European support for nuclear power has grown by 7% in the last three years, and now virtually balances opposition. Over one third of opposition would vanish with an understanding of waste solutions.
The overall figures of 44% in favour and 45% opposed to the use of nuclear power in the European Union's 27 member states is an improvement from 37% in favour and 55% opposed in 2005. About 30% of the EU's electricity comes from 146 nuclear reactors operating in 15 of its member states.
The figures come from the Eurobarometer organization's latest poll, Attitudes towards radioactive waste. Eurobarometer has conducted comparable polls in 1998, 2001, and 2005. This latest iteration covered 26,750 citizens from the EU's 27 member states, while polls before 2005 included fewer nations prior to two waves of expansion.
The poll found that nuclear power's advantages of low carbon emissions, that it can help diversify energy supplies, and that it can reduce dependence on oil were recognised by 62%, 64%, and 63% of people respectively.
Pollsters asked those people who said they were opposed to nuclear energy what effect the availability of a complete disposal route for radioactive waste would have. "If there was a permanent safe solution" for radioactive waste 39% of current opposition would change sides in the debate.
However, conceptions in general concerning radioactive waste make difficult reading for the nuclear industry. Some 78% of people think all radioactive waste is very dangerous and 72% totally or tend to agree that there is no safe way of disposing of high-level radioactive waste. Meanwhile, 71% think some radioactive waste is already disposed of deep underground, which 36% of people totally or tend to think is not the most appropriate method.
In truth, only a tiny fraction of radioactive waste is the most dangerous high-level type and none of this will be permanently stored underground anywhere in Europe until Sweden's geological repository opens in the next decade.
Proportion of respondents who tended to be or totally were in favour of nuclear power (Source: Eurobarometer)
Support for nuclear power was found to be highest in countries that operate nuclear power plants with Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, Sweden polling levels of support of over 60%. Opposition was concentrated in Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, with opposition levels of over 60% and peaking at 83%. Opinions in key phase-out country Germany were fairly evenly divided: 12% were totally in favour of nuclear power; 16% were totally opposed; 34% were fairly in favour; and 31% were fairly opposed while just 7% did not know.
As in most Eurobarometer polls, citizens were found to be in favour of increased European involvement and oversight of national affairs. Some 91% of people said they agreed that "the EU should be able to monitor national practices and programs for managing radioactive waste," and 90% agreed that "harmonized and consistent methodologies should be developed within the EU to manage radioactive waste."