend questions, some dating back to the 1930s, and also includes newer questions added to address contemporary issues as they emerge.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News