Similar proportions of people now support and oppose the use of nuclear power, according to research findings published today
by the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC).
Researchers based at Cardiff University and the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Japan carried out a number of nationally representative surveys in Britain and Japan, both before and after the Fukushima accident, asking detailed questions about attitudes to nuclear power and covering aspects such as perceived risks and benefits, trust in safety and regulation, and the future of nuclear power in the Britain and Japan.
The research found that the Fukushima nuclear accident had virtually no impact on British public attitudes to nuclear power, despite being responsible for a near-total collapse in public confidence in nuclear energy in Japan.
Attitudes in Britain have become somewhat more positive in recent years, with similar proportions of people now supporting (32%) and opposing (29%) the use of nuclear power, compared to 26% (supporting) and 37% (opposing) in 2005.
While a similar number of people want to continue nuclear at current levels or with expansion (43% in 2005, 46% in 2010 and 44% in 2013), fewer people now want to see nuclear power phased out or shut down (50% in 2005, 47% in 2010 and 40% in 2013).
Even though there is still a substantial level of public concern over the storage of radioactive waste and nuclear accidents, concern over nuclear power in Britain has dropped since the Fukushima accident, from 58% in 2005 and 54% in 2010 to 47% in 2013.
The proportion of respondents who agree that the risks of nuclear power outweigh the benefits has fallen from 41% in 2005 and 37% in 2010 to 29% in 2013, while the proportion of people who agree that the benefits of nuclear power outweigh the risks has increased from 32% in 2005 to 38% in 2010 and 37% in 2013.
While there has been a shift in recent years in favour of nuclear power, fewer people now than in 2005 and 2010 are willing to accept the building of a new nuclear power stations to tackle climate change (47% in 2013 vs. 55% in 2005 and 56% in 2010). However, this may be associated as much with an increase in climate scepticism as with changing attitudes to nuclear power.
The survey found that just under three-quarters of the British public (72%) accept that the world’s climate is changing. Nevertheless, the proportion of people doubting the reality of climate change has risen to one of the highest levels since 2005 (4% in 2005, 15% in 2010 and 19% in 2013).
Dr Wouter Poortinga of the Welsh School of Architecture at Cardiff University, lead researcher, comments: “British attitudes towards nuclear power have been surprisingly robust in the wake of the Fukushima accident, and trust in regulation has held up fairly well. It even appears that the attitudes to nuclear have softened somewhat after Fukushima. However, in reality, nuclear power remains relatively unpopular as compared to renewable energy sources”.
“We hope these findings will prove beneficial to both policy makers and industry, and help to ensure that key decisions about the future of Britain’s nuclear policy are informed by the best available evidence on public values and attitudes”.
In comparison, very few Japanese people want to continue nuclear at current levels (15%) or with expansion (2%), and a majority wants to see nuclear power phased out gradually (53%) or immediately (23%). Only 17% of the Japanese public are now willing to accept the building of new nuclear power stations to tackle climate change, as compared to 22% in 2011 and 33% in 2007.
While trust in the regulation of nuclear power was already low in Japan before the Fukushima accident (19% in 2007), it dropped to even lower levels after the accident (9% in both 2011 and 2013).
Dr Midori Aoyagi of the National Institute for Environmental Studies states: “Our research shows that nuclear power has become very unpopular in Japan after the Fukushima accident. Public trust in the regulation of nuclear power is now at an all-time low. Instead most people would like to see the development of more solar and wind energy to replace nuclear power in the longer term”.
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Notes to Editors
The nationally representative survey in Great Britain was carried out as part of Ipsos MORI’s face-to-face omnibus that took place between 8 and 26 March 2013 (Great Britain, n=961). Respondents were aged 15+ and weighted to the profile of the known population.
The findings from previous years were from nationally representative in-home quota surveys conducted by Ipsos MORI in Great Britain. Respondents were aged 15+ and weighted to the profile of the known population.
2010: Survey took place between 6 January and 26 March 2010 (n=1,822).
2005: Survey took place between 1 October and 6 November 2005 (n=1,491).
The nationally representative survey in Japan (n=1,121) was carried out between 9-24 February 2013. Respondents were aged 20+.
The results of the study were presented at a seminar on Nuclear Power after Fukushima, 19-20 September 2013, supported by the UK Energy Research Centre, the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, and the DAIWA Anglo-Japanese Foundation.
To download a full copy of the Working Paper, titled “Public Attitudes to Nuclear Power and Climate Change in Britain Two Years after the Fukushima Accident”, go to www.ukerc.ac.uk/support/tiki-download_file.php?fileId=3371
For further information, or to interview the authors, please contact Lindsay Wright, Head of Communications, or Dr Matthew Aylott, Communications Officer, at the UK Energy Research Centre:
About the UK Energy Research Centre
The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), which is funded by Research Councils UK, carries out world-class research into sustainable future energy systems. It is the hub of UK energy research and the gateway between the UK and the international energy research communities. Our interdisciplinary, whole-systems research informs UK policy development and research strategy.
About Cardiff University
Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University Chancellor Professor Sir Martin Evans. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise encompasses: the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences; and the College of Physical Sciences, along with a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Cardiff's three flagship Research Institutes are offering radical new approaches to neurosciences and mental health, cancer stem cells and sustainable places.