There have been two new polls covering nuclear energy in the past few weeks, one by ICM and one by YouGov. ICM found that the majority (58%) of people thought that nuclear energy was safe…but not so safe that they would be happy to live next to a nuclear power station – 50% said they would be very concerned if one was to be built near them. Unsurprisingly, asked to make a straight choice between different forms of power without reference to cost, reliability and so on – far more people thought that money should be invested in renewable sources like solar (79%) and wind (76%) power than in nuclear (38%).

A YouGov poll for the Economist partly reprised questions that were last asked in June 2005. Asked about some suggested policies to reduce the UK’s carbon emmissions, the figures suggested a very slight drop in the already low support for higher taxation of petrol in order to invest more in public transport (only 27% of people supported this, compared to 31% last year). 45% of people supported higher taxation of aviation, almost unchanged since last year. The expansion of nuclear energy was supported by 40% of people, up from 34% last year – opposition to nuclear energy dropped noticably to 37%, compared to 46% against in 2005. The most popular suggestion by far was the higher taxation of cars with larger engines, which was supported by 75% of respondents, up from 69% last year.

YouGov also gave people a list of statements about nuclear power and asked if they thought they were true or false (personally I’d have asked people to agree or disagree, since some were opinions, not statements of fact, but there goes). A large majority (68%) of people said they would support new nuclear power stations if they were part of a wider programme that also included investment in renewable energy sources, 44% of people though agreed that nuclear energy would create unacceptable dangers for future generations. The overwhelming majority (72%) rejected the idea that there was enough oil, gas and coal to provide energy for the future and that nuclear power was therefore unnecessary.

An interesting point flagged up by Peter Kellner in his commentary on the poll is the huge gender gap on the issue. 60% of men said they supported building more nuclear power stations, compared to only 19% of women. As Peter says there are sometimes differences between the attitudes of men and women on issues, but rarely on this sort of scale. A possible reason seems to be that women are far less aware of a key argument being used in favour of nuclear energy. 72% of men thought that the statement that nuclear energy produced very little CO2 was true, but only 35% of women did (56% of women didn’t know, compared to 21% of men). Quite why this should be is unclear.

For the record, I went looking for other large difference between men and women in polls – other large contrasts I found were support for greater restrictions on internet pornography (women 33% more likely to support), creating embryos for medical research (men 23% more likely to support) and belief in life after death and mediums (women 28% more likely to believe). The difference in attitudes to nuclear power is quite astoundingly high.


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