Alternative Energy

Poll finds low public understanding of nuclear power

5th March 2020
Lanna Cooper

Only 26% of people aged 18-24 understand that nuclear power is a low carbon source of electricity, compared with 76% for renewables such as wind and solar. This is the main finding of a new poll by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) into public attitudes.

Older people are more likely to say that nuclear power is low carbon. The poll found the level of understanding rising from 47% among 35 to 44-year olds to 61% among 65 to 74-year olds, although it remains well below levels seen for renewables.

As the public grows more concerned about climate change, and the Government strives to achieve 'net-zero' emissions by 2050, we need to be aware of the low carbon potential of the different sources of electricity.

“The importance of rapidly decarbonising the UK’s power system has increased as concern about climate change intensifies. This poll shows the potential of low carbon electricity sources has not been effectively communicated, with nuclear much less understood than renewables,” said Dr Colin Brown, IMechE’s Chief Executive.

The UK will need to build new nuclear power plants to meet an expected rise in electricity demand while continuing to cut its carbon dioxide emissions. Other findings included that women are only half as likely as men to favour nuclear power, with 29% supporting it compared with 56% of men.

The poll found the highest level of support in Scotland, with 49% of respondents in favour despite the Scottish National Party’s opposition to new power plants.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for a 'nuclear renaissance' and the Government recently awarded a consortium of companies led by Rolls Royce £18m to develop small modular reactors.

The poll found half of respondents had heard of small modular reactors, but only 3% saying they knew a great deal while 20% know just a little and 26% know nothing but have heard of them.

In its survey “Public Perceptions: Nuclear Power”, IMechE makes the following recommendations:

  • There is a low level of awareness among young people that nuclear power is a low carbon source of energy. The Government needs to ensure that nuclear is included in all its communications about low carbon power and energy sources.
  • The nuclear industry should create stronger messaging about the potential possibilities for nuclear that can create a low carbon, prosperous future for the UK. This will open up greater possibilities for solutions from low carbon fuel production to increased electrification and ensure the UK can meet its net-zero vision.
  •  In order for greater public acceptance of new nuclear power stations, it is important for the Government and industry to communicate a credible plan for waste disposal, either a geological disposal facility or recycling of spent radioactive material.

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