Popularity is Dropping for Nuclear Power: Why?

There are few energy issues that polarise opinions as much as nuclear power. This has been brought into sharp relief in recent years with the proposed construction of Hinkley Point C and its spiralling costs and problems.

Polling from the Government’s own Public Attitudes Tracking Survey in 2015, , pointed to a fall in popularity for two of the Tory’s key energy proposals: Nuclear and fracking.

The Key Findings of Wave 14 of the Attitude Survey

  • Support for renewable energy remained high among the public – 75% are in favour of it.
  • Fracking was contentious but confusing for many – almost half had no opinion and slightly more are against it than for it. While 75% are aware of it, only 14% profess to know much about it as a method of gas extraction.
  • The biggest surprise to the Government, however, was that support for nuclear dropped to an all-time low of 33%. Those over 55 and male were more likely to support nuclear as an future energy technology, younger people tended to be against.

What’s Caused the Drop?

There’s no doubt that one of the key factors that might be affecting popularity for nuclear power in recent times is the debacle that has surrounded Hinkley Point C. In July this year, we reported that the site was already £1.5 billion over budget even though the project has only just begun. Concerns over EDF and the technology they are using, as well as their ability to deliver, remain high, not to mention the overall eventual cost to the tax payer.

There’s also the fact that we’re more informed nowadays about the potential for renewable energy to shape our future. In essence, it’s clean and more and more experts see it as a viable way for improving sustainability, self-sufficiency and cost effectiveness when it comes to energy production. With nuclear, there’s always the problem of how the waste is disposed of and you simply just don’t get that problem with either solar or wind.

There are other renewable technologies being proposed for the future. The technology is improving dramatically now that we seem to have passed the tipping point of public and expert opinion. Those who understand the sector also understand that future is more likely to be renewable than nuclear, fracking, or fossil fuel based.

The advocates for nuclear say that it is one of the cleanest technologies available and will provide security for the energy infrastructure of the UK. With battery storage also developing at a decent pace, that may be a moot point – we will soon be able to create energy through solar and wind and store that power for use 24/7 at a fraction of the cost of nucear.

Then there’s the huge potential that many see with using tidal power around the coast of the UK. The tidal lagoons at Swansea and Cardiff have been essentially put on hold by the current government even though many see it as one of the greatest energy innovations in the last couple of decades.

Other countries are looking to get rid of nuclear. Germany has announced that it is going to phase out nuclear by 2022 and the USA recently found that the appetite for nuclear was falling even though it still provides 19% of the country’s energy. With many of the American plants built in the 70s and 80s, this presents a problem as there is infrastructure that will soon need to be replaced.

For many though, opting for nuclear power is a retrograde step. As renewable energy begins to take more of its share of the power mix in many countries, we are at last coming to terms with technologies such as solar, tidal and wind. There are plenty of alternatives we can turn to and we don’t have to depend on costly, potentially environmentally dangerous energy solutions.

In the meantime, the Hinkley Point C project continues to lumber forward. Many expect the costs to spiral even more and suspect that EDF are going to struggle to deliver on their promises. At the moment, there seems to be no appetite on the part of the Government to call a halt to the development.

If the costs begin to rise, however, then it may be the court of public opinion that makes the biggest difference.