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Poll: Support for new nuclear plants drops

nuclear plants chart

CBS News Poll analysis by the CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto.

Americans largely see U.S. nuclear power plants as safe but many still do not support building new plants, particularly in their community, according to a new CBS News poll.

The poll, taken following the start of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, found that 50 percent of Americans disapprove of building new nuclear plants. That's an increase of 16 points since the question was last asked in 2008.

Only 43 percent, meanwhile, approve of building more nuclear plants - a drop of 14 points from the 2008 poll.

A nuclear reactor at Diablo Canyon Power Plant
This Monday Nov. 3, 2008 file photo shows one of Pacific Gas and Electric's Diablo Canyon Power Plant nuclear reactors in Avila Beach, Calif. File,AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant

More than two in three Americans do say U.S. nuclear plants are generally safe, while just 22 percent say they are not safe. And 47 percent say the benefits of nuclear power outweigh the risks, compared to 38 percent who say they do not.

But Americans are clearly concerned about those risks. Sixty-five percent say they are at least somewhat concerned about a nuclear accident in the United States, including 31 percent who are very concerned. And 62 percent say they would oppose the construction of a nuclear plant in their community, compared to 35 percent who would support a new plant in their community.

Asked if the government is prepared for a nuclear accident, just 35 percent of Americans say yes. Fifty-eight percent say the government is not prepared.

A slim majority of Americans - 53 percent - says the crisis in Japan did not make them more fearful about a nuclear accident. But a sizable minority - 44 percent - says it did make them more fearful.

Support for nuclear power in America has fluctuated since the 1970s. In 1977, 69 percent said they approved of building new nuclear plants; that number dropped to 34 percent following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. It hit 57 percent in 2008 before dropping again in the new poll.

Preparing for Natural Disasters

A majority of Americans - 65 percent - say they have not prepared for a natural disaster. Thirty-five percent say they have done so.

Among those who have prepared, 51 percent have stocked up on food and water, 12 percent have an evacuation plan, 9 percent have packed an emergency kit, 5 percent have a generator, and 4 percent have prepared a shelter or basement.

A majority of Americans (53 percent) say it is very likely the U.S. will have a major earthquake in the next 20 years, and another 34 percent say a major earthquake is somewhat likely. Just 9 percent say a major earthquake is not likely or will not happen. Sixty percent say the government is not prepared to deal with a major earthquake.

Read the full CBS News poll

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This poll was conducted by telephone on March 18-21, 2011 among 1,022 adults nationwide. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.
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