Survey reveals support for, but misconceptions about, nuclear energy

December 6, 2023, 9:30AMANS Nuclear Cafe

Fifty-two percent of Americans either “strongly” or “somewhat” support nuclear energy as part of the United States’ energy mix, with the strongest support among Republicans (59 percent) and self-described independents (53 percent). Support among Democrats is 48 percent. Those are some of the results from the sixth annual American Climate Perspectives Survey conducted by ecoAmerica.

The pronuclear attitude is the strongest ever found by the survey, which also reveals a decline in concerns about nuclear energy. The growing support for nuclear energy partly can be attributed to worries over climate change, according to the survey report. Despite the support, the survey also finds that Americans still have some misconceptions about nuclear energy.

Survey methods: The 2023 American Climate Perspectives Survey was conducted online September 7–13 using Survey Monkey. A total of 1,000 adult respondents, reflective of the demographic composition of the United States, participated. The margin of error in the results is 3 percent.

ecoAmerica is a Washington, D.C.–based organization that is “building a diverse network of major institutions and thought leaders in five sectors—faith, health, communities, higher education, and business—who have the power to inspire tens of millions of Americans on climate change.” The group states that it helps other organizations elevate their climate leadership by providing strategies, tools, and resources on climate literacy, constituent engagement, and collective advocacy.

Misconceptions: The survey results indicate that 54 percent of Americans incorrectly believe that nuclear energy contributes to air pollution. Perhaps surprisingly, the survey also finds that 22 percent of Americans believe that wind and solar energy contribute to air pollution and climate change—a percentage that has grown since 2018. ecoAmerica describes these findings as an opportunity for public education.

Other findings on nuclear support: Fifty-three percent of survey respondents favor further research and development of next-generation nuclear energy, compared with 73 percent for R&D of wind and solar power and 39 percent for oil and gas R&D.

Regarding reasons for supporting nuclear energy, 71 percent of survey respondents selected reliability, economic growth, climate, and health. Sixty-nine percent selected American competitiveness and energy independence, and 68 percent noted no emission of pollutants.

The survey report does not explain the apparent contradiction in 54 percent of respondents believing that nuclear energy contributes to air pollution, but 68 percent agreeing that nuclear energy does not emit pollutants. Perhaps the latter result is derived only from the sample that expressed support for nuclear energy, but the report does not make this clear.

Nuclear concerns diminishing: The survey report compares findings on respondents’ concerns about nuclear energy from 2023 with those from 2018. All five areas of concern have diminished over time. This year, 73 percent of respondents expressed Concern about nuclear waste disposal has gone from 84 percent in 2018 to 73 percent in 2023. Nuclear-related health and safety was a worry for 80 percent in 2018, compared with 74 percent this year. Concerns about security and weaponization (74 percent vs. 68 percent), nuclear-related loss of natural habitat (74 percent vs. 65 percent), and cost of nuclear energy (65 percent vs. 63 percent) also have decreased in the past five years.

Summary: The ecoAmerica survey report summarizes the findings from the 2023 survey by stating, “The good news is that support for wind and solar energy remains high, support for nuclear power is rising, and oil, coal, and methane continue to have the lowest levels of support from Americans. Still, there is a pressing opportunity to increase education in order to advance progress.”

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