By Christopher Doering
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A majority of Americans want the United States to tap the brakes on new nuclear power reactors following the crisis in Japan that has focused more attention on the already controversial power source, according to a poll released on Tuesday.
The survey of 814 Americans found 53 percent would support a moratorium on new nuclear reactor construction if the country was able to meet its energy demand through increased efficiency and renewable sources such as wind and solar.
Nearly three-quarters of those polled oppose having taxpayers take on the risk for the construction of new reactors through billions of dollars in new federal loan guarantees. Instead, most support shifting those dollars to wind and solar power.
The poll, which was conducted on March 15 and 16, was done by ORC International for the Civil Society Institute, a Massachusetts-based think tank.
The Obama administration wants Congress to boost loan guarantees to help finance new reactors. The Energy Department program now has $18.5 billion in loan authority and the White House wants to increase it to nearly $55 billion, enough to help build up to a dozen reactors.
The poll from the Civil Society Institute also found most Americans would embrace a move by Congress to consider repealing a 1957 law indemnifying nuclear power companies from most disaster cleanup costs. Instead, Americans would hold the companies "liable for all damages resulting from a nuclear meltdown or other accident."
The study found a majority of Americans living near nuclear plants are not prepared in the event of a major disaster. According to the survey, 52 percent of those living within 50 miles of a nuclear reactor are unsure of emergency preparedness steps such as the proper evacuation route.
(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)