Stephen Ansolabehere, March 2007
The prospects of global warming and potential shortages of oil have brought energy back to the forefront of the list of national, indeed, global, problems that governments, corporations and society must address. In 2002, as part the MIT study on The Future of Nuclear Power, the first MIT Energy survey considered public attitudes toward nuclear power in light of other sources of electric power. That survey found that the two key drivers behind public preferences about energy sources are general environmental harm and cost of electricity.
In February, 2007, I replicated the energy survey. What has changed over the last five years is a noticeable decline in the popularity of oil and a noticeable but quite modest increase in support for nuclear power. Oil has lost much of its luster. Americans now strongly wish to reduce the use of oil, and they view this energy source less favorably than any other source of power. Coal, seen as moderately priced but very harmful to the environment, also remains quite unpopular. Nuclear power, five years ago, was viewed similarly badly. It now seems to have gained support and is approaching natural gas in terms of favorability.