Countries across the world are saying no to nuclear power

That’s the key conclusion of the BBC’s poll into public attitudes towards nuclear power released last week. Conducted in 23 countries, the poll found that for only 22% of those people asked, “nuclear power is relatively safe and an important source of electricity, and we should build more nuclear power plants”.

In countries with operational nuclear reactors, the poll’s findings are a damning indictment for the nuclear industry:

In contrast, 71% thought their country "could almost entirely replace coal and nuclear energy within 20 years by becoming highly energy-efficient and focusing on generating energy from the Sun and wind".

Globally, 39% want to continue using existing reactors without building new ones, while 30% would like to shut everything down now.

The UK and the US were the only countries where attitudes didn’t follow this trend  – the UK saw support for nuclear rise slightly from 33% in 2005 to 37% in 2011, while support in the US has stayed about the same - down from 2005’s 40% to 39% now.

We would argue that there are several reasons for this. Both countries have long nuclear histories –they first built nuclear reactors back in the 1940s and 1950s in order to develop nuclear weapons. Generating electricity from reactors was an afterthought in an attempt to give the two countries’ nuclear programmes a veneer of respectability. Many in the UK and US clearly still feel there is some kind of prestige attached to this most dangerous of industries. Old habits die hard.

Not even traditionally pro-nuclear France escapes this revolt against nuclear power. In a country with 58 nuclear reactors producing around 75% of its electricity, the poll shows public opposition is up from 66% to 83%. We should also note that in the countries without nuclear power and where support for it is ‘strongest’, none have a majority in favour - Nigeria (41%), Ghana (33%) and Egypt (31%).

As my colleague Jan Beranek, energy team leader at Greenpeace International, reminds us, ‘nuclear power is a relatively tiny industry with huge economic, technical, safety, environmental, and political problems’. So how will the industry greet this poll’s findings? With pledges to address and overcome these problems?

That looks unlikely. What the public needs, according to John Ritch, director-general of the World Nuclear Association, is a ‘better educational effort from industry, from governments and from journalists’. That means more propaganda and greenwashing (Mr. Ritch says nuclear is non-carbon when it is anything but) to try and hide just how discredited nuclear power has become.

Mr. Ritch claims ‘nuclear power will be even safer after Fukushima’. Saying it doesn’t make it so, unfortunately. With the only two new nuclear reactors being built in Europe swamped by construction defects and safety concerns, and two identical reactors in China having the same problems, that’s a bold claim for him to make.

The nuclear industry has had the best part of 60 years and billions in public money to try and prove that it is safe, clean, and financially viable as a way of generating electricity. It’s failed miserably. In the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, people are now seeing that clearly.

In the BBC poll, the majority of us said we ‘could almost entirely replace coal and nuclear energy within 20 years by becoming highly energy-efficient and focusing on generating energy from the Sun and wind’. Let’s do it.