Public warms up for nuclear energy

March 25, 2009 | 00:00

Public warms to the use of nuclear energy

More than two-thirds of people around the world believe that their countries should start using or increase their use of nuclear power. Men are more likely to support nuclear energy than women and concerns over energy security, energy prices  and climate change were cited most often as grounds for supporting nuclear energy. These are the main findings of a recent global survey by Accenture.

The survey of more than 10,000 people in 20 countries shows that 29 percent of respondents support the use or increased use of nuclear power outright, and another 40 percent say they would support nuclear power if their concerns were addressed.  But in a warning to nuclear generators and policy makers, sentiment has polarized in recent years.

The survey found that, overall, sentiment has swung in favor of nuclear energy, with 29 percent of respondents saying they are more supportive of their country starting or increasing the use of nuclear than they were three years ago.  However, one in five respondents (19 percent) said they are less supportive of their country starting or increasing the use of nuclear than they were three years ago.

“Concerns over energy security, volatile fossil-fuel prices and climate change have made nuclear energy more popular with consumers,” said Sander van ’t Noordende, group chief executive of Accenture’s Resources operating group.  “But policy makers and generators should not assume that this makes consent easy to achieve or maintain. Government and the energy industry must take note of the continued fragility of popular support for nuclear power.”

Filling the fossil fuel gap with nuclear energy
While the vast majority (88 percent) of consumers said they believe it is important for their countries to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, slightly more said they believe that renewable energy alone cannot fill the gap left by fossil fuels than said that renewable energy can (43 percent versus 39 percent). More than four in 10 consumers (43 percent) said they see nuclear power as a means to achieve a low-carbon future, with 9 percent calling for an increase in nuclear energy alone to help reduce fossil fuel dependency and another 34 percent calling for a mix of nuclear and renewable energy.

Consumers demand more information
For respondents who oppose nuclear power generation in their countries, the top three factors for their opposition were concerns over: efficient waste disposal solutions; the safety of power plant operations; and decommissioning nuclear power plants (cited by 91 percent, 90 percent and 80 percent of respondents, respectively). In each case, nearly half (45 percent) of those who oppose nuclear power said that more information on these three factors would make them change their minds either completely or to some extent.

Only about one-quarter (28 percent) of respondents said they are either well or very well informed about their country’s strategy regarding nuclear power, with nearly three-quarters of respondents (72 percent) claiming to be not well informed or not informed at all.

“Transparent information is the most important driver of consumer support, and our survey findings show that public opinion can be changed significantly on the basis of available information,” said Daniel P. Krueger, head of Accenture’s nuclear energy practice.  “Governments need to be clearer about the reasons for their nuclear energy strategies in order to ensure that public support aligns with their decisions to increase, decrease or maintain their nuclear energy commitment.”

Gender, geography and age
The survey revealed great disparities between respondents based on geography, gender and age.  For instance, where 43 percent of respondents support nuclear energy as a means of reducing fossil fuel reliance, whether alone or in combination with renewable energy, those aged 55 and over were more likely than those under 35 to do so (51 percent versus 38 percent). Also, men were more likely than women to hold this view (49 percent versus 39 percent).

From a geographic perspective, the strongest support for nuclear energy as a means of reducing fossil fuel reliance, whether standalone or in combination with renewable, came from respondents in India (67 percent), China (62 percent), the United States (57 percent) and South Africa (55 percent). Support was far lower in France (37 percent), Italy (37 percent), Belgium (36 percent), Germany (31 percent), Brazil (29 percent), Greece (28 percent) and Spain (28 percent).

When asked if their country should start using or increase the use of nuclear power, either outright or if their concerns were addressed, 69 per cent of the global sample said yes. Respondents in India, China, South Africa and the United States were most likely to say yes (cited by 96 percent, 91 percent, 88 percent and 81 percent of respondents in those countries, respectively).  Countries with the lowest support for starting to use or increasing the use of nuclear power were Germany (50 percent), Greece (49 percent) and Spain (49 percent).

From a gender perspective, men were more likely than women to say they would support nuclear power either outright or if their concerns were addressed (74 percent versus 64 percent). From an age perspective respondents over 55 years old were the strongest supporters of nuclear power either outright or if their concerns were addressed (cited by 75 percent of these respondents), while those between 25 and 34 years old were the least supportive (64 percent).

If you are interested in reading the full report, you can request a copy by sending an e-mail to:

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