ENS NEWS N° 21
Not that long ago, during the dark days of the
nuclear recession, public perceptions about nuclear energy were
often largely conditioned by preconceived ideas and misconceptions.
Unscientific rhetoric about nuclear had succeeded in banishing
nuclear it to the fringes of the energy debate and maintaining
its taboo status. Well, to quote Bob Dylan, “…the
times they are a changing….” Nuclear energy is back
at the top of the global political agenda. Even people who have
always been unconditionally and ideologically opposed to nuclear
energy cannot deny this fact. Today, they face a new foe that
they have not faced in recent times – a confident and resurgent
nuclear sector that is active at the very core of the debate.
As the nuclear revival has gathered
momentum public opinion in favour of nuclear energy has increased,
as nuclear’s strong security of supply and climate change
credentials have become more apparent. This has promoted a new
spirit of pragmatism. Many sceptics and fence-sitters have been
won over. The results of the latest Eurobarometer survey,
towards Radioactive Waste, which was published by the
European Commission at the beginning of July, testify to this.
They show that since the previous Eurobarometer on radioactive
waste was published in 2005, there has been a gradual and significant
evolution of public opinion in favour of nuclear power. There
are now virtually as many EU citizens in favour of nuclear energy
(44%) as against it (45%). This compares with 37 % in favour
and 55% against in 2005. This suggests that there is no reason
to believe that public opposition will prevent nuclear new build
from going ahead.
Of course, radioactive waste
remains a major concern but, according to the survey, 40% of
those who are currently against nuclear have indicated that if
the issue of radioactive waste storage were solved they would
change their mind and be in favour of nuclear. A majority of
EU citizens would then be in favour of it – 61% compared
with the 57% registered in the 2005 Eurobarometer.
This positive evolution in public
acceptance reflects the nuclear revival in Europe. Even in countries
where a nuclear phase-out policy is being implemented, debates
on the issue are taking place and support for nuclear power is
quite strong (Sweden 62%, Germany 46%, Belgium 50%). Recent political
declarations show that nuclear is continuing to gather momentum.
In Italy the new government recently declared that it plans to
restart the country's nuclear power programme. The British government
revealed last month that it is planning the construction of new
units. The French government announced on 3 July that a second
EPR would be built in France. This suggests that when political
decisions to increase nuclear capacity are taken, public acceptance
tends to improve - as has been the case in the UK (+6%), and
in Italy (+13%).
Another interesting statistic to emerge from
the Eurobarometer is that the greater the knowledge of nuclear
issues, the greater the degree of public acceptance. On average
EU citizens do not feel that they are well-informed about nuclear
maters, especially when it comes to radioactive waste. However,
in countries where the level of knowledge is greater, like Sweden,
Finland and the Netherlands, public opinion is also more favourable
to nuclear power. It’s all about effective communications.
Before we all head off for a well-earned summer
break it might be useful to consider how we could do more to
positively influence public opinion through good communications,
while at the same time giving deserved added visibility to the
research that we carry out. The results of the Eurobarometer underline how everyone in the nuclear science community, whether
working in industry or in research, has a joint responsibility
to ensure that the right information about nuclear reaches the
public. Informing the public that, for example, technological
solutions for the safe long-term management of radioactive waste
exist and are being applied must be a priority. If people knew
more about Generation IV reactors they would soon realise that
this new technology will actually help to reduce the amount of
waste produced in the first place.
Perhaps we could have done more in the past.
Perhaps communications have not been our primary focus. But with
the revival in full swing and people more prepared to listen
to us than ever before in recent times we have a great opportunity
to set the record straight and inform people of the real facts – an
opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.
ENS PIME 2009 will take place in Edinburgh from
February 15 – 17. It offers all those in the nuclear community
who are actively involved in communications the opportunity to
share their experiences with their peers, to discuss the latest
communications issues and techniques, to learn new communications
skills and to master new tools. I strongly recommend that you
participate in PIME 2009 to fine tune your communications skills.
As the Eurobarometer has shown us, the more people know about
nuclear the more they are in favour of it. As far as communicating
to young people is concerned – and I’m sure our friends
from the Young Generation would agree - the facts clearly and
simply communicated can also help attract more talented individuals
to a career in nuclear science or industry – something
that would be in everyone’s interest. So, let’s get
out there and do all we can to make it known to the public. We’re
walking the walk, now let’s talk the talk.
ENS NEWS N° 21 kicks off with the traditional
Word from the President feature. This time the President focuses
on the important role and work of ENS’ High Scientific
Council, before highlighting its Position Paper on research Reactors
that was published at RRFM 2008, in Hamburg. Andrew Teller’s
analytical eye then focuses on the subject of how climate change
is not the sole issue that supports the case for nuclear energy.
The ENS Events section first reflects on a very successful NESTet
2008 conference, which put the debating spotlight on the subject
of education and training in the nuclear sector. It then looks
forward to what promises to be an extremely busy conference schedule
in 2008 and 2009, with detailed information on upcoming events
like Top Safe 2008 (Dubrovnik, 30/09 – 3/10), PIME 2009
(Edinburgh, 15 - 17/02) and RRFM 2009 (Vienna, 22 – 25/03).
This edition’s Member
Societies and Corporate Members section
has a record number of contributions that look at a range of
subjects from the latest information on high pressure boiling
reactors, to NUSIM - the joint conference of the Czech, Slovak
and German nuclear societies; from the MINA 2008 conference (Spain)
on new nuclear engineering applications, to spent fuel pool emptying
and drainage at the EUREX plant, in Italy.
The summer focus on the Young
Generation’s recent activities
first returns to NESTet 2008, with a youthful and informative
insight into the vitally important subject of recruiting the
nuclear engineers and scientists of tomorrow. Next up is a report
on the latest conference organized by the North American chapter
of YGN, in Chicago, which concentrated, among other things on
the multinational and multicultural challenges that the nuclear
At was is a very busy time for EU nuclear energy policy, the
bumper European Institutions section provides readers with a
detailed analysis of the progress of the European Nuclear Energy
Forum (ENEF), the latest EU carbon avoidance figures and a FORATOM
position paper on nuclear energy’s contribution to post-Kyoto
climate change policy.
ENS NEWS N° 21 is rounded off with a couple of NucNet headline
stories from the beginning of July.
On behalf of everyone at ENS I would like to wish all ENS
NEWS readers a great summer holiday.
Editor-in-Chief, ENS NEWS