Aftermath of Fukushima: Public Opinion of Nuclear Power in Australia

by Cameron Bernhardt

Deciding the future of nuclear power generation is relatively high on the agenda of many countries around the world. Like all electricity generation technologies, nuclear power possesses notable advantages and disadvantages relative to other generation methods. Some of the most commonly recognized advantages of nuclear power are its low operating costs, security of supply, and the low air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that it produces. Conversely, issues of water use and waste disposal are often deterrents to the development of nuclear generation. In addition, the risk of nuclear accidents is a persistent threat to nuclear support, especially after incidents such as the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in 2011. In an effort to characterize the Australian public’s views toward nuclear power in relation to climate change and other alternative energy sources, Bird et al. (2014) analyzed random sample surveys to draw conclusions about these attitudes. These surveys were administered in March 2010 and February 2012, 12 months prior to Fukushima and 11 months following, respectively.

The results of the surveys showed that fewer Australians in 2012 viewed nuclear power as a “satisfactory option” for electricity production than in 2010. Furthermore, fewer were willing to accept the development of nuclear power stations even if such development would positively influence climate change. The percentage of respondents that believed the risks of nuclear generation outweighed the benefits increased from roughly 34 percent to 42 percent in the two-year span. These results suggest that Australian public support for nuclear power declined from March 2010 to February 2012, and it is likely that the Fukushima Daiichi disaster was a significant influence in this decline. However, the results from these surveys cannot explain what actually influenced perceptions of nuclear power, and considering the roles that media and other forms of communication have on public attitudes may help further explain the decline in support.

Bird, D. K, Haynes, K., van den Honert, R., McAneney, J., Poortinga, W., 2014. Nuclear power in Australia: A comparative analysis of public opinion regarding climate change and the Fukushima disaster. Energy Policy 65, 644-653


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