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Nuclear YIMBY

Local communities welcome new reactor projects.

Fortnightly Magazine - July 2010

Visitors to Waynesboro in northeast Georgia might be surprised at local residents’ opinions about two new nuclear energy plants planned for that site; namely, they’re giving the reactors a warm welcome.

The two new units, at Georgia Power’s Vogtle power plant, became the first new nuclear facilities to receive U.S. government support when the Obama Administration in February awarded $8.3 billion in federal loan guarantees for the project.What about NIMBY, the theory that no one wants a nuclear power plant or other energy facility in their backyard? Counter to outdated conventional wisdom, most residents in areas that already have experience with nuclear energy facilities are saying, “Yes, in my backyard.”

My firm has surveyed residents living within 10 miles of the 64 nuclear power plant locations in 31 states three times since 2005, most recently in 2009. The surveys of 1,152 adults show deep and wide local support for these plants ( see Figure 1 ). On average across these sites, 84 percent in 2009 said they favor the use of nuclear energy—58 percent strongly. Three-fourths would find it acceptable to add a new reactor at the nearest nuclear power plant, including 82 percent of men and 72 percent of women ( see Figure 2 ).

Additionally, while plant neighbors are more favorable to nuclear energy than the public at large, recent polls show record high support among Americans in general. A national poll in March by Bisconti Research with GfK Roper found that 77 percent would find it acceptable to add a new reactor at the site of the nearest nuclear power plant that’s already operating. And 70 percent say U.S. energy companies definitely should build more nuclear power plants. A dozen years ago, just 47 percent of those taking part in a nationwide survey said they favor definitely building new nuclear power plants.

Reliability, Clean Air & Clean Jobs

Most plant neighbors view the plants as safe and environmentally sound. The 2009 survey found that 91 percent are confident in the company’s ability to operate a nuclear power plant safely, and 86 percent believe the company that operates the nearby nuclear power plant is doing a good job of protecting the environment ( see Figure 3 ).

In what might account for this surprisingly strong support, 80 percent feel informed about the local plant, and large majorities associate nuclear energy with reliability, efficiency, and clean air.

For members of the local public, the plants are a familiar part of the landscape. Many know people who work at the plants, and they use nature areas around them for such recreation as hiking, fishing, boating and picnicking.

Additionally, in today’s harsh economy, the prospect of new jobs and economic development are significant drivers for support of new nuclear energy facilities. Ninety percent of residents near existing nuclear plants support new reactors because they believe

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