Nuclear Energy: Public Opinion and Distance

by Francis Sugita

Opposition to the usage of nuclear power plants continues to grow in Japan despite government officials and private investors pushing to reinstate Japan’s nuclear power plants. The oppositional increase is obviously closely related to the Fukushima accident. That being said, there are other factors that must be considered when analyzing public opinion, one being distance. One important case study written post-Fukushima explored the effect of distance to a nuclear energy source and public opinion. This study is important not only because fatal nuclear accidents rarely occur, but also because nuclear accidents have caused an increase in opposition to nuclear power plant usage throughout the world (not just in Japan).

Researchers Poortinga, Aoyagi, and Pidgeon compared public opinion on what energy source should be utilized between Japan and Britain, before and after the Fukushima accident. They also studied the effects of distance throughout the paper. The researchers found that more than half of the British population are willing to conditionally accept or support the building of nuclear power plants based on two conditions: if it would help tackle climate change and if it would help improve energy security. This stays true throughout the three different time periods data was collected, from 2005, 2010, and 2011, after the Fukushima accident. On the other hand, Japanese conditional support for the first statement dropped from over 30 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2011 after Fukushima, and for the second statement there was only data available from 2011, which was also at about 20 percent.

The Fukushima accident, not surprisingly, impacted public opinion on nuclear power plant usage in Japan, and the drastic difference from Britain’s public opinion based on these conditional statements could be explained by Japan’s proximity to the accident or by Japan’s problematic history with nuclear energy and weapons. The researchers note that there have been other nuclear power plant accidents in Japan, one being the Tokaimura nuclear accident. They also considered the nuclear bombings during World War II, which may have caused the older generation (and the younger generation) to acknowledge progressive environmental ideologies and view nuclear energy as taboo. While the researchers attempted to write about the effects of distance on public opinion, a more useful study may be a comparison of public opinion within the Pacific Rim or within Japan.

Poortinga, Wouter, Midori Aoyagi, and Nick Pidgeon. “Public Perceptions of Climate Change and Energy Futures before and after the Fukushima Accident: A Comparison between Britain and Japan.”  Science Direct. Energy Policy.




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