UK public has its say on nuclear energy

14 September 2007

Almost 1000 people have expressed their views on nuclear energy in the UK at nine government consultation events. Some 44% of people support the option of new nuclear, and some opinions were shown to have changed after the discussion.

Nine 'deliberative consultation' events were held in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Exeter, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Newcastle and Norwich as part of the UK government's consultation on the possibility of building new nuclear power plants. Some 949 people were asked their opinion, both before and after attending the meetings, on the potential benefits, risks and implications of constructing new nuclear power reactors.

On balance, 44% of those questioned said that they considered it to be in the public interest, in the context of tackling climate change and ensuring energy security, to allow energy companies the option to construct new nuclear power plants. However, 37% said they disagreed with this, while 18% neither agreed nor disagreed. Only 1% said they did not know.

When asked their opinion on the contribution of nuclear power plants in reducing the UK's carbon dioxide emissions, after the meetings 60% of people said they thought nuclear could play an important role, while 21% disagreed with this.

With regards to energy security, 63% said that nuclear power plants could make an important contribution to providing the UK with secure and reliable future energy supplies, with 20% disagreeing.

Some opinions changed during the consultation discussion. Those who said they were either very or quite concerned about safety and security issues associated with nuclear power fell from 87% before the meeting to 83% afterwards. However, there was a significant drop for those who said they were 'very concerned', from 61% to 53%. Correspondingly, those who said they were not concerned increased from 11% to 17%.

There was a similar change in opinion on the issue of creating additional nuclear waste. Although 90% of people were concerned about it both before and after discussion, the proportion who said they were 'very concerned' fell from 69% to 60%. Likewise, the proportion who said they were not concerned grew from 8% to 10%.

Surprisingly, 20% of people questioned before the meetings were unaware that nuclear power plants were currently being used to generate electricity in the UK.

John Hutton, secretary of state for business and enterprise, said, "Saturday was a great opportunity to hear first hand what the public think about the crucial issue." He added, "'We must secure our energy supplies for the future. Our livelihoods and the future health of the planet depend on us getting this right. It is absolutely in the national interest that we make a decision and urgently. We have a preliminary view that nuclear should be able to play a part in providing the energy that we need to keep the lights on and help cut carbon emissions. But it is important that we know what the public thinks before we take this important decision."

In the 2003 energy white paper, the UK government had said that there would be "the fullest possibly public consultation and the publication of a further white paper" before any decision to build new nuclear power stations. A three-month consultation was launched by the government in early 2006. However, a legal challenge from Greenpeace led to a High Court ruling in February 2007 that the consultation process had been "misleading", "seriously flawed" and "procedurally unfair". The judge, Mr Justice Sullivan, said "something has gone clearly and radically wrong" with the consultation exercise. The government decided to launch a new consultation rather than challenge the ruling.

Last week, a coalition of environmental groups including Greenpeace, Friends of The Earth and the World Wildlife Fund pulled out of the new consultation, accusing the government of already making its mind up in favour of nuclear and having branded the process a "public-relations stitch-up".

Further information

UK Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform's The Future of Nuclear Power consultation website

WNA's Nuclear Power in the United Kingdom information paper

WNN: Green groups pull out of UK nuclear debate
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WNN: Gordon Brown positive on nuclear