A brand new Gallup poll shows that support for nuclear energy in the United States is at a 10-year high. This finding is in keeping with what is proving to be a global groundswell in support of the oft-maligned, always contentious form of energy production. As pressure ramps up globally for the rapid expansion of reliable and low-emissions energy, the myriad benefits of nuclear power are becoming less and less overshadowed by its obvious and sometimes terrifying drawbacks.
For several generations now, nuclear disasters such as Fukushima, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl have dominated the conception of nuclear power in the public consciousness. As a result, few people have historically been in support of developing a new nuclear power project in their backyard, or even their country. But those hesitations are starting to recede as the benefits of a proven, zero-emissions energy technology start to tip the scales. Plus, we now have access to an increasingly big evidence base showing that nuclear meltdowns are actually extremely rare. In fact, it has been calculated that on the whole nuclear energy actually saves lives by preventing millions of deaths that would otherwise be caused by air pollution from burning fossil fuels.
According to Gallup, however, the real reason that support for nuclear energy has waxed and waned in the United States is directly tied to oil prices. “Throughout the course of Gallup’s trend,” the report states, “Americans have generally been more amenable to the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to provide electricity for the U.S. when oil prices have been high and less open to it when oil prices are low.”
Support for nuclear power also differs among various social groups. According to the most recent U.S. data, more Republicans are in support of nuclear energy than Democrats (62% versus 46%, respectively), and more men are in support of nuclear energy than women (67% versus 42%, respectively). Support also varies by level of education, with more education being associated with a higher level of support: 63% of college graduates and 51% of respondents without a college degree expressed support for using nuclear energy as a source of electricity in the U.S.
Interestingly, the higher level of support for nuclear energy amongst Republicans comes at a time when the ruling Democratic party is also pushing a nuclear energy agenda, an unusual source of common ground that could bode well for bi-partisan support of nuclear energy development. At present, the United States still holds the distinction of being the world’s single biggest producer of nuclear energy. However, the industry has been in decline for decades, and the country’s nuclear fleet is getting concerningly long in the tooth. If the United States wants to reclaim its status as a leader in new nuclear energy development, it has a lot of work to do.
The tie-in between oil prices and support for nuclear energy means that public opinion will likely continue to fluctuate over the next decade. However, other factors influencing support for nuclear energy seem to be on a direct upward trend. The private sector, and especially Silicon Valley is throwing its full weight behind the endorsement of increasing the amount of nuclear power in the U.S. energy mix. Incentives from the Biden administration’s Inflation Reduction Act will also influence investments now that will have impacts on the industry for years to come. The Act provides a production tax credit for existing reactors, incentivizes advanced nuclear deployment, and provides funding for advanced assaying of low-enriched uranium to help build up domestic supply chains for the essential nuclear fission fuel source.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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