Polls show support for nuclear, but waste concerns

23 March 2010

A public opinion poll in the USA shows that support for the use of nuclear power has reached a record high of over 60%. However, a separate poll of "opinion formers" in the USA and six European countries shows that, while support for nuclear is high, dealing with used nuclear fuel remains a concern.


A telephone poll of 1014 American adults conducted between 4 and 7 March by the Gallup polling organisation found that 62% of respondents favour the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways of generating electricity in the USA. This was the first time that support of nuclear power in the USA surpassed 60% since Gallup began conducting such surveys in 1994. In addition, 28% of people said they "strongly favour" nuclear power, also a record level in the surveys. One-third of respondents (33%) said that they opposed nuclear energy, a record low.


Opinion poll, USA, March 2010


In a similar poll conducted a year ago, 59% of Americans said that they favoured the use of nuclear power, while 37% said they were opposed to its use.


The latest poll was conducted shortly after President Obama announced federal government loan guarantees for the construction of new nuclear power reactors in the USA. However, the poll suggests that Obama's backing of nuclear energy has not changed the opinion of Democrats as a whole. Some 51% of Democrats and Democratic leaning independents said they supported the USA's use of nuclear energy, compared with 52% in favour a year ago. Support for nuclear among Republicans and Republican leaners remained much higher, at 74%, up from 71% in March 2009.


Waste concerns


Meanwhile, a poll conducted by TNS Sofres on behalf of Areva has found that the majority of people remain concerned about the disposal of radioactive wastes arising from the use of nuclear power plants and generally support its recycling.


The poll looked at the opinions of two separate groups of people - the "informed" public and opinion leaders - in six European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium and the UK) and in the USA.


In each country, some 300 online interviews were conducted on "informed" people ("upper-class, business-press readers") between 20 November and 7 December 2009. In addition, 50 opinion leaders in each country were interviewed over the telephone in each country between 4 and 28 January 2010. These opinion leaders comprised 20 nationally elected politicians; 20 locally elected mayors or deputy mayors; and ten energy or environment journalists.


The poll found that the majority of informed respondents supported the use of nuclear energy: France 82%, Germany 51%, Italy 62%, Spain 71%, Belgium 73%, UK 84% and USA 81%. Amongst the opinion leaders, support was: France 69%, Germany 44%, Italy 32%, Spain 68%, Belgium 73%, UK 68% and USA 96%.


However, there was wide consensus that "the used nuclear fuel used in the production of energy remains radioactive and thus potentially dangerous for a very long time." Agreement with this statement among the informed respondents ranged between 82% and 96% in each country, while between opinion leaders it was between 72% and 100%.


When asked if they were very worried about the issue of dealing with radioactive waste when considering the environment, the following percentage of informed people said they were: France 49%, Germany 41%, Italy 49%, Spain 47%, Belgium 41%, UK 25% and USA 39%.


By country, between 66% and 79% of the informed public considered used nuclear fuel "a fundamental problem which is hindering the development of nuclear energy," while between 42% and 77% of opinion leaders considered it as such.


However, the informed public generally said that they felt reassured that some countries are already recycling part of their used fuel: France 81%, Germany 51%, Italy 66%, Spain 64%, Belgium 83%, UK 77% and USA 77%. Likewise, the fact that other countries had rejected the option to recycle their fuel caused high concern: France 88%, Germany 49%, Italy 80%, Spain 76%, Belgium 85%, UK 77% and USA 82%.


Among the informed public, there is overwhelming support for their respective governments to "begin recycling used fuel immediately, by using existing industrial solutions." Levels of supports were: France 86%, Germany 62%, Italy 67%, Spain 80%, Belgium 85%, UK 75% and USA 76%.


The arguments presented in favour of recycling - a 25% saving of uranium, the reduced volume and toxicity of nuclear waste and the ability to recover energy - were interpreted by the informed public as unexploited potential.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News