On April 26, 1986, the Lenin Nuclear Power Plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine, exploded during a routine maintenance test, creating "a nuclear accident of maximum severity" -- by far the world's worst to date. Two months later, as information was still seeping out of the Soviet Union about the severity of the disaster, 73% of Americans told Gallup they would be against the construction of a nuclear facility in their area. This was up from 60% in 1979 and 45% in 1976.
|Jun 11-14, 1976%||Apr 6-9, 1979%||Jun 9-16, 1986%|
The sharp increase in "not in my backyard" sentiment about nuclear power plants between 1976 and 1986 relates not only to the Chernobyl accident, but to a March 1979 incident at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. While no deaths resulted from what turned out to be a relatively minor radiation leak, the event caused a tremendous public scare. Not only did the percentage of Americans opposing construction of nuclear power plants increase shortly after the Three Mile Island accident, but the percentage saying nuclear power operations needed to be cut back until stricter regulations could be put in place jumped to 66%, up from 40% in 1976. That figure retreated to 55% by 1980, but registered 66% in 1986, right after Chernobyl.
A more recent Gallup trend shows Americans' support for nuclear power "as one of the ways to provide electricity in the U.S." declining in the past half-decade. After peaking at 62% in 2010, support is now down to 44%, with 54% opposed. Americans' current hesitance to embrace nuclear power probably reflects not so much a concern about accidents but the available and cheap supply of oil and gas, making the need for the seemingly risky nuclear power alternative appear less necessary.
These data can be found in Gallup Analytics.
Read more from the Gallup Vault.