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Jan 28, 2009

Is Opinion on Nuclear Power Changing?

Following on from yesterday's Essential Report result which looked at public support for nuclear power in Australia, it might be time to take a quick squiz at how similar polls have pla

Following on from yesterday’s Essential Report result which looked at public support for nuclear power in Australia, it might be time to take a quick squiz at how similar polls have played out over the last few years.

If we look at the domestic polls that have canvassed public support for nuclear power in Australia over the last few years, something a little interesting pops up.

(The Newspoll (TAI) poll was commissioned by The Australia Institute.)

Statistically speaking, support for nuclear power hasn’t changed over the last 3 years. There’s a good chunk of variance in the level of support over time, but no discernible trend that is statistically different from zero.

Also worth noting is that we are approaching this with something of a handicap as far as the strength of the statistical relationships we can draw are concerned. The polls here often used differently worded questions – so while the polls will give us broadly comparable answers, they won’t be specifically comparable answers. As a consequence, we would expect more variation in the results than we would if the same question had been asked in every poll. We also have the problem of any house effects that each pollster may exhibit interfering with the results even further.

Yet there are two trends which are probably occurring. The proportion of the electorate that is undecided on domestic nuclear power generation is slowly and consistently increasing through time. If the increase in that generic undecided level was a result of just sampling error and question framing, we would expect to see the values of that generic undecided level to be a bit more variable – a few more higher scores on the left and/or a few more lower scores on the right. What we get instead is a near perfect growth in the level of undecideds with only the Feb 2007 Gallup bucking the trend. What we see from the growth in the level of undecideds is what we would expect to see if the undecideds were actually increasing through time.

The other trend which is probably occurring is a slight reduction in the proportion of the population that oppose domestic nuclear power generation. Although it’s also worth noting that while it’s probably occurring, it’s not as likely to be occurring as the growth in undecideds.

In net terms, we can say that it’s likely that an increasing number of people are becoming more open to the possibility of nuclear power in Australia and that a large chunk of this increase is coming from a reduction in the size of opposition to nuclear power.

We can actually delve down a little further and go to the strength of support and opposition using the Newspoll and Essential Research surveys.

Here it seems that while overall support is remaining fairly static, there may be a small increase over time in general (or weak) support – although it could just be noise. With the opposition to nuclear power however, there seems to have been a fairly sharp drop in the proportion of the electorate that is strongly opposed to nuclear power in Australia.

Overall opposition to nuclear power appears to be weakening, the strength of opposition to nuclear power appears to be weakening – and while that seems to have led to an increase in the size of those undecided about nuclear power, it is too early to tell whether it has also flowed through to actual increased support (even though the  latest poll certainly suggests it has).

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12 comments

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12 thoughts on “Is Opinion on Nuclear Power Changing?

  1. Michael Cusack

    In view of the effect of NIMBYism in reducing the effectiveness and spread of windpower, I agree that nuclear is a dead horse getting a flogging from some well paid flagellants. I also wonder if the apparent popularity of solar isnt in at least part because of the thought (probably mostly false) that it will be positioned way out in the back of beyond. Out of sight, no hint of lowering land values, no other concerns to the well practised NIMBYs, etc etc.

  2. Jonathan Maddox

    I’m a kind of global NIMBY on this too. I can see the usefulness of nuclear electricity and I am not absolutely opposed to it — but I can’t bear the thought of radioactive pollution being spread beyond those places which are already “committed”. So I’m happy for existing nuclear nations to refurbish or expand their existing power stations and *cautiously* to develop closed-cycle radioactive waste reprocessing technology on existing nuclear sites, but I am against new greenfield nuclear power stations (and uranium mines) and I strongly oppose non-nuclear countries embarking on the business.

    Reprocessing can potentially unlock vastly more energy from “spent” nuclear fuel than has already been extracted from it, so successful development of this technology (I’ve no doubt it’s possible, but no confidence in its cost-effectiveness) would drastically reduce demand for uranium mining and the consequent radioactive pollution of remote parts of Australia. Unfortunately it would also expand the availability and maybe the movement of fissile and “dirty” radioactive material suitable for weapons of various sorts, so I’m ambivalent about reprocessing.

    That said, I know coal-burning power stations are far dirtier than nuclear ones (in terms of radioactive emissions) and I am on tenterhooks for Australia to start exploiting its huge potential for low-cost solar thermal and geothermal power so that our existing coal-fired electricity plants can be retired.

    There’s an awful lot of scope for those polls to give useless data points, depending just how inconclusive and inconsistent the questions are.

  3. Bill Parker

    The UMR survey is faulty like most of the others. I claim this because I STILL talk to people who do not know the difference between a solar panel that generates electricity and one which heat water. Extending from that we have a remarkable national shortfall in accurate knowledge in exactly what technology will do what and when.

    The nuclear issue is an example. If we assume that changing our energy supply mix to reduce carbon emissions is urgent then it must be recognised that the building and commissioning of nuclear plant is many years in the future, even assuming we can find suitable trained professionals to undertake the work.

    On the other hand, those countries with actual energy policies (and I am talking of the ones in the northern global sunbelt) have commenced building large scale solar thermal plants of substantial size. Millions have been invested in such plant, it creates permanent jobs for a wide range of skills from mirror maintenance to engineering. Spain for example, can “wheel” its solar electricity into the UK where the demand is higher. Northern Africa could do similar and raise standards of living.

    Then there’s that other obvious but hardly touched activity. Demand management – hardly rates a mention but most experts say we can knock a whopping 30% off our demand for electricity by being clever. 10% can usually be achieved by spending nothing. Stick THAT in your polls.
    Bill

  4. Bryce

    With barely any informed debate and precious little objectivity – but lashings of disguised self-interest by the nuclear boosters – it’s no wonder the public are coming around.
    Putty in their hands.

    Fredex – My backyard is Australia. LOL

  5. Diogenes

    Possum

    I hesitate to post this as the article it refers to was written by Kerr at the OO, but after much deliberation, I thought I should still refer to it.

    Switkowski has clearly been following the polls closely and it won’t be long before the nuclear industry starts talking up this latest poll. Here he is commenting on a UMR poll (which they intimate was done for the Labor Party) on what will be our predominant power source in 2028. 26% said solar (as if), 23% said coal (I’d estimate it was 90% certain to be coal) and 20% said nuclear, which pleased Ziggy no end.

    [The UMR survey shows that 26 per cent of Australians believe solar energy will supply most of Australia’s power and electricity in 2028, while 23 per cent believe it will still come from coal. Ten per cent said most of it would come from wind, 9 per cent favoured gas and 1 per cent chose other sources.

    Australian Nuclear and Science Technology Organisation chairman Ziggy Switkowski — who headed up an inquiry into the viability of a domestic nuclear power industry for theHoward government in 2006 — described the 20 per cent finding for nuclear power as “strikingly strong”.

    “The acceptance of nuclear continues to lift,” he said. ]

    20pc say nuclear will carry the load
    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24882067-2702,00.html

  6. David Richards

    Ron Walker must be thinking he’s in with a chance.

  7. fredex

    My backyard is Australia.

  8. Possum

    You’d probably get identical answers Winston. It does still highlight the nature of nuke support – even though Australia is becoming more open about its theoretical possibility, the practical politics of the rampant NIMBYism means there’s probably somewhere between Buckleys and None of a nuclear power reactor ever being built.

    Broad but shallow support looks like it quickly changes to deep and strong opposition the moment someone says “let’s build it here”.

  9. Winston

    Possum @ 2

    Not sure how meaningful that question is – I think it’s mainly measuring NIMBYism.

    For example, what if you changed “nuclear power station” to “large coal fired power station” – suspect you might get similar answers.

  10. David Richards

    Some more good questions –
    Would you be prepared to pay higher taxes to subsidise the construction and operation of nuclear power plants?
    Would you support higher electricity prices to make Nuclkear Power competitive with other sources of power?

  11. Possum

    You’re spot on Dario.

    The Newspoll of March 2007 also asked:

    IF IT WAS DECIDED THAT AUSTRALIA DEVELOPS A NUCLEAR POWER INDUSTRY, WOULD YOU PERSONALLY BE IN FAVOUR OR AGAINST A NUCLEAR POWER STATION BEING BUILT IN YOUR LOCAL AREA?

    Results went:

    STRONGLY IN FAVOUR 9
    PARTLY IN FAVOUR 16
    TOTAL IN FAVOUR 25
    PARTLY AGAINST 13
    STRONGLY AGAINST 53
    TOTAL AGAINST 66
    UNCOMMITTED 9

  12. Dario

    While overall support for nuclear power might be slightly increasing, it will never be enough to overcome the NIMBY factor. What chance the pollsters start asking the question “Would you support a nuclear power plant IN YOUR AREA?”. Buckleys and none.