Public opinion on nuclear issues is the aggregate of attitudes or beliefs held by the adult population concerning nuclear power, nuclear weapons and uranium mining. According to environmentalist Stewart Brand and James Lovelock, the debate on nuclear power is far from being evidence-based and rational, with a number of anti-nuclear organizations trying to pull it into an "absolute evil" category and focusing on risks while ignoring the benefits such as zero emissions.
Surveys about nuclear power use have been conducted internationally for four decades. Surveys originally examined public opinion on building new nuclear power plants. In the U.S., support has declined over the period from the mid-1970s through 2000. The Japanese were more supportive of nuclear power expansion during this time.
In 2005, the International Atomic Energy Agency presented the results of a series of public opinion surveys in the Global Public Opinion on Nuclear Issues report. The majority of respondents in 14 of the 18 countries surveyed believe that the risk of terrorist acts involving radioactive materials at nuclear facilities is high, because of insufficient protection. While majorities of citizens generally support the continued use of existing nuclear power reactors, most people do not favour the building of new nuclear plants, and 25% of respondents feel that all nuclear power plants should be closed down. Stressing the climate change benefits of nuclear energy positively influences 10% of people to be more supportive of expanding the role of nuclear power in the world, but there is still a general reluctance to support the building of more nuclear power plants.
A poll in the European Union for Feb-Mar 2005 showed 37% in favor of nuclear energy and 55% opposed, leaving 8% undecided. The same agency ran another poll in Oct-Nov 2006 that showed 14% favoured building new nuclear plants, 34% favored maintaining the same number, and 39% favored reducing the number of operating plants, leaving 13% undecided. This poll showed that the approval of nuclear power rose with the education level of respondents and was lower for women.
In the United States, the Nuclear Energy Institute has run polls since the 1980s. A poll in conducted March 30 to April 1, 2007 chose solar as the most likely largest source for electricity in the US in 15 years (27% of those polled) followed by nuclear, 24% and coal, 14%. Those who were favorable of nuclear being used dropped to 63% from a historic high of 70% in 2005 and 68% in September, 2006.
A CBS News/New York Times poll in 2007 showed that a majority of Americans would not like to have a nuclear plant built in their community, although an increasing percentage would like to see more nuclear power.
The two fuel sources that attracted the highest levels of support in the 2007 MIT Energy Survey are solar power and wind power. Outright majorities would choose to “increase a lot” use of these two fuels, and better than three out of four Americans would like to increase these fuels in the U. S. energy portfolio. Fourteen per cent of respondents would like to see nuclear power "increase a lot".
A September 2007 survey conducted by the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland showed that:
63 percent of Russians favor eliminating all nuclear weapons, 59 percent support removing all nuclear weapons from high alert, and 53 percent support cutting the Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals to 400 nuclear weapons each. In the United States, 73 percent of the public favors eliminating all nuclear weapons, 64 percent support removing all nuclear weapons from high alert, and 59 percent support reducing Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals to 400 weapons each. Eighty percent of Russians and Americans want their countries to participate in the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
According to a 2010 Soka Gakkai International survey of youth attitudes in Japan, Korea, the Philippines, New Zealand and the USA, 67.3% reject the use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances. Of the respondents 59.1% said that they would feel safer if nuclear weapons no longer existed in the world. Identified as most needed measures toward nuclear abolition were political and diplomatic negotiations (59.9%), peace education (56.3%) and strengthened measures within the UN framework (53.7%). While 37.4% said that nuclear abolition is possible, 40.7% said that nuclear arms reduction not abolition is possible.
Prominent environmentalist Stewart Brand published a Whole Earth Discipline book which was one of the first significant reversals of traditional anti-nuclear policy in the environmental movement. Director of Greenpeace UK (2001-2007) Stephen Tindale also expressed his support for nuclear power as effective means to prevent climate change. A number of polls on environmental websites (Grist.org, Treehugger.com) showed 59% and 54% respectively in "conditional support" for nuclear power.
For younger Greens, cold-war nuclear fears are ancient history, and Chernobyl is not part of their personal experience. The threat of climate change is what dominates their world, along with accelerating technology, with which they are comfortable. From the perspective of the young, nuclear is just another technology, to be judged on how well it works, not on antiquated obsessions of their elders.— Stewart Brand, Whole Earth Discipline
Both Eurobarometer 2008 and OECD poll (2010) indicated a "clear correlation between knowledge and support", where respondents who were more aware of the greenhouse gas emissions from energy sector were more likely to support low-emission nuclear power.
A 2011 poll suggests that skepticism over nuclear power is growing in Sweden following Japan's nuclear crisis. 36 percent of respondents want to phase-out nuclear power, up from 15 percent in a similar survey two years ago.
According to a 2012 Pew Research Center poll, 44% of Americans favor and 49% oppose the promotion of increased use of nuclear power, while 69% favor increasing federal funding for research on wind power, solar power, and hydrogen energy technology. Gallup poll found that 57% of American still favored nuclear energy.
A meta-analysis also confirmed positive correlation between support for nuclear power and understanding of nuclear power operations, with a significant effect of people living closer to nuclear power plant showing higher levels of support in general.
In 2013, Soka Gakkai International released the results of its international survey in which 91.2% of respondents believe that nuclear arms are inhumane and 80.6% favor a comprehensive treaty banning all weapons of mass destruction. The 2,840 survey respondents were men and women of ages 15 to 45 from Australia, Brazil, Britain, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, South Korea and the USA—the official and unofficial nuclear weapon states, states under the US nuclear umbrella and states in nuclear-weapons-free zones (NWFZs).
A Pew Research Survey conducted in 2015 found that Americans have shifted their view on the use of the atomic bomb to defeat the Japanese. 56% believe that the use of nuclear weapons was justified, with 34% saying it was not. Immediately after the bombings that figure was at 84% in favor of the bombing, according to a Gallup poll.
A 2016 Gallup poll of the American public revealed that public support for nuclear energy in the United States was at a record low of 44%, with the majority (54%) of respondents saying that they oppose nuclear energy. This was the first time that public opposition to nuclear power in the United States had achieved a majority in the 23 years of Gallup polling on the subject.
In polls performed as part of preparation for a new nuclear power plant in Poland in the locations designated as possible plant locations 71% of the local residents supported the plan. In the USA support and opposition to nuclear power plants per Gallup survey is split almost equally, 49% opposing and 49% supporting them, while 47% believed they are safe.
A Carnegie Mellon University study indicated strong "perception barrier and the regulatory cost" which makes it likely that existing nuclear power plants, under the current regulatory framework in the US, are more likely to be replaced by fossil fuel power plants which are perceived as "safer". This is even though an average nuclear power plant prevents emission of 2'000'000 metric tons of CO2, 5'200 metric tons of SO2 and 2'200 metric tons of NOx in a year.
- Public opinion on climate change
- Public opinion on nuclear power in Canada
- Public opinion on nuclear power in the United Kingdom
- Public opinion on nuclear power in the United States
- Nuclear power debate
- Nuclear weapons debate
- Uranium mining debate
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