ENS President's contributions
A side look at EUROBAROMETER 277
Bertrand Barré, President European Nuclear
Society, October 2005
The European Commission has published this summer
the results of an opinion poll carried out in February-March 2005,
among 24708 citizens in the 25 Member States of the union, and
devoted to radioactive waste. This “EUROBAROMETER 277”
is well worth reading in details, but I have chosen not
to focus on the waste issue, but rather on the general picture
of the public acceptance of nuclear power in EU25.
Pollsters do not read into the souls of the people
they interview, they can only tick the bullets of their questionnaire.
Polls vary from week to week (witness many recent elections across
Europe) and the context of a given poll is far from irrelevant:
had the EUROBAROMETER been about energy security or oil prices,
rather than radioactive waste, many answers to the same questions
might have been significantly different.
In that respect, the poor overall score of nuclear
power in the Union (37% in favour, 55 against and 8% undecided)
may not be very significant, all the more since there was no weighing
by the respective population of each state. Still, the results
are interesting in relative if not in absolute terms.
The first feature to emerge is the wide heterogeneity
of the Member States where nuclear power is concerned, from a
hefty 65% support in Hungary to an almost incredibly low 8% in
Austria, just across the inner border of the old Habsburg Empire.
10 countries, Hungary, Sweden, the Czech Republic,
Lithuania, Finland, Slovakia, France, the Netherlands, Belgium
and the United Kingdom, have more nuclear supporters than opponents.
Not too surprisingly, all these 10 countries are among the 13
countries which operate nuclear power plants in EU25. On the other
hand, Spain, where nuclear power supplies 23% of the electricity,
has only 16% of the voices in favour.
There is more to this heterogeneity than meets
the eye: one could argue that in Canada, for instance, British
Columbia (all hydro) and Manitoba (all fossil) have less enthusiasm
for nuclear power than Ontario does. But I do not believe that
the citizens of British Columbia want to kill nuclear power in
There are other lessons for us, in ENS, to be
drawn from this EUROBAROMETER.
Andrew Teller found an interesting correlation
(Figure) between the level of information about nuclear power
and its degree of acceptance in a given country. We still
have a lot to do to disseminate accurate and balanced information
to the European public.
All across the Union, the typical supporter
of nuclear power can be schematized as male, middle aged,
educated and right wing. I do not believe we can do much about
political preferences, but we definitely need to address better
the young and the women. ENS must do more to support YGN and
More than 60% of the people interviewed agreed with the following
The use of nuclear energy enables European countries to diversify
their energy sources.
We could reduce our dependence on oil if we use more nuclear
An advantage of nuclear power is that it produces less greenhouse
gas emissions than the other energy sources such as oil and
Let me admit that I, myself, am not so convinced
by statement #2, because oil is mostly used for transportation.
Until we produce hydrogen by nuclear reactors, our impact on transports
will remain quite limited, limited indeed to electric railroads.
Vive le TGV! I would also have added natural gas to the
end of statement #3, but then, I am sometimes politically incorrect.
But the fact that 62% of the polled agreed wit
statement #3 is very important, especially so because a previous
EUROBAROMETER (November 2001) had very different findings: 47%
of the EU15 citizens interviewed in 2001 thought that “nuclear
power contributes significantly to climate change and global warming”,
while a mere 28% knew the right answer. This growth in public
awareness over the last 4 years allows me to end this editorial
on a very optimistic note. We witness almost everywhere in the
world some kind of nuclear upturn. I am confident that Europe
shall not be left behind.