Majority of the public support UK nuclear power

Paul Boughton

A new survey by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers has found that 56% of the public support the UK continuing to use nuclear power, compared with just 19% who do not and 25% who were unsure.

Of the people who support nuclear power, 82% said that this is because it will help keep the lights on, 56% because it would provide jobs and 54% because it would boost the economy. The main concerns for people who oppose nuclear power were that it is too dangerous (77%), too damaging for the environment (76%), while just 27% said that it was because it was too expensive.

In the UK there are currently 16 civil nuclear reactors providing 18% of our electricity needs and supporting local communities through employment, supply chain and economic development.

The survey showed broad support for nuclear power, however, 44% of the people surveyed said they would protest if a nuclear waste facility was to be located 10 miles from their home, compared to 32% who said they would not protest. 58% said they would not support the UK importing nuclear waste from other countries for reprocessing compared with just 17% who said they would. The results of this survey also show that there is a general unawareness of how the UK deals with its nuclear waste, with 33% of respondents saying they did not know how nuclear waste is disposed of and 61% saying they don’t know how much nuclear waste the UK has to dispose of each year.

Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said in response to the results: “The results of this survey show that most of the public realise the vital role nuclear has to play in keeping the lights on in the UK. But there is a lack of knowledge about nuclear technology and the way nuclear waste is managed.

“With UK Government planning to replace ageing nuclear plants and increase nuclear power generation, these survey results show the critical need for industry and Government to raise awareness about the economic and employment benefits of nuclear power. There is also a need to highlight the comprehensive range of safety procedures in place to mitigate risk and environmental damage, with both nuclear power generation and the management of nuclear waste.

“Interestingly, although much has been made of the high up-front costs of nuclear power, most people who oppose nuclear power do so because they think it is dangerous or due to environmental concerns, rather than due to cost.

“While most people appreciate the need to develop nuclear power, a large proportion of the 2,000 people surveyed (44%) would protest if there were plans for a nuclear waste facility near their home. This illustrates the potential barrier that ‘Not In My Back Yard’ (Nimbyism) could play, as we push forward the development of geological disposal facilities. Government and industry must ensure they implement good community liaison and communication programmes to raise awareness of the benefits for the local community, as well as the efforts being made to mitigate the long term environmental impacts and safety concerns.

“As the UK Government presses forward with plans to build new nuclear power plants, like Hinkley Point C, it is time to consider the whole life cycle of the fuel used and the waste generated.  Nuclear is known to be an attractive low carbon way of generating power, but we still need proper research and development of methods for recycling and maximising the energy returns from nuclear waste. The UK has been too slow to address this issue. Long term deep geological disposal offers a potential solution, however around 20 years of testing is required in the UK for this approach to be used with confidence and we are yet to start this process.”

There is currently a large stockpile of nuclear waste at Sellafield in Cumbria, including an estimated 140 tonnes of plutonium by 2020.

The survey prepared on behalf of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers by ICM Unlimited polled 2,003 members of the public and was conducted on 23-25 September 2015.

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