Only 26% of people aged 18-24 (Gen Z) in the UK understand nuclear power is a low-carbon source of electricity, compared to 76% for renewables such as wind and solar, according to a new institution report published by IMechE (Institution of Mechanical Engineers).
Public Perceptions: Nuclear Power reveals that understanding increases amongst older people, reaching more than 60%, but is still “well below” levels seen for renewables.
The findings, from a survey of 2,011 people in December last year, are a potential cause for concern as the UK attempts to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Nuclear could be an essential part of the future energy mix, working alongside renewables to prevent continuing reliance on fossil fuels.
The UK government is funding eight vendors of small modular reactors (SMRs) to conduct feasibility studies of their designs, through the Advanced Modular Reactor program. A consortium of companies led by Rolls-Royce also received £18 million (US$23.3 million) for the development of its SMR design.
Widescale roll-out of SMRs would mean many more power plants around the country, yet the new report found 41% of people would oppose construction of nuclear power stations in their local area. Twenty-seven per cent would support them.
The overall level of support for nuclear power was 42%, compared to 84% for renewables. Low support could relate to safety and contamination issues with older nuclear power stations. According to the report, the most common concerns about nuclear power were nuclear waste and its disposal (58%), safety concerns including accidents (44%) and radiation (35%).
I think people conflate previous projects with new projects. We have reduced the amount of fuel we need, the amount of waste produced and it is safer—in fact it is the safest form of power generation.—Dr Jenifer Baxter, IMechE head of engineering