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April 5, 2011

Opinion Poll of European Citizens on Prospect of Nuclear Energy

By Oleksandr Levtsun, expert in sociology, leader of the sociological programs at the Social Research Centre “Sofia”. Article translated by WNU.

The accident at Japan’s Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant has caused the world to revive discussions on the possible threats of using nuclear power and, on the necessity of switching to alternative energy sources. The strikes against further development of nuclear power unfolded in a number of European cities. Nonetheless, what was the public opinion on the issue before the tragic events and before the outbreak of negative emotions took place? In light of recent developments the results of the questioning of citizens of a number of European countries is becoming more topical. The survey was conducted by Benenson Strategy Group together with First International Resources (description of survey methodology is provided at the end of the article).

According to survey results, the world’s financial crisis drew attention of most Europeans to material well-being; whereas ecological issues became less of a concern. Creating work places and reduction of unemployment should be Europe’s main priority, according to 62 percent of respondents from Poland, 61 percent – from Hungary, 46 percent – France, 44 percent – Sweden, 36 percent – Germany, and 34 percent – Great Britain. Poverty was named the second most relevant issue. 29 percent of German respondents, 24 percent of French and Hungarian, 20 percent of Polish, 17 percent of Swedish, and 13 percent of British respondents voted poverty number one priority for European countries.

At the same time, before the catastrophe in Japan, the idea of further developing nuclear power was not very popular in European countries. For instance, only 12 percent of questioned German citizens supported increasing investments into nuclear power; versus 70 percent of respondents who opposed the idea. In France the same question generated replies at a rate of 20 and 46 percent respectively. In Sweden, Hungary, and Poland the issue caused almost equal division of opinions. Only in Great Britain active supporters for increasing investments into nuclear energy outmatched the opponents (39 to 25 percent).

Speaking of Ukraine, the percentage of supporters to increase financing of the nuclear energy equaled 35 percent of respondents’ votes; while 18 percent of respondents supported the cut-down on such investments, and 25 percent preferred the status quo. Thus, the idea of increasing investments into the nuclear energy became relevantly dominant in Ukraine.

At the same time, most Ukrainians supported the increased use of alternative and conventional energy sources. 71 percent of respondents supported increasing investments into energy production through wind power, 63 percent – through natural gas, and 51 and 48 percent supported the idea of increasing investments into energy production through oil and coal respectively. Thus, Ukrainians supported the increase of energy production by all means, giving their preference to safer (in their understanding) sources.

The Ukrainians’ stand on the issue of increasing investments into nuclear energy can be explained by a difficult economic situation caused by global financial crisis. Half of questioned Ukrainians (53 percent) think that increasing investments into nuclear energy would “considerably” or “slightly” improve their economy and help create jobs.

Opinion of Ukrainian respondents, by and large, matches that of other European citizens. Among Hungarian respondents 56 percent think that increasing investments into nuclear energy would aid the economy. The same opinion have 50 percent of Swedish, 48 percent of Polish, 46 percent of French, and 47 percent of British respondents. Germany was the only country where the rate equaled only 36 percent of respondents.

While most Europeans consider investments into nuclear power to help their economies, the question about how investments into nuclear energy will influence the accessibility to electric energy raised diverse reaction. Only 27 percent of French respondents think that such measures would bring the electricity tariffs down, and 33 percent think that the tariffs would grow. Among German respondents the question raised 31 percent of positive replies, and 28 – of negative ones; among British respondents the numbers scaled 26 and 20 percent respectively.

Most Ukrainian citizens tend to think that the nuclear energy usage increase will cut down the electricity tariffs. Such opinion was expressed by 36 percent of Ukrainian respondents; and only nine percent opposed it. Similar opinion proved dominant among the respondents from Hungary, Sweden, and Poland.

The survey also demonstrated the most recognized advantages of the nuclear energy. Majority of Ukrainian respondents marked the following as “very convincing” or “rather convincing” advantages:

· Increasing use of nuclear energy is likely to promote economy (57 percent of respondents);

· Promoting nuclear energy will make Ukraine more self-sufficient energy-wise and strengthen national security (54 percent of respondents);

· Nuclear energy is an environmentally friendly and cheap energy source (53 percent of respondents);

· Promoting nuclear energy will make Ukraine less dependent on natural gas and will decrease the losses caused by growing gas prices (53 percent of respondents).

The most popular pros of nuclear energy in other European countries are as follows:

· Nuclear energy is an environmentally friendly and cheap energy source, benefitting the citizens of European countries (In France, three fourths of electricity is produced by nuclear power plants. France is the largest electricity exporter which annually brings the country about EUR 3 billion annually);

· Nuclear power provides cheaper electricity. Under the conditions of the global economic crisis, investments into national energy sources help decrease price for utility companies. This statement acquired the most support in Hungary, Sweden, and Great Britain.

Hence, efficiency was rated the most convincing argument in favor of further developing nuclear power by Europeans, which is relevant under the conditions of global economic crisis. At the same time, most of European citizens consider developing the nuclear power a positive environmental factor, notably considering its effects on slowing down the global climate change. Such opinion is especially popular with Swedes. 53 percent of Swedish respondents think that further developing nuclear power is likely to somewhat reduce the global climate change. At the same time only 16 percent of Swedes think that further developing nuclear power can cause global climate change. The same opinion dominates in Poland (48 percent of respondents marked “might reduce” and 23 percent – “might increase”), in Hungary (42 and 21 percent), and Great Britain (38 and 26 percent). However, opinions on the issue vary in a number of surveyed countries. In France, only 33 percent of respondents think, that further developing nuclear power might reduce the global climate change, and as many respondents opposed the idea. In Germany, the rates equaled 33 and 27 percent, in Ukraine – 28 and 15 percent respectively.

Suffice it to say, that regardless of heavy psychological legacy of Chornobyl, Ukrainians form their opinion on developing nuclear power very soberly, in accordance with current economic situation in Ukraine in general and energy sector in particular. As of today, nuclear energy is of utmost importance for Ukrainian economy: half of the country’s electricity is produced by nuclear power plants. Such electricity is twice cheaper than energy produced by thermal power plants.

Remarks:

The article features results of a survey, conducted by Benenson Strategy Group together with First International Resources. The survey was conducted in Ukraine and a number of other European countries.

The survey in Ukraine was conducted on March 3-14, 2011, and covered all regions of the country. The survey has been conducted in the form of individual interviews among 1021 adult respondents (over 18 years old). This survey represents ± 4 percent margin error at a 95 percent confidence level. Almost all of the respondents were questioned before the accident in Japan.

The survey in Europe was conducted among 500 respondents from each country (Germany, Hungary, Poland, Sweden, and Great Britain) and 502 respondents from France. The respondents from Hungary shared their opinion in “face-to-face” interviews. In the rest of the countries the interviews were conducted through telephone. The questioning sessions took place during the following timeframe:

· In France: Feb. 24-28, 2011;

· In Germany: Feb. 28 through March 10, 2011;

· In Hungary: Feb. 26 through March 6, 2011;

· In Poland: Feb. 28 through march 10, 2011;

· In Sweden: Feb. 25 through March 10, 2011;

· In Great Britain: Feb. 21 through March 10, 2011.

The sampling targeted adult respondents (over 18 years old), all the respondents are citizens of a corresponding country. This survey represents ± 4 percent margin error at a 95 percent confidence level. All of the respondents were questioned before the accident in Japan.