In 2002, as part of the MIT study on The Future of Nuclear Power, the first MIT Energy survey investigated public attitudes toward nuclear power in light of other sources of electric power. The survey found cost and environmental harm to be key drivers behind public preferences regarding energy sources. In February 2007, the survey was repeated using similar sampling methodologies and the same core questionnaire, augmented by questions about global warming, waste treatment, and transfer of nuclear technology.
Public preferences exhibit considerable stability in the five years between surveys. Americans hold extremely optimistic views of alternative energy sources – solar, wind, and hydroelectric – especially as far as price is concerned. They have more realistic views of traditional fuels – fossil fuels plus nuclear power. In the aggregate, public opinion continues to reflect the relative pricing and environmental harm of these energy sources. Cost and harm, in turn, strongly influence public desires to expand or reduce different energy sources. Concern about global warming rose somewhat from 2002 to 2007, but remains only weakly associated with preferences about electricity generation.
The most notable change in survey responses is the decline of oil’s popularity. Americans now strongly wish to reduce the use of oil, and they view this energy source less favorably than any other source of power. Coal, seen as moderately priced but very harmful to the environment, also remains quite unpopular. Five years ago, nuclear power was viewed similarly poorly; it now seems to have gained modestly in support and is approaching natural gas in terms of favorability.
Nuclear Energy and Sustainability