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Half Of Americans Now Too Scared To Build More Nuclear Power Plants

Ethonomic Indicator of the Day: 50% - The percent of Americans who disapprove of building more nuclear plants.

Yesterday, the Japanese government upped the severity level of the Fukushima disaster. It's now equal to the severity of Chernobyl. And CBS recently released a poll showing that only 43% of Americans would support building a new nuclear power plant in America. This is down from 58% support just three years ago. It's about the same level of negativity about nuclear power as right after Three Mile Island, which happened right here in America. People are clearly really distressed about another nuclear accident, but what's worse: the small chance of nuclear disaster or certain disaster from more coal power?

Let's be clear, Fukushima is a horrible tragedy that is only getting worse. Lord help the people working on fixing it, and hopefully everything is cleared up soon. But it was an accident, and one that could have been mitigated or even prevented by better safety procedures and engineering, which we can now implement at our plants. But the bottom line is that we need nuclear power. Take a look at this chart, from the Energy Information Agency's latest examination of U.S. energy output:


Do you see a line labeled wind power? How about solar power? They don't even register on this chart (they're .721 and .109 quadrillion BTUs, respectively). Whatever nuclear power you don't want to use has to be replaced by something, and the only thing we have capacity for rapidly expanding right now is more coal, oil, and natural gas. And if you want to get rid of a meaningful chunk of emissions, all you have to do is build another nuclear plant. This is why Obama is so desperate to add more nuclear power plants; he's ignored all calls for a freeze in U.S. construction. Assuming people aren't willing to make drastic changes to their lifestyles (don't hold your breath for that), we can only fill our ever-increasing appetite for wasting energy cleanly by having it come from nuclear.

There is hope, though. Last year, renewables increased by 10%. But even at 10% growth, year over year, it's going to take decades for them to become an important part of our energy picture. We need to stop using coal now. Nuclear is the only thing that we can use as a stop-gap. Did you stop driving on bridges after the Minnesota bridge collapse? You did not (and we don't even inspect or repair bridges). We need to treat it like the incredibly dangerous power-source it is, and it's going to be a real conundrum what to do with that spent fuel. But at least it won't be the end of the world. Yet.

Follow Fast Company on Twitter. Morgan Clendaniel can be reached by email or on Twitter.