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Nuclear Power Gets A Modest Boost

Americans have grown slightly more comfortable with nuclear power over the past two years, an Associated Press poll suggests, with half now saying they support using nuclear
plants to produce electricity.

Supporters of nuclear power were significantly more likely than they were two years ago not to mind a nuclear plant close to their homes. The poll was conducted for the AP by ICR of Media, Pa.

The support for the nuclear option now being considered by the Bush administration was strongest among men and those older than 65.

"I think it's a safe way to produce energy," said Mike McDonald, 46, a computer consultant from Sparta, Mich.

"It's better than global warming," he said, referring to the view of many scientists that emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are causing the Earth to warm up.

Fifty percent in the poll supported nuclear power, and a majority of the supporters, 56 percent, said they wouldn't mind a nuclear plant within 10 miles of their own home. Three in 10 opposed nuclear power, and the remainder said they didn't know.

Two years ago, 45 percent said they supported nuclear power, and fewer than half of those supporters said they would want a nuclear plant nearby.

In the new poll, some admitted that concerns over energy shortages and fears of pollution have affected their support for nuclear power.

"They're threatening to start up those plants in California and that's going to bring more smog and pollution," said Verna Clark, 72, a retired hospital worker from Tucson, Ariz.

"I've been liking nuclear power better and better because as time goes by they're getting more and more skilled at handling it."

But concerns remained strong about how to handle radioactive waste from the power plants.

Almost half said they don't believe nuclear waste can be safely stored for many years, about the same level as two years ago. The number who thought it could be stored safely was up slightly to almost four in 10.

The poll of 1,002 adults was taken April 18 through Monday and had an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Support for nuclear power was lowest and fears of nuclear waste were highest among young adults. The sentiment for nuclear power increased steadily as the age of poll respondents went up.

"I'm pretty opposed to nuclear energy," said Liza Lionetti, 25, an Internet company employee from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. "The biggest issue is the waste products. We bury them and we poison the ground."

Among the regions, support for nuclear power was strongest in the energy-starved West, 55 percent. Support for nuclear power tended to increase with education levels.

Republicans were twice as likely as Democrats to support it, and men were more supportive than women.

Nuclear power plants, which produce 20 percent of the nation's electricity, are the focus of renewed interest. They have become more competitive in cos because of rising natural gas prices and growing concern about pollution from fossil fuel- burning power

The nation's 103 nuclear reactors have increased their power output by 25 percent over the past decade along with a steadily improving safety record.

A Bush administration energy task force is expected to conclude next month that nuclear power is essential in meeting the nation's energy needs and recommend ways to increase nuclear energy production.

No new nuclear plant has been ordered and completed since 1973 and while utilities are determined to run their current reactors longer, no new orders are expected anytime soon.

In 1989, an AP poll showed that a clear majority, 55 percent, supported nuclear power. But the sentiment for nuclear power dwindled in the 1990s, before the latest renewal of interest.

The slightly improved climate for nuclear power hasn't eased the doubts of some, although two-thirds said they think nuclear power is safer now than it was 10 years ago.

The numbers who think a nuclear accident at a power plant is likely has dwindled slightly from half two years ago, to just over four in 10 now.

"I'm not in favor of nuclear power due largely to the fact that there's always the chance for error," said Dale Buchanan, 51, a machine operator from Belleville, Pa. He lives about 60 miles from Three Mile Island, site of the nation's worst nuclear accident in 1979.

"The closer to home it gets," Buchanan said, "the more you think about it."

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