Friday, September 30, 2005

Majority of Europeans oppose nuclear power

Majority of Europeans oppose nuclear power

Published: Thursday 29 September 2005 | Updated: today 12:43

Majority of Europeans oppose nuclear power

In Short:

Results from a Eurobarometer survey reveal that EU citizens remain uninformed about radioactive waste and are sceptical about the credibility of information from national governments and the media on nuclear energy.


Fear of climate change and the crisis surrounding diminishing oil supplies has revived the debate on the future of nuclear power. Growing economies in China and India have led to radically increased levels of fuel consumption and accelerated the speed with which resources will run out.

Since the early 19th century the world's economy has relied on the use of cheap fossil fuels such as oil, gas or coal. However, with oil prices surging above $65 per barrel the EU is becoming progressively more concerned about the effects of high oil prices on its economy. The threat of climate change, which scientists largely attribute to the excessive burning of fossil fuels, has also renewed interest in the use of nuclear power as an alternative energy source.


A Eurobarometer survey conducted in February and March 2005 analysing EU public opinion on nuclear energy has revealed an underlying lack of knowledge concerning nuclear power, alongside a growing distrust of governments and the media on radioactive waste management issues. The survey results included the following findings:

On radioactive waste

Three quarters of EU citizens (74%) claim that they are ‘not well informed’ about radioactive waste.
Citizens in Sweden consider themselves to be most informed on this issue, with one in two respondents (51%) answering positively, followed by Slovenia (46%) and Finland (43%).
Respondents from Greece, Italy, (16%) Spain and Portugal (15%) were the least informed about radioactive waste.
Approximately eight respondents out of ten (79%) answered that they believed ‘all radioactive waste’ to be ‘very dangerous’.
In Finland, projects are already underway to construct more nuclear power plants and plans to develop further reactors are being discussed. Faring only slightly better than the EU southern states in terms of knowledge possessed on nuclear energy, France (22%) - the world’s largest nuclear power generator per capita - is also committed to expanding its nuclear reliance. Other nations choosing to pursue the nuclear route are Poland, Slovakia and the UK.

On nuclear energy

Only four out of every ten interviewees (37%) answered that they were in favour of nuclear energy.
While 30% of participants said that they were ‘fairly in favour’, only 7% of the EU citizens interviewed claimed to be ‘totally in favour’ of nuclear energy.
31% of the people interviewed said they were 'fairly opposed' to energy produced by nuclear power stations while 24% stated that they were 'totally opposed'.
Nuclear energy proved to be most popular in Hungary (65%), followed by Sweden (64%), the Czech Republic (61%) and Lithuania (60%).
Nuclear energy was least popular in Austria where 88% of interviewees stated that they were opposed to this type of energy.
61% of interviewees believed that the nuclear option would reduce dependency on oil and 62% of EU citizens interviewed agreed that nuclear power is advantageous in terms of producing fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
Replicating results from a similar survey taken in 2001, NGO’s (39%) and independent scientists (38%) remain the two most trusted sources of information regarding the impact and effects of nuclear energy.
In comparison to four years ago, latest opinion demonstrates a significant loss in confidence with both national governments (down from 29% to 19%) and the media (down from 23% to 13%) as reliable sources of information on nuclear issues.
Despite being the nation that proved most informed on the issue and one of its biggest supporters, Sweden has proposed abandoning the nuclear route within the next forty years. Along with Belgium, Germany and Spain, the Swedish government has decided to phase out nuclear power altogether and rely purely on hydro and bio-energy. Austria has adopted a law prohibiting the operation of nuclear power stations for the production of electricity, thus abandoning the use of nuclear energy and setting itself the task of creating a nuclear energy free zone in central Europe. Conversely, the Czech Republic is planning to build two new reactors.


According to FORATOM – the trade association of the European nuclear industry, the survey shows that “the opinions expressed are not really based on knowledge of the subject, which remains very low. Instead, they are based more on personal conviction or political affiliation. Opinions expressed on the question of risk remain grounded in basic anxieties and, therefore, are unavoidably negative.” However, FORATOM emphasise the importance of engaging the public in the nuclear debate as “the greater the level of knowledge, the more favourable the opinion that citizens have of nuclear energy”.

On the results of the survey, Mark Johnston, EU Energy Policy Campaigner for Greenpeace said: “as expected, most people in Europe are still against atomic power, despite the nuclear industry heavily promoting itself. It would be good to put these results alongside a survey on clean energy options, especially renewables and efficiency, which we know are popular”. Johnston revealed little surprise about the minimal level of knowledge interviewees claimed to have on nuclear energy: “Both the industry and most governments are habitually secretive about such issues. Even when we ask the European Commission for the nuclear data it holds, often it is refused and we have to really push to get it.” Johnston was critical of the survey for deliberately reflecting the Commission’s political agenda and its 2003 ‘nuclear package’.

Announcing their position on the survey, Friends of the Earth said: “The most important fact is: there is still a majority of European Union's citizen against nuclear power.” According to Friends of the Earth, the lack of knowledge concerning nuclear waste issues is: “a clear reference to the European Commission, European governments and the nuclear industry to provide comprehensive information about the real dimension of the nuclear waste problem. Then it would become clear, that there is still no safe solution (and might never be) for what to do with the tremendous amounts of radioactive waste generated in a nuclear reactor.”


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