Soaring energy prices, geopolitical instability, and climate change—both itself, and misbegotten policy responses to it—have cast a new light on the need firm up the domestic production of clean and dependable energy.
The realization has been stark among political leaders around the world, many of whom have been forced to reverse course on rash plans to phase out nuclear energy (looking at you California and Germany), while some have committed to exploring ways to expand its capacity.
But a resurgence in support for nuclear amongst the governing classes doesn’t necessarily guarantee popular support across the general public, something absolutely necessary to ensure the long-term viability of nuclear energy production.
How then, does the American public feel about nuclear’s prospects of meeting the country’s current energy needs?
New data released earlier this month from ecoAmerica’s American Climate Perspectives Survey suggests that they’re all-in for a domestic nuclear renaissance.
National support for nuclear power has grown steadily over five years. In 2018 just about half of Americans supported the fact that roughly 20% of the country’s electricity is nuclear-produced (49%). In 2022, 60% say they support it.
Among the most important reasons cited by respondents for their support of nuclear power, its ability to supply abundant, reliable electricity was most common.
The poll also found support for spending on research and development grew from 54% in 2018 to 61% in the latest survey.
And in perhaps the most positive finding, the survey found a surge in support among self-identified Democratic respondents, the political demographic traditionally less favorable to nuclear energy.
Notably, while the most supportive constituency by political affiliation is Republicans (66% supporting nuclear, followed by 62% of Independents, and 58% of Democrats), Democrat support has grown over 20 points in the past 5 years (from 37%in 2018 to 58% support in 2022). Support among Independents has been more variable, fluctuating between 50-62% since 2018.
That increase in support comes on the heels of a bipartisan consensus forming within the federal government. That includes the Democratic administration of President Joe Biden, whose Department of Energy has been a big booster of nuclear energy since he took office.
She says they're clean, safe & the tech is ready to go.
— Elex Michaelson (@Elex_Michaelson) September 4, 2022
The poll’s findings weren’t unanimously in favor of nuclear energy, however. While the partisan support gap appears to have narrowed, a 74%-48% gender gap still exists showing males overwhelmingly more supportive of the technology than females.
Nevertheless, the poll reveals a very optimistic trend toward favoring a sensible energy policy that balances clean emissions, reliability, and energy security.
The key step now becomes translating robust public support into tangible policy that ensures currently operating nuclear plants are not shuttered prematurely, and new plants can continue to be deployed.