Support for the use of nuclear energy is increasing in the UK, an independent study has found - but support is stronger amongst men than women.
Polling company Populus interviewed 2050 adults online for the British Science Festival, an annual two-day event organised by the British Science Association. The interviews were carried out between 26 and 29 August, with data weighted to be representative of all UK adults in terms of gender, age, social-economic group and region.
Overall, the study found, 37% of the population supports the use of nuclear power in the UK. However, there is a huge gulf between the opinions of men and women: 53% of men are in favour of nuclear power, but only 21% of women. Meanwhile, women feature more prominently amongst the 31% of the population who are opposed to the use of nuclear power, which includes some 39% of women but only 23% of men.
The study also found that people over 55 years old were more supportive of nuclear power, as were those in higher social-economic groupings.
No Fukushima effect
The British Science Association used tracking data from previous studies to monitor how opinions have been changing, and found that the percentage of the UK population who were fairly or very concerned about nuclear power had fallen from 59% in 2009 to 54% in 2010 and was only 47% in 2011. At the same time, the number listed as being not very or not at all concerned about nuclear has increased steadily, from 38% in 2005 to 42% in 2010 and 45% today.
The sssociation said this result is very interesting, considering that the latest study was carried out less than six months after Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant fell victim to the natural disasters of 11 March. "It seems to indicate that Fukushima has had absolutely no impact on the continuing decline in the public's concern about nuclear power," the association noted in a statement.
The 'keep calm and carry on' response was further borne out by a general disagreement (51% overall) with Germany's decision to phase out nuclear power in response to Fukushima. Again, a strong gender bias was noted, with 65% of men thinking that Germany had overreacted but 61% of women agreeing with the German decision. The results reflected stronger support for nuclear power from older respondents and less from the younger groups.
Who to trust
More people may support nuclear in the UK than oppose it, but that does not mean they are confident about the UK's nuclear industry. Only 31% could be described as confident that the UK is prepared to handle a major nuclear incident in an existing facility, with 46% "fairly" or "very unconfident".
Respondents of all ages agreed that they would most trust independent scientists to tell the truth about nuclear energy, with an average of 52% choosing independent scientists as their most trusted source. Energy industry scientists are most trusted by 18% overall, and the nuclear industry and regulators, with 6% each, only slightly more trusted than pressure groups (4%), the government (4%) and the media (3%).
Energy security the key
The study also looked into thoughts on the construction of new nuclear power plants, asking respondents whether they would be willing to accept nuclear new build in order to tackle climate change, or in order to improve energy security. Some 61% of respondents agreed with nuclear construction for energy security reasons, with 54% in agreement with nuclear as a measure against climate change, suggesting that energy security is currently a stronger motivator for UK residents than climate concerns.
Researched and written
by World Nuclear News