The Shifting Sands of Nuclear Public Opinion

NEI´s Scott Peterson talks about how popular magazines reflect nuclear energy´s "cooler" image. (Photo Credit: D.Calma/IAEA)

When fashion magazine Elle lists nuclear energy among its top ten "cool, new things" for 2006, you know public opinion is shifting. Scott Peterson, Vice-President of Communications at the Nuclear Energy Institute, told an industry conference in Vienna that rising energy prices had triggered a more popular and positive view of nuclear power.

To give a global perspective, a recent survey of some 1800 people in 18 countries was commissioned by the IAEA. It found while the majority of citizens generally support the continued use of existing nuclear reactors, most people do not favour building new reactors.

According to Mr. Peterson in the United States at least, support appears to be growing for an industry long haunted by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident. A survey conducted last year by the Nuclear Energy Institute found that 70% of the 1000 American´s surveyed were in favour of nuclear energy. Two thirds of those surveyed said that they would find it acceptable if a new reactor was built at an existing site.

In a separate survey, the Institute asked over 1000 people living within a 10-mile radius of 64 nuclear power stations how they felt. Over 8o% were in favour of nuclear energy. While seventy-six percent of residents said it would be acceptable to add a new reactor to an existing site.

"The poll´s results show that support for new nuclear plants is strong among those residents who live near nuclear plants. This bodes well for the prospect of new plant construction, particularly for those companies considering adding new reactors at existing nuclear plant sites," Mr Peterson said.

As consumers are hit by escalating oil and gas costs they are taking a renewed look at nuclear energy, Mr. Peterson said. Other driving factors include: energy supply and demand; geopolitical consequences; climate change and clean air. Public opinion holds safety and waste issues as the main concerns about this energy source, Mr. Peterson told the annual Conference on Public Information Materials Exchange (PIME) in Vienna, 12-16 February 2006. Some 200 public information specialists from the nuclear industry worldwide met to discuss topics ranging from crisis communications to the future of nuclear energy.

Also during the week,

  • The chief economist of the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) of the OECD told communcators that nuclear energy is an important part of the future energy mix. Mr. Fatih Birol said the three challenges are security of supply, carbon dioxide emissions, and energy for the poor;
  • Workshops moderated by IAEA Public Information staff and other professionals addressed issues of nuclear politics, economics, emergency preparedness, and communication approaches and strategies;
  • Mr. Tomihiro Taniguchi, IAEA Deputy Director General, Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, told the conference there was no room for complacency when it comes maintaining and building upon the nuclear industry´s safety record.
Last update: 24 February 2015