Almost a third of all adults (29 percent) still consider nuclear power plants "very safe," with another 34 percent saying they are "somewhat safe." In 2008, those numbers were very similar, at 34 percent and 33 percent, respectively.
Still, in the new poll almost half of all adults (46 percent) agreed that, "The risk of accidents and radiation exposure from nuclear power plants is too high to be acceptable."
But most people seemed able to see both sides of the debate.
More than half (55 percent) agreed that "We need to build nuclear power plants because they do not produce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and climate change unlike those that use oil, gas or coal," while 59 percent agreed that, "It is OK to build nuclear power plants if we build them far enough away from earthquake fault lines and areas with large populations."
But when presented with the other side of the argument, majorities agreed that accidents similar to the one in Japan could also happen in the United States (74 percent), and that people living near nuclear power plants are more likely to develop cancer than people who live farther away (54 percent).
However, the relative equanimity of the American public may not be so surprising after all, especially given the thousands of miles that separate Japan and the United States, several experts noted.
"There's this idea that a disaster unhinges people left and right," said George Bonanno, a professor of clinical psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City.
But when the disaster is remote, "people tend not to be affected by the disaster unless they lost somebody in the disaster or have a preexisting psychopathology. So there's no real lasting psychological impact," he said.
"We are remote observers," added Bonanno, who is the author of The Other Side of Sadness. "We go around our daily lives and tend not to thin
All rights reserved