While significant segments of the public in China and the United States continue to give robust support for nuclear power, opinion in Japan, South Korea and France appears to have been rocked by the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, according to a survey conducted in May by The Asahi Shimbun.
The international survey of attitudes toward nuclear power reveals wide differences of opinion between people in seven major nations that operate nuclear power plants: Japan, the United States, France, South Korea, Germany, Russia and China.
About 73 percent of Japanese respondents said they opposed building more nuclear power plants or expanding existing ones. Only 16 percent were in favor.
In France, 68 percent said they opposed new construction, despite a 51-percent majority who support the continued use of nuclear power in the country that boasts the world's second largest number of reactors behind the United States. Only 29 percent of French people said they were in favor of new plants.
Sixty-four percent of South Koreans opposed new construction compared with 30 percent in favor.
The results in China and the United States were in marked contrast with these three nations, with opinion roughly balanced between supporters and opponents of new construction.
In China, which has 13 existing plants and is building 30 more, 46 percent of people were in favor of constructing new plants, while 52 percent were opposed.
In the United States, the world's largest nuclear energy producer with 104 reactors, 46 percent supported new construction, while 47 percent were opposed.
There was interesting variation in the commitment of supporters of nuclear power between the countries surveyed. In France, South Korea and Japan, more than 40 percent of people who said they supported the use of nuclear power opposed constructing new plants or expanding existing ones.
In China, by contrast, 90 percent of proponents of nuclear energy were in favor of new construction. In the United States, 76 percent of nuclear supporters said they were in favor of construction or expansion of plants, compared with only 20 percent opposing the idea.
Asked what should be the future of nuclear power in their countries, 32 percent of respondents in China and the United States said "nuclear power generation should be increased."
Only 13 percent of South Koreans and less than 10 percent of French, German, Russian and Japanese people felt the same.
Anti-nuclear opinion was particularly strong in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel's administration has announced plans to phase out all nuclear power plants over the next 11 years.
Eighty-one percent of people opposed using nuclear energy in principle and 52 percent said, "Nuclear power generation should be stopped" in Germany. Only 16 percent of Japanese agreed with the same statement when applied to Japan.
About 28 percent of German respondents said "nuclear power generation should be stopped within five years." Thirty-eight percent thought 10 years was more practical, while 20 percent favored a 20-year time scale. Only 5 percent of German respondents thought the process should take more than 20 years.
Of the 81 percent of people who opposed nuclear energy generation, 79 percent thought the plants should be closed within five or 10 years.
Among the 19 percent who said they favored using nuclear power, 41 percent said "Germany should not abandon nuclear power generation," but 30 percent said the country should abandon nuclear power "within 20 years."
FUTURE ENERGY GENERATION
Meanwhile, across all the countries surveyed, wind and solar power won the beauty contest for the future of energy generation. Seventy-one percent of French people thought wind and solar energy "should play the central role in future energy generation," followed by 70 percent of respondents in South Korea, 66 percent in Germany, and more than half in Japan, the United States and China.
In Russia, only 36 percent of people thought wind power or solar power should be central to energy policy, but that exceeded the 12 percent of respondents who saw a future in natural gas and the 16 percent supporting hydroelectric power, both types of energy in which Russia has rich reserves.
In Japan, 57 percent of proponents of nuclear energy said wind power and solar power should play the central role in future energy generation. Only 17 percent chose nuclear power.
Germany's small pro-nuclear group, about 19 percent of all respondents, were more committed to its future. Forty-eight percent chose nuclear power as the energy of the future. Only 37 percent of German nuclear proponents selected "wind power or solar power."
The figure 3 illustrates different perceptions of nuclear power generation in the seven countries surveyed from the viewpoints of the "attitude toward the use of nuclear power," "inclination for a nuclear phaseout" and "concern over a major nuclear accident in their country."
The figure shows three major groupings.
In the United States, many favor the use of nuclear power, and the degree of concern over a major accident is low. Few are inclined toward a phaseout from nuclear power generation, apparently not much influenced by the latest accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
By contrast, opposition to the use of nuclear power and inclination toward a nuclear phaseout are both strong in Germany, although it does not stand out from other countries in terms of the degree of concern over a major accident.
The other countries--Japan, France, Russia, South Korea and China--lie relatively close to one another.
Particularly close to each other are France and China. Approval of the use of nuclear power and the degree of concern over a major accident are nearly the same, but they differ in the inclination toward a nuclear phaseout. Nuclear power accounts for only a few percent of total power generation in China. Thirty-two percent of the Chinese respondents, a maximum across all countries, said that nuclear power generation should be increased in their country.
There is a higher concern of a major accident in South Korea than in China and France. The concern in Japan over an accident other than at the Fukushima No. 1 plant is even higher. In Russia, which experienced the Chernobyl accident, opposition slightly outnumbers favored on the use of nuclear power, and the concern over a major accident is also relatively high.
The accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was rated level 7 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, the worst, on par with the Chernobyl incident. In all countries, a total of more than 90 percent of respondents said they thought the Fukushima accident "very serious" or "somewhat serious."
Concern of a possible major accident at a nuclear plant in the respondents' own country was felt across all nations surveyed other than Japan.
The percentage of those who said that they were "concerned," including "very" and "somewhat," was especially high in South Korea, at 82 percent, and in Russia, at 80 percent. The proportion exceeded 70 percent in five countries. Even in the United States, with the minimum 61 percent, the figure was considerably larger than the 38 percent who said that they were "not concerned."
Even among those who said that safety of nuclear power generation can be ensured with the right technology and controls, 71 percent in Russia and China and 68 percent in France said they were concerned about a possible major accident. This shows that trust in technology does not completely manage to wipe anxiety off people's mind.
Many are feeling uneasy about the radiation that continues to leak out of the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Those who said they were "concerned," including "very" and "somewhat," accounted for a maximum 83 percent of the Chinese respondents. The proportion amounted to 82 percent in South Korea, where many kindergartens and elementary schools were closed on rainy days for fear of rain contaminated with radioactive material. Both ratios exceeded the corresponding figure of 70 percent in Japan.
More people said that the latest accident in Fukushima will affect their country's energy policy than those who said otherwise in all countries except Russia.