Thursday, October 9, 2008

Public perceptions on nuclear power

It is no secret that Eskom intends expanding nuclear capacity in South Africa (see here), but what do people think about nuclear nowadays?

A recent poll (focussed on Americans though) suggests that support for building nuclear power plants is very divided, but that almost three-quarters are concerned with radioactive waste:

A new Harris Poll finds that 49 percent of Americans are in support of building more nuclear power plants as opposed to 47 percent in 1979 – virtually unchanged. As both U.S. presidential candidates have taken a stance on this issue, public support and/or opposition will be critical to the future of nuclear power in America. While a third of Americans are still opposed to new nuclear plant construction, this opposition has decreased by 13 percent (from 45 percent to 32 percent) since April 1979 just after the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant on March 28, 1979. Prior to that incident, a series of Harris Polls found that substantial majorities of American adults were in favor of building new nuclear power plants.
Some of the key findings of this new Harris Poll are:

A 49 percent to 32 percent plurality of adults favor building new nuclear power plants, with 23 percent strongly favoring them and 16 percent strongly opposing them.
A 72 percent majority of adults see the disposal of radioactive waste as a major problem. Smaller majorities see the escape of radioactive materials affect people’s health (56%) and in the atmosphere (51%) as major problems.
Overall, however, substantial majorities now (67%) as in 1979 (also 67%) believe that nuclear power plants that produce electricity are safe.

One interesting, possibly surprising, finding is that support for building new nuclear power plants increases with age. Majorities of the two oldest generations, 63 percent to 24 percent of "Matures" (aged 63 and over) and 52 percent to 31 percent of Baby Boomers (aged 44 to 62) support building new nuclear power plants, Only 35 percent of Echo Boomers (aged 18 to 31) and 47 percent of Generation X (aged 28-43) do so. Why is this surprising? Because Matures and Baby Boomers were aged 14 or older in 1979 and are presumably more likely to remember Three Mile Island.

Public perception is an important issue (read all about South Africa's own particular issues) but for now it seems as if the current financial and political instability is a greater immediate obstacle to Eskom's planned nuclear expansion programme.  

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