Poll Finds Wary Support for Nuclear Power
by Joel Connelly
Seattle Times, March 2, 2010
"A LITTLE NUKIE NEVER HURT ANYONE!" read a famous pro-nuclear message on the signboard of a Richland hotel three decades ago, when a trio of nuclear power plants were under construction at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
Two of the reactor projects, beset by huge cost overruns, were abandoned in the early 1980s. But President Obama is signaling a revival of a technology that once threatened to melt down the economy of the Pacific Northwest.
Public support is there -- with serious qualifications, according to a new national Angus Reid poll.
The survey found that 48 percent of Americans support building more nuclear plants, with 34 percent opposed and 18 percent not sure. Advocacy of the atom was strongest among Republicans, with 60 percent backing more nukes.
In the same poll, however, 81 percent of those polled said they were "very concerned" or "moderately" concerned about nuclear waste management.
Majorities almost as large were concerned about "an accident at a nuclear power plant" (72 percent) or "health risks for communities that are close to a nuclear power station" (74 percent).
And nearly three-quarters of those polled voiced concern about nuclear technology "falling into the hands of extremists." Only 8 percent of those surveyed said they were not concerned at all.
President Obama has announced $8 billion in loan guarantees for construction of two new nuclear power plants in Georgia. It has been more than 30 years since a nuclear plant was authorized for construction in the United States.
At the same time -- under pressure from Nevada Sen. Harry Reid -- the administration has cut off funding for a long-planned nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, northwest of Las Vegas.
The repository was designed to hold "spent" but highly radioactive fuel rods from nuclear power plants. The fuel rods are currently stored at plant sites around the country.
Washington has a single nuclear plant, the Columbia Generating Station, operated by Energy Northwest, successor to the ill-fated Washington Public Power Supply System of the 1970s and 1980s.
The first commercial reactor in the Northwest, the Trojan Plant in Oregon, was shut down nearly a decade ago and is being dismantled.
The Angus Reid survey showed a close division on one question.
Forty-one percent of those polled said they think the U.S. should go ahead and pursue its nuclear capabilities so as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; 38 percent said the country should avoid nuclear power and focus on other forms of clean and renewable energy.
The poll of 1,010 randomly suggested American adults was taken Feb. 19 to 21, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.
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