Polls find strong support for nuclear in UK and Switzerland

10 March 2023

Britain's energy crisis and rising heating bills have fuelled support among voters for new nuclear reactors to be built in the UK, a survey has found. Meanwhile, a public opinion poll in Switzerland suggests that about half of the population favours the continued use of nuclear energy.

Stonehaven polling from June 2021 to today. Net Support = Percent of people who support nuclear minus per cent of people who oppose. Each date minimum n=2,000 Nat Rep respondents (Image: Stonehaven)

A UK poll by international strategy consultancy Stonehaven found a 25% increase in net support for new nuclear power since June 2021, with support growing across every age group, nation and region in the country. Today, net support overall stands at 24% (with 46% agreeing and 22% disagreeing).

While support from both sexes has been steadily increasing, there is a stark contrast between males and females. For men, net support is 43% while for women, it is 7%.

Stonehaven has been asking the tracking question "The Government should support the building of new nuclear power plants" used for this analysis in 39 surveys since June 2021, with each survey having a minimum 2000 person sample size for a nationally representative audience.

It said it also found a strong positive linear relationship between age and support, with just 5% net support for nuclear among 18-24 year olds and 50% net support among those over 65 years old.

"Just two years ago, only Conservative supporters and people over the age of 65 showed net support for new nuclear," Stonehaven said. "Now, even 18 to 24-year-olds want new power stations built while Labour, Liberal Democrat and even Green Party supporters are backing new builds. The only outlier remains nationalists north of the border with Scottish National Party supporters the only political group still more likely to oppose than support new nuclear, though support for nuclear in Scotland as a whole has risen by a huge 35%".

It said this "sea change" in support for nuclear follows Russia's war in Ukraine and the global energy crisis which forced the UK government to step in last winter to curb soaring heating bills in Britain. Despite the government's Energy Price Guarantee and falling wholesale gas prices, bills are set to rise by an average 20% next month - taking a typical annual bill to GBP3000 (USD3578).

"While there are variances across demographics, it's clear that public perception is shifting dramatically in favour of nuclear," Stonehaven said. "As energy self-sufficiency and tackling climate change remain front of mind, this support is only likely to increase further and provides a ripe territory for the nuclear industry.

"There are also implications for investors and nuclear developers looking to fund and build large gigawatt nuclear plants and small modular reactors (SMRs) in the UK. Inertia dominated nuclear policymaking for decades for fear of public reaction. Now investors and developers can take confidence from the political dividend available to policymakers from pursuing a pro build approach to nuclear."

In its Energy Security Strategy, released in April last year, the UK government set out its ambitions for eight new reactors, plus SMRs, helping to produce 24 GWe capacity by 2050, representing about 25% of the UK's projected electricity demand. Nuclear's share of energy in the UK is currently about 15%, however almost half of the country's current capacity is due to be retired by 2026 and all but one of its reactors will retire by 2030.

Stable support in Switzerland

Meanwhile, a poll conducted between 15 and 26 February by market research institute DemoSCOPE on behalf of the Swiss Nuclear Forum has confirmed that support for nuclear energy remains stable.

According to the online survey of 1019 people from 15 to 26 February in German- and French-speaking Switzerland, 49% of the population is still in favour of the continued use of nuclear energy, while 38% reject it. Similar polls conducted in February and July 2022 found 44% and 52% in favour, respectively.

Of those respondents to the latest poll saying they support the use of nuclear, 87% said sufficient power generation remains the main argument, while 47% give the achievement of Switzerland's climate goals as the reason.

According to the new survey, the existing ban on the construction of new nuclear power plants does not have majority backing. It found that 43% think that the construction of new nuclear power plants in Switzerland should be banned by law, similar to the result in the July 2022 poll, while 45% were in favour of it in February 2022.

Half of respondents said they think that the population should have the opportunity to decide in individual cases whether a new nuclear power plant should be built or not, up from 49% in February 2022 but down from 52% in July.

"The survey results show that a large part of the Swiss population now has stable approval for nuclear energy and no majority for the ban on the construction of new nuclear power plants," said Hans-Ulrich Bigler, President of the Swiss Nuclear Forum. "This shows that Swiss people are clearly skeptical as to whether the future power supply and climate targets can be secured or achieved without nuclear energy."

Switzerland currently has four nuclear reactors generating about 35% of its electricity. A new Swiss energy policy was sought in response to the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan. Two months later, both the Swiss parliament and government decided to exit nuclear power production. The Energy Strategy 2050 initiative drawn up by the Federal Council calls for a gradual withdrawal from nuclear energy. It also foresees expanded use of renewables and hydro power but anticipates increased reliance on fossil fuels and electricity imports as an interim measure.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News