Support for nuclear power falls

Americans’ confidence in nuclear power has declined dramatically, and fewer than half of all Americans now support the construction of new nuclear power plants, according to a new poll by CBS News.

Only 43 percent of all Americans now support the construction of new nuclear power plants. That is 14 percent fewer than two years ago and 26 percent fewer than in 1977, when support for nuclear power peaked. Exactly half of those surveyed oppose new nuclear power plants, an increase of 16 percent compared with 2008, when a similar survey was conducted.

After the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 46 percent of those surveyed supported new nuclear power plants, while only 34 percent – the lowest figure ever, supported the plants after the 1986 Chernobyl accident.

A little over half of the respondents said that the accident in Japan had not made them more fearful of a nuclear accident in America, while 44 percent said they now become more afraid. Over two thirds said that nuclear power is generally safe and nearly half said that the benefits of nuclear power outweigh the risks.

Still, 65 percent answered that they are “somewhat worried” about nuclear plant safety and on a question whether they would oppose a new nuclear power plant near their homes, 62 percent answered “yes “.  When asked if they believed that the government was prepared for an accident, only 35 percent said “yes”.

There are currently 104 nuclear power plants in America. The whole 23 of them are of the same type, General Electric Mark 1, as the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.

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Obama: no harmful radiation to reach America

President Obama turned on Thursday directly to the American people when he reassured them in a brief televised speech following the Japanese nuclear accident that  “we do not expect that harmful levels of radiation to reach the United States, whether it is the West Coast, Hawaii, Alaska or the U.S. territories in the Pacific.”.

The speech follows heightened concern in America following the increasingly serious reports about the damaged nuclear plant Fukushima Daiichi. The nuclear accident completely dominates the news in this country these days.  

Obama said that Americans do not need to take specific preventive measures and also said he had ordered a comprehensive security review of all U.S. nuclear power plants.

Of the 104 nuclear plants in the country 23 are of the same type, General Electric Mark 1, as the Japanese plant. Several of these are located near densely populated areas, such as that in Toms River, New Jersey, which lies just 60 miles from New York City.

About 20 percent of this country’s electricity comes from nuclear power.  Since the accident, the Obama Administration has not taken any drastic actions similar to what has happened in Germany and China. It still remains a supporter of nuclear power as part of creating a more environmentally friendly energy policy, which was also underlined by Obama in his speech as well as by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, when he testified in Congress on Wednesday.  We follow events in Japan very closely and we are prepared to learn from them, said Chu.

He also said that while the Japanese nuclear accident can prove to be more severe than that the one experienced in 1979 at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. It resulted in that no new nuclear plants were built in America for 30 years.

In another appearance before Congress on Wednesday, the head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory Jaczko, said that American experts believe that the radioactive emissions at the Japanese plan are “extremely high,” but Japanese authorities have denied that this was the case.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government ordered its citizens in Japan to be much further away – more than 60 kilometers – from the Fukushima Daiichi plant, and evacuation of American citizens from Japan has started on a voluntary basis.

Americans worry about higher gas prices

Just a few weeks ago, I paid between 30 and 35 dollars to fill up my car. Now, suddenly, I have to pay between 40 and 45 dollars and it looks like I will soon have to pay over 50 dollars, or around 4 dollars per gallon.    

For Europeans, with gasoline prices twice as high as in America, this does not seem a major problem and very little to worry about. But American drivers have begun to worry and protests are heard all over the country over gasoline prices. Many, with long commutes, say they can no longer afford to drive to work. But, as so often in America with its poor public transportation system, they have no choice. They cannot do without the car, and if they cannot afford to drive to work, they have no way of getting there and they will lose their jobs.

Here in the Washington area, we are among the fortunate in America because we have buses and even a subway system. But that is not so in many places in the country, least of all in California where the price of gasoline also happens to be the highest in the nation — now upwards towards 5 dollars per gallon.  

Concerns are now growing that the steadily rising price of gasoline could threaten the U.S. economy’s still tenuous recovery.  If people can’t get to work, unemployment will rise again.

This is the background to President Obama’s press conference on Friday on oil and energy issues. He firmly rejected the accusations from the Republican Party that his Administration blocked oil production and was responsible for the higher gas prices.

Today, he said, we produce more oil than in seven years while we are importing less than half of our oil consumption. The price increases are unfortunate, but we have enough oil to get through this, and if necessary, he said he was prepared to use the country’s oil reserves.  

The President took the opportunity to once again argue for a new energy policy. We need to find a long term solution, he said.  The American people are tired of oil prices go up and down like this.

We currently use seven percent less oil than in 2005, but, he said, we need to do more and continue to reduce demand and our dependence on oil.  A comprehensive energy policy with alternative energy sources, like wind, solar, and nuclear power, is what is required.  

This means new investments. But in today’s precarious economic situation, where budget cuts are at the top of the agenda, it is likely that not many people were listening, and that is most unfortunate.