People power

It is an article of faith for the anti-nuclear energy lobby that not only is it in the right, but that the silent majority of the public supports it.

You certainly can’t blame those opposed to the use of nuclear technology for sticking to their convictions, but the assumption that the general population is behind them took something of a knock from the results of a new opinion poll.

A survey for The Times showed that two-thirds of people expect nuclear to form part of the UK’s future energy mix. One in five rate nuclear energy as the most effective route to tackling climate change. On the other side, 20 per cent are against the use of nuclear under any circumstances.

Of course, no survey is definitive, but if we accept the findings of this one we seem to have 20 per cent of people implacably anti-nuclear, the same proportion rather keen on it and the rest somewhere in between.

This feels about right. Most people accept that in an ideal world, it would not be necessary to use nuclear technology with its diminishing but undeniable risks in order to generate our power.

Most also understand, however, that we do not live in an ideal world. Over the past two or three years, two distinct imperatives have made an impression on the public consciousness and created a climate that is more favourable to a new nuclear programme.

The first is climate change. The scientific community has left us in little doubt that the old days of high emissions power generation need to be left behind, and there is a growing awareness of nuclear’s credentials as a low emissions energy source.

The second factor working in nuclear’s favour is energy security. The idea of the need for a sovereign supply is one that would have barely registered on the public radar 20 years ago when the North Sea seemed to offer an endless and bountiful source of home-grown energy.

People have an increasingly sophisticated understanding of both of these challenges, and it is little wonder that proposals for a next-generation nuclear programme are failing to spark the level of dissent that its opponents would like to see.

Andrew Lee, editor