Support for nuclear energy rises in California

21 July 2008

Support for the construction of more nuclear power plants in the US state of California has grown over the past two decades, with half of Californians now in favour of new reactors, according to a recent poll conducted by Field Research Corp.

Diablo Canyon 
California's Diablo Canyon plant (Image: PG&E)
The latest poll, conducted 8-14 July, questioned 809 registered voters in the state about their reactions to rising oil prices. When asked whether "the building of more nuclear power plants should be allowed in California," 50% of respondents agreed that new plants should be built, while 41% disagreed and 9% had no opinion.

The poll showed that support for new nuclear plants was greatest among Republican voters (64%), while 41% of Democrats were in favour.

A similar Field poll conducted in 1990 found that 38% of Californians were in favour of more plants and 56% were against them. An earlier poll, in 1984, showed that 33% approved the construction of new nuclear plants and 61% were opposed. The earliest Field poll on nuclear energy, taken in 1976, put support for new plants at 69% while just 19% of Californians opposed them.

Support for new nuclear plants in California dropped to 37% in 1979, with 55% of residents opposed, following the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in the state of Pennsylvania, according to a Field poll conducted that year.

The Field poll has operated continuously since 1947 as an independent, non-partisan, media-sponsored public opinion news service. Each year the poll covers a wide range of political and social topics examining Californian public opinion.

California, the most populous state in the USA with over 36 million inhabitants, has set targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

The state has a moratorium on nuclear power plant construction. A 1975 law prohibits the use of land in California for the construction of new nuclear power plants until the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission confirms the existence of "an approved and demonstrated technology or means for the disposal of high-level nuclear waste." At the current rate of progress, the USA national radioactive waste repository planned for Yucca Mountain would not be ready before 2017 at the earliest.

In 2007, a bill was introduced in California's state legislature by Republican assembly member Chuck DeVore calling for the moratorium to be lifted. However, the bill failed to receive the necessary support to make it into law. Meanwhile, state governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that he thinks nuclear power has a "great future" and that the state should seriously reconsider using the "beneficial" technology.

There are currently four nuclear power reactors in operation in California: Diablo Canyon 1 and 2 (owned by Pacific Gas & Electric Co) and San Onofre 2 and 3 (owned by Southern California Edison Co and San Diego Gas & Electric Co). The plants provide some 16% of California's electricity needs.