Attitudes Towards Nuclear Energy And Climate Change

As the Government begins its major review on the future of energy, an extensive survey published today (17th January) of the British public's attitudes towards future energy options shows that just over 50% may be prepared to accept new nuclear power stations if it would help to tackle climate change. But few actively prefer the nuclear option over alternatives such as renewable sources and greater energy efficiency. Most people believe that promoting renewable energy sources (78%), and reducing energy use through lifestyle changes and energy efficiency (76%) are better ways of tackling climate change than nuclear power.

The British public sees the need to tackle climate change: but only reluctantly accepts nuclear power as a part of the solution, overwhelmingly prefering renewables and energy efficiency

As the Government begins its major review on the future of energy, an extensive survey published today (17th January) of the British public's attitudes towards future energy options shows that just over 50% may be prepared to accept new nuclear power stations if it would help to tackle climate change. But few actively prefer the nuclear option over alternatives such as renewable sources and greater energy efficiency. Most people believe that promoting renewable energy sources (78%), and reducing energy use through lifestyle changes and energy efficiency (76%) are better ways of tackling climate change than nuclear power.

Part of the government's impending energy review will consider whether the UK needs to replace its ageing nuclear power stations as one contribution towards achieving its climate change objectives. Professor Nick Pidgeon, who led the survey research team, explained that "the government has already recognised the need to take public acceptability into account when exploring our future energy options. However, almost nothing is known about how ordinary people are responding to the new debate about nuclear power and climate change. This new research helps us to understand public views on this critical question".

Carried out jointly by researchers from the Centre for Environmental Risk and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, in conjunction with Ipsos MORI. The survey reveals:

  • There are high levels of concern about climate change among the British public.
  • While polls over the past four years have shown a gradual lessening of opposition to replacing nuclear power stations, the new results still show more opposition than support.
  • Higher proportions of people are prepared to accept nuclear power if they believe it will contribute to climate change mitigation. However, very few would actively prefer this as an energy source over renewables or energy efficiency, given the choice.

The detailed survey findings, which will be discussed at a meeting this morning (17th January) at the Royal Society in London, include the following:

On Climate Change

  • 62% of respondents indicated that every possible action should be taken to limit climate change, and a further 32% that some action should be taken.
  • The public believes changes in behaviour to reduce energy consumption (69%), and expanding use of renewables (68%) and of energy efficient technologies (54%) are the best ways of tackling climate change.

On Support for Nuclear Power

  • 34% of adults now think that Britain's existing nuclear power stations should be replaced, while the same proportion do not want them replaced when they reach the end of their lives. Only 9% want to see the number of nuclear stations increased, while 15% would close all existing stations today.

On the Energy Debate

  • 54% of people would be willing to accept the building of new nuclear power stations if it would help to tackle climate change, and 48% agreed that the nation needs nuclear power because renewables alone are not able to meet its electricity needs.
  • However, people also believed that promoting renewable energy sources (78%) and reduced energy use through lifestyle changes and energy efficiency (76%) are better ways of tackling climate change than nuclear power.
  • 63% believed that Britain needs a mix of energy sources, including nuclear and renewables, to ensure a reliable supply of electricity.
  • While 62% said it doesn't matter what the public think of nuclear power as nuclear power stations will be built anyway.
  • Only 12% support regulation and taxation to reduce energy consumption.

Professor Nick Pidgeon added "The survey findings suggest that, given the numbers who are still opposed to renewal of nuclear power, there remains considerable potential for conflict around this issue. Additionally, many of those who do accept new nuclear power for Britain do so only reluctantly, and only if renewables and other strategies are developed and used alongside. Ordinary people have a more sophisticated understanding of energy futures than many decision makers like to believe. This wider context is something which the government should take very seriously during its own review."

Notes

  1. A full copy of the report will be available electronically from 17th January at www.tyndall.ac.uk, or contact Lucy Allen at UEA's Centre for Environmental Risk, tel: 01603-593 224, email l.allen@uea.ac.uk. The full reference is: Poortinga W., Pidgeon, N.F. and Lorenzoni, I. (2006) Public perceptions of nuclear power, climate change and energy options in Britain. Understanding Risk Working Paper 06-02 Norwich: Centre for Environmental Risk.
  2. The research was jointly funded by the Leverhulme Trust (www.leverhulme.org.uk), the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research (www.tyndall.ac.uk), and the Economic and Social Research Council (www.esrc.ac.uk).
  3. The meeting taking place at the Royal Society today (17th January, 8:45am -1pm) is being jointly sponsored by the Science in Society Programme (www.sci-soc.net) and the Sustainable Technologies Programme (www.sustainabletechnologies.ac.uk) of the Economic and Social Research Council.
  4. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research relating to social and economic issues. It has a track record of providing high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC invests more than 163100 million every year in social science research. At any time, its range of funding schemes may be supporting 2,500 researchers within academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences thereby nurturing the researchers of tomorrow.

Technical details

  • The survey was conducted in Britain by the market and opinion research company MORI, now known as Ipsos-MORI, between 1 October and 6 November 2005. A nationally representative quota sample of 1,491 people aged 15 years and over was interviewed face-to-face in their own homes in England, Wales and Scotland, in 257 sampling points. All data have been weighted to the known profile of the British population. The data based on the sample are accurate to within +/- 2.5% (95 times in 100).

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