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No panic over nuclear power in the US

The Pew Research Center finds that 52 percent of Americans are now opposed to the increased use of nuclear power, up from the 44 percent opposed before the radiation leakages at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear power plant. 

These numbers can be read as a sign that the Japanese crisis has changed many minds. But it is important to keep the rise in opposition in perspective: a 8 percentage point shift is not huge; given the barrage of panicked coverage (which I wrote about here), you could have anticipated a bigger shift. As the diagram above shows, the support for nuclear power has fluctuated around 50 percent for the past five years. Other polls have reached similar results.

At the same time, it appears that the US regulators are not panicking either. According to a New York Times report, a US Nuclear Regulatory Commission official said that "the nuclear crisis in Japan did not warrant any immediate changes at American nuclear plants." NRC officials have repeatedly said they do not yet have "a full picture of events in Fukushima." The NRC even announced on Monday that it had issued a 20-year license extension to the Vermont Yankee reactor, which is a near twin of Fukushima Daiichi No. 1.

Meanwhile, we are reminded that extracting sources of energy is a dangerous business generally. Just two days ago 45 miners died in Quetta, Pakistan, when a coal mine collapsed - compared to no reported deaths in Japan from Fukushima. In the Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal has catalogued 25 explosions, accidents and other energy-related disasters that have occurred just during the past year alone. As he says, "We need to take nuclear safety concerns very seriously, but let's not forget what the baseline for our energy system is."

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