Fox News Poll: Despite Shock at Crisis in Japan, Half in U.S. Call Nuclear Energy Safe

Americans are shocked by the devastation in Japan after a massive earthquake and tsunami spawned a nuclear crisis, but about half of American voters still say they think nuclear power is a safe source of energy, according to a Fox News poll released Thursday.

In the aftermath of Friday’s earthquake and tsunami, 49 percent of voters say the destruction is worse than they expected to ever see in an industrialized country. That includes 32 percent who say it is much worse and 17 percent who say somewhat worse.

Another 49 percent are not surprised by the scope of the devastation.

Japanese officials estimate the death toll from the earthquake and tsunami at more than 5,300. In addition, dangerous levels of radiation leaking from a damaged nuclear power plant have prompted the Japanese government to ask about 140,000 people living in that region to stay indoors.

The poll was conducted Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, as Japan worked to contain further damage from the nuclear plant, and conditions at the plant steadily deteriorated over that period.

Click here for the poll's full results.

Of the voters poll earlier this week, nearly four in 10 (37 percent) say they are less likely to support nuclear power in the United States because of what’s happening in Japan. That jumps to 60 percent when the results are narrowed to just those who already felt nuclear power is unsafe.

And the number believing nuclear power is unsafe has increased to 40 percent, up from 34 percent in June 2008.

But a slim 51-percent majority of American voters said they still believed nuclear power is a safe source of energy, down only 2 percentage points from the 53 percent who thought so earlier.

Among groups, men (64 percent) are much more likely than women (40 percent) to believe nuclear power is safe. A 61-percent majority of Republicans thinks it is safe, while the largest number of Democrats says it isn’t (48 percent). For those ages 55 and older, 57 percent think nuclear power is safe, compared to 40 percent of those under age 30.

The Fox News poll is based on landline and cell phone interviews with 913 randomly chosen registered voters nationwide and was conducted under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R) from March 14 to March 16. For the total sample, it has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.