Public opinion | World Survey

A divided Europe

23 July 2010

Most European citizens would maintain or decrease Europe’s share of nuclear energy. But this view is not shared across the EU, nor is it the global perspective. By Caroline Peachey

Close to three-quarters of Europeans feel that the share of nuclear in Europe’s energy mix should be maintained or reduced, according to the Special Eurobarometer 324, published in April 2010 (see Figure 1).

Fig 1.
Fig. 1:?Should the current level of nuclear energy be decreased, maintained at the same level or increased? European data: Special Eurobarometer 324, 2009. Russia: Levada Centre study, 2010. Canada: CNA/Ipsos Summer Tracking Report, 2009.

Energy from nuclear fission currently represents around 14.6% of the primary energy consumed in the European Union and 31% of the electricity generated.

Overall, less than a fifth of the respondents surveyed believe that the share of nuclear energy should be increased. The largest segment of the European population (39%) would like to maintain it at the current level while an almost equal proportion (34%) want it to be reduced.

These results are based on surveys conducted in the 27 European member states by TNS Opinion and Social Network, which interviewed 26,470 European citizens face-to-face between 11 September-5 October 2009. A 2008 Accenture global survey asked a slightly different question, and reported more positive results (Fig. 2).

Fig 2
Fig. 2: Do you think your country should increase its nuclear electricity generating capacity? Accenture Multinational Nuclear Power Pulse Survey, 2008

Since the last Eurobarometer on nuclear safety was carried out in 2006, there has been a positive shift in public opinion. Willingness to see the share of nuclear energy increase as a proportion of all energy sources has gained three percentage points. At the same time, a more conservative position (maintaining the current share of nuclear energy) has risen by five points. The average results from the EU-27 countries in 2006 and 2009 are shown in the graph.

It is difficult to identify consistency in European attitudes towards the future of nuclear energy in the energy mix when analysing national results. This is illustrated well in the graph; countries such as Poland and the UK have a positive outlook towards nuclear, while relatively few residents polled in Germany and France would like Europe to increase its share of nuclear energy.

The highest proportions of citizens who say that the share of nuclear energy should be increased are found in Poland (30%) and Estonia (29%). Both of these countries have been considering building their first nuclear power plants over the last few years. Poland in particular relies mostly on coal to meet its energy needs, which are expected to rise by 80-90% by 2025 [see also ‘Poland returns to nuclear power,’ pp44-5].

The survey found some 65% of Europeans agree that nuclear energy helps to reduce dependence on fossil fuel imports such as oil and gas and 51% feel that it ensures a more competitive and stable energy price.

Positive attitudes towards increasing the share of nuclear energy are also found in member states that already have functioning nuclear power plants. They include Hungary (27%), the United Kingdom (27%), Czech Republic (26%), Bulgaria (26%) and the Netherlands (26%).


Over half of Europeans (52%) believe that nuclear power plants operating in their respective countries are ‘a risk’. Spain ranked in second place in terms of fear of nuclear reactors, with 73% of respondents saying that they are a risk. In France 65% deemed nuclear power plants a risk, while in Germany this view was shared by just 51%.

The highest risks to nuclear safety were considered to be lack of security to protect nuclear power plants against terrorist attacks (52%), the misuse of radioactive materials (45%) and the disposal and management of radioactive waste (49%).

Importantly, 82% of European citizens said that nuclear waste management should be regulated at EU level. This is consistent with the approach of the European Commission, which is currently drafting a directive on radioactive waste.

Commenting on the findings of the survey, Santiago San Antonio, director general of FORATOM, the trade association representing European nuclear industry, said: “Experience shows that the more citizens know about nuclear energy, the more they are in favour of it. However, 74% of those surveyed said that they didn’t know enough about it.

“The industry is committed to participating in the stakeholder dialogue on all aspects relating to nuclear energy in order to bridge this knowledge gap.”

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Country support for nuclear as a means of reducing reliance on fossil fuels

India: 67%

China: 62%

USA: 57%

South Africa: 55%

France: 37%

Germany: 31%

Spain: 285

Source: Accenture Multinational Nuclear Power Pulse

Fig 1. Fig 1.
Fig 2 Fig 2

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