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Americans Mixed on Support for Safe, Clean Nuclear Energy

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Nuclear power is one of the cleanest domestic sources of energy, and despite very rare accidents also one of the safest. But Americans are almost evenly divided on support for nuclear energy — mostly Democrats oppose it — despite the facts of its safety and small environmental impact.

The Gallup poll that noted these findings — 51 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed — may be different today because the survey was taken in March, before skyrocketing gasoline prices at the pump.

Gallup reported on its poll, Joe Biden’s budget request, and other investments:

President Joe Biden has advocated for nuclear power as one element of his clean energy plan to get the U.S. economy to net-zero emissions by 2050. In addition to the $1.8 billion Biden allocated for nuclear reactors in his 2022 budget, the administration recently announced it will make $6 billion in infrastructure money available to nuclear power companies to help prevent closures.

Despite Biden’s promotion of nuclear energy, Democrats continue to be far less likely than Republicans to favor using it. The pattern is in line with Democratic-leaning environmental groups’ long-standing opposition to nuclear power; this has been focused on concerns about the environmental risks posed by nuclear waste and accidents, as well as their preference for renewable energy such as wind, solar and geothermal.

Currently, 39 percent of Democrats versus 60 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of independents favor nuclear energy. The 21-percentage-point gap between Republicans and Democrats is similar to the average for the past two decades.

The poll also asked about climate change, embraced as a dangerous, manmade threat by Biden and his administration. Americans who agree with him are not inclined to want it as a part of the green energy agenda — Gallup’s Environment survey found that just one third of Americans who worry “a great deal” about climate change favor nuclear energy (34 percent) and 62 percent oppose it. 

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks after visiting a memorial near a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York, on May 17, 2022. Biden is visiting Buffalo after ten people were killed in a mass shooting at a grocery store on May 14, 2022.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks in Buffalo, New York, on May 17, 2022. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

But the findings were very different — those who worry “a fair amount” (53 percent) or less (70 percent) about climate change support nuclear energy.

Others poll findings included:

  • Sixty-three percent of men versus 39 percent of women are in favor of using nuclear energy for electricity.
  • Support by education ranges from 57 percent of college graduates to 50 percent of those with some college experience and 45% of those with no college.
  • A 57 percent majority of adults 55 and older favor nuclear energy, compared with half of 18- to 34-year-olds and 45 percent of those aged 35 to 54.

american support for nuclear energy by subgroup

The federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) explains nuclear power this way:

An uncontrolled nuclear reaction in a nuclear reactor could result in widespread contamination of air and water. The risk of this happening at nuclear power plants in the United States is small because of the diverse and redundant barriers and safety systems in place at nuclear power plants, the training and skills of the reactor operators, testing and maintenance activities, and the regulatory requirements and oversight of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A large area surrounding a nuclear power plant is restricted and guarded by armed security teams. U.S. reactors also have containment vessels that are designed to withstand extreme weather events and earthquakes.

Unlike fossil fuel-fired power plants, nuclear reactors do not produce air pollution or carbon dioxide while operating. However, the processes for mining and refining uranium ore and making reactor fuel all require large amounts of energy. Nuclear power plants also have large amounts of metal and concrete, which require large amounts of energy to manufacture. If fossil fuels are used for mining and refining uranium ore, or if fossil fuels are used when constructing the nuclear power plant, then the emissions from burning those fuels could be associated with the electricity that nuclear power plants generate.

The Gallup poll was based on telephone interviews and took place March 1-18 with 1,017 people age 18 or older from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points. Each sample of adults included 75 percent on cellphones and 25 percent landlines.

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