By Christopher Doering
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. public support for expanding nuclear power appears to be slipping after Japan's nuclear crisis while New York's governor said on Tuesday an aging plant near New York City will be the top priority in a federal review of earthquake risk to such facilities.
President Barack Obama last year announced loan guarantees to build the first U.S. nuclear power plant in nearly three decades. But the nuclear disaster triggered by Japan's 9.0 magnitude earthquake may be making Americans less inclined to embrace more nuclear energy due to safety fears.
In a poll released on Monday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 52 percent of 1,004 U.S. adults surveyed from March 17-20 said they oppose the expansion of nuclear power now, up from 47 percent last October.
A poll of 814 U.S. adults released on Tuesday by the Civil Society Institute, which has been critical of nuclear energy, found that less than half of those questioned -- 46 percent -- said they support more nuclear power reactors in the United States and 44 percent oppose new reactors.
Fifty-eight percent of those questioned said they are less supportive of expanding nuclear power in the United States than they were a month ago. The poll was conducted March 15-16.
"The Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster in Japan is causing a renewed and intensifying skepticism about the future of nuclear power," said Pam Solo, president of the Civil Society Institute, based in Newton, Massachusetts.
Many Americans have harbored safety concerns about nuclear power since the 1979 disaster at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has pledged to make the Indian Point nuclear power plant north of New York City their top priority in a review of seismic risk at U.S. nuclear plants.
PLANT'S SAFETY DEFENDED
Indian Point owner Entergy Corp purchased a full-page advertisement in the New York Times on Tuesday touting comments by U.S. Energy Secretary Steve Chu saying that the reactor is safe and an NRC report saying all U.S. nuclear plants remain safe.
An NRC report last September found Indian Point, situated near two geological fault lines, was at the greatest risk from seismic activity among the 27 nuclear plants under review. The plant provides up to 30 percent of New York City's power.
Entergy also said it is considering a plan to store mobile emergency generators off-site that could be relocated to Indian Point after any emergency. Reactors at the crippled Japanese plant overheated when the tsunami knocked out backup generators to power the cooling system. The quake had cut off main power.
A report from the International Atomic Energy Agency questioned whether utilities licensed to run older U.S. nuclear reactors are doing enough to upgrade plant safety.
The report, issued by the U.N. nuclear watchdog two days before the earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Fukushima power plant in Japan, sounds an alarm about the safety at some older U.S. nuclear plants.
The IAEA assessed how America's nuclear plants are regulated at the request of the NRC.
Obama last week ordered a comprehensive review of the safety of U.S. nuclear power facilities, maintaining his support for nuclear energy while seeking to apply lessons from the situation in Japan.
Some lawmakers and anti-nuclear activists have called for safety measures in quake-prone California, where the Pacific Gas & Electric's Diablo Canyon plant and Edison International's San Onofre plant sit near faults.
"New information about the severe seismic risk ... make clear that these two plants require immediate attention in light of the catastrophic events in Japan," said Barbara Boxer, who along with fellow California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein has asked the NRC to conduct a review of the safety and emergency preparedness of the plants.
(Editing by Will Dunham)