How welcome is nuclear power?

A couple of months ago, EDF Energy put out a poll by YouGov which appeared to show that resistance to new nuclear power stations has decreased. Now, the new Understanding Risk/MORI poll covers much of the same ground about nuclear power, and shows some similar and interesting results.

Between them, the polls shed some light both on where the public stand in terms of different power options, and on the impact of arguments that make nuclear seem more attractive.

Interestingly, the Understanding Risk poll largely validates the results from EDF’s poll. While the latter may have been paid for by a company with something of an interest in a pro-nuclear result, the question structure didn’t seem particularly stacked to produce a result they wanted – and largely matched the results from Understanding Risk.

The polls are useful for understanding public attitudes towards nuclear power in two ways: they indicate how people regard nuclear at the moment, and they also help show the impact of arguments for nuclear power.

At a basic level, nuclear power is currently pretty much the least popular form of power generation in the UK. When asked favourability towards different sources, it comes in at the bottom of the pile – around the same place as both coal and gas.

Similarly, there is strong local opposition to the construction of new nuclear power stations. While three in four claim they would support wind farms being built within five miles of their home, only a quarter say the same about a new nuclear station.

However, the polls also show that this opposition is relatively soft. The arguments for nuclear power can change these attitudes quite strongly.

Both polls asked a similar question about favourability to different forms of power generation. However, while the Understanding Risk poll asked their question right at the start of the questionnaire, EDF asked theirs after a question about global warming and climate change. While I’m not suggesting that they did this with the intent of skewing the result, the comparison between the results is striking. While wind and nuclear power receive about the same scores (indeed, wind goes down and nuclear up by 8-10pts), coal and gas do much worse when they’re asked of people who’ve been primed to think about climate issues.

So, the first lesson appears to be that nuclear is seen as a source of energy production that doesn’t contribute to climate change – and this is a strength, so nuclear does better relative to other sources when this is raised as an issue.

The other part of the argument is around energy security: Understanding Risk shows that this is just as effective in making the case for nuclear as climate change is:

So, nuclear starts is initially pretty unpopular, but has the potential to become much more accepted if the case is made based on tackling climate change and improving energy security.

To be clear, this doesn’t overcome all doubts. Both of these arguments are challenged when nuclear is put directly in comparison with renewable sources, which remain far more popular until the case has been made convincingly that all other options have been exhausted.

So the results appear to show that there is a case (tackling climate change and improving energy security) that makes nuclear more accepted than other non-renewables (of course, I haven’t explored the impact of the pro-coal and pro-gas arguments…). But nuclear would still only be grudgingly tolerated, not embraced like renewables, and there will be a powerful local resistance to any new plants.

  1. Julia Mason says:

    actually it is not that hard to setup wind farms, the only problem is that it requires lots of capital investment.-,-

  2. ex PM Gordon Brown’s brother is known to have been employed by EDF Energy (last time I checked) which as we know is a big player in the Nuclear Power market.

    Questionable connections.

    Nuclear fuel is finite anyway, and there are only a fewmine globally, will be getting in to new wars around the world under the banner of “Energy Security” in order to secure nuclear fuel next?

  1. […] on the graphs for the full version. A longer version of this article is here. ————————- Share this […]

  2. […] said, we’ve seen in previous polls (covered here) that when compared with attitudes to other energy sources, nuclear performs much […]

  3. […] That said, other UK polls have shown that though nuclear power may not be so widely opposed as it had been before, it’s seen much less favourably than other forms of power generation. Nuclear only noses ahead of gas and coal when it’s put in the context of global warming and climate change. Read more on that here. […]