The latest Eurobarometer survey on radioactive waste has found that 37% of European Union (EU) citizens are in favour of nuclear power, compared to 55% opposed.

The study, which was requested by the European Commission’s (EC’s) directorate general of energy and transport, is the first Eurobarometer survey to include the enlarged EU of 25 member states. Previous surveys on the subject were carried out in the 15-member EU in late 1998 and late 2001.

The main conclusions of the 2005 survey are:

  • 25% feel well informed about radioactive waste. The figure is 4% higher than in 2001.
  • 79% consider all radioactive waste to be very dangerous.
  • 29% believe the transport of low-level radioactive waste carries a very high risk; a further 42% consider there to be a fairly high risk, and an additional 23% a low risk.
  • 62%, compared to 41% in 2001, are aware that nuclear power produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions than other sources such as oil or coal.
  • 45% of respondents consider that deep underground disposal represents the most appropriate solution for the management of high-level radioactive waste. 38% disagree.
  • Almost all agree a timetable for national strategies should be set up, and that harmonised waste management strategies supervised by the EU should be established.

Regarding the figures for the level of support – or lack of it – for nuclear energy, European nuclear industry trade association Foratom noted that an ‘average EU view’ is misleading, given the contrast between the views expressed in countries with an anti-nuclear culture, and those expressed in other countries supportive of nuclear energy.

In Hungary, 65% support nuclear energy; in Sweden, 64% are in favour; Czech Republic, 61%; Lithuania, 60%; Finland, 58%; Slovakia, 56%; France, 52%; the Netherlands, 52%; and Belgium, 50%. On the other hand, in Austria, 88% oppose nuclear power; in Greece, 86% are opposed; Cyprus, 81%; Spain, 71%; Ireland, 70%; Poland, 66%; Denmark, 66%; Italy, 66%; and Luxembourg, 65%.

Mark Johnston, EU energy policy campaigner for Greenpeace said: “As expected, most people in Europe are still against atomic power, despite the nuclear industry heavily promoting itself.”

Foratom also noted that where the results show a greater level of knowledge on the subject, the opinion that citizens have of nuclear energy is more favourable. A Foratom statement on the survey reads: “Once again, the survey shows that the opinions expressed are not really based on knowledge of the subject, which remains very low. Instead, they are based more on personal conviction or political affiliation.”

While there has been a slight decrease since 2001 in respondents saying they are not well informed about radioactive waste – from 77% in 2001 to 74% – the nuclear industry still faces an uphill battle in informing the public. When asked whom they would trust in providing information on radioactive waste, 39% of interviewees (31% in 2001) would trust ‘NGOs who are concerned about the environment’; only 11% (10% in 2001) said they would trust the nuclear industry, with the media faring little better with 13% (down from 23% in 2001). The next most trusted group was ‘independent scientists’ (38%, up from 32% in 2001); then ‘international organisations working on peaceful uses of nuclear technology’ (30%, up from 22% in 2001).

Johnston said it was no surprise “most people say they do not feel well informed about radioactive waste. Both the industry and most governments are habitually secretive about such issues.”