4 Public attitudes
61. Public attitudes towards new energy projects
are becoming an increasingly important factor in energy policy.
There is no form of energy that is without its opponents; from
campaigners against new wind farms to the anti-fracking lobby.
Nuclear is no exception and public hostility towards new nuclear
power stations could put the brakes on their development. In this
section we examine attitudes towards new nuclear and explore ways
in which concerns might be allayed.
Public opinion at the national
62. EDF's submission cited a recent poll, which
showed that 66% of people thought that nuclear should be part
of the energy mix.
The figure, however, must be qualified because for many people,
support for nuclear is conditional. This issue was explored recently
by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.
Professors Pidgeon and Henwood told us:
A closer look at the national data shows a more complex
picture, however, with a large proportion of recent support remaining
conditional - a 'reluctant acceptance' at best. While many more
in Britain have indeed come to support nuclear power over the
past decade they do so while viewing it only as a 'devil's bargain',
a choice of last resort in the face of the threat of climate change
and energy security concerns. Given the choice individuals still
show very clear preferences for renewable electricity generation
over both nuclear and conventional fossil fuels.
63. Several witnesses noted that the Fukushima
incident does not appear to have had a big impact on UK attitudes
towards nuclear power.
NuGen attributed this to "the sensible and measured approach
to Fukushima in the UK".
Professor Pidgeon believed that a combination of factors, including
the way the incident was reported in the British press, the fact
that Japan is a long way away from the UK and the good track record
of nuclear safety in this country, could explain the absence of
impact on UK opinion.
64. While Fukushima has not affected overall
levels of support for new nuclear, the salience of accident risk
has increased. Sedgemoor
District Council said that Fukushima had had a significant impact
on local perceptions, suggesting that "perceptions of risk
have undoubtedly risen".
Professor Pidgeon explained:
[I]t is not that people believe the likelihood is
any different. It is that their thoughts are now focused on what
might happen if it goes wrong, and the implication of that is
that another conversation has to be had about the implications
of an accident. So what would you do, who would you evacuate,
and what are the contingency arrangements? Who would be responsible
for paying if you had a large accident at a site like Hinkley
Point? That is a conversation that probably wouldn't have been
had 18 months ago and that probably has to be had now.
FOREIGN OWNERSHIP OF NUCLEAR POWER
65. As mentioned previously, the Horizon project
was put up for sale shortly before we launched our inquiry. As
a result, there was a great deal of speculation throughout the
course of our inquiry about who might buy Horizon. Media reports
suggested that two Chinese state nuclear corporations, Russian-owned
Rosatom and Japanese-owned Hitachi were interested in putting
forward bids for Hitachi. 
In the end, Hitachi was successful.
66. It is not clear whether the entry of non-European
players into the UK nuclear sector might have an impact on public
opinion. We heard some speculation that it might, particularly
if there was a perceived connection with Fukushima.
There appears to have been very little (if any) research in this
area to date so it is difficult to provide anything more than
conjecture at this stage.
67. European ownership does not seem to have
any negative impacts on public perceptions. The fact that EDF
is French-owned (and part-owned by the French State) has not had
any discernible negative effects on attitudes towards the proposed
new reactor at Hinkley Point C.
We note that following Centrica's decision not to proceed with
investment in Hinkley C, there has been speculation that a state-owned
Chinese company might now join the consortium in Centrica's place.
Local level opinion
68. Although there may be broad support for new
nuclear at the national level, the views of the local communities
living near to new plants do not necessarily mirror the national
Pidgeon told us that opinion tends to be more polarised at the
local level, and can also be affected by geography:
There is the phenomenon that people who live very
close in, in this 10 to maybe 15-mile radius, are more positive
than in the national polls, although again that is more complicated
because they are a bit more polarised as well. [
as you move out, [
] you tend to get more opposition than
in national polls. Geography also matters greatly as well, [
An interesting one is Bradwell, [
] Across the water in West
Mersea there has been very strong opposition for years and years
and years. Even though they are quite close, because the station
is visible, they do not benefit from any of the local jobs because
they are a long way around the estuary there, and they feel they
just get all the potential risks if something went wrong.
69. Since new build sites are all adjacent to
existing nuclear facilities, the local communities have experienced
the UK's good nuclear safety record first hand and are likely
to have friends or family who work in the industry.
This might explain the higher levels of support that are found
immediately adjacent to new build sites. The potential jobs and
economic benefits associated with new build projects are a clear
driver of support at the local level.
70. Where concerns do arise, they tend to be
more focused on the disruption caused by the construction process
rather than the risk of a nuclear accident.
We were struck during our visit to Hinkley Point C and Bridgwater
that representatives from local parish councils focused entirely
on how noise and disruption from the construction of Hinkley C
might be mitigated or compensated for, and how the associated
influx of workers to the area might be managed so as to maximise
benefits to the local area. At no point did they raise "in
principle" concerns about nuclear power, nor did they suggest
that the risk of a nuclear accident was something they were worried
Building public support
71. Supporters of Nuclear Energy (SONE) argued
that in order to build support for new nuclear, stronger leadership
from Government was needed and that the case for new nuclear power
in the UK should be made more explicitly.
Although large companies like EDF already have confidence in the
Government's position, SONE felt that more needed to be done to
make the position clear to members of the public. Sir William
McAlpine told us
What we do not get is the full support of all parties
saying, "What we need, the answer to this country's fuel
problems, is nuclear"if they believe it. There seems
to be this terrible feeling that it is not popular in the country
and there are no votes in itthis is me being cynicaland
therefore it is not worth pushing it.
72. The industry trade association agreed with
this view and argued that "it is vital that the Government
continues to be unequivocal about the energy challenge, presenting
the case for nuclear in an objective way, and that it is seen
to be acting in the best interests of both the UK electorate and
The Institute of Physics also thought that Government should do
more to publicly stress the differences between UK nuclear power
sites and those affected by the tsunami at Fukushima.
TRUST, UNDERSTANDING OF RISK, AND
73. Perceptions of the potential hazards associated
with nuclear power stations play an important role in public attitudes
towards new build projects. While knowledge of hazards and the
probability with which they might occur (risk) is important, it
is not the only factor that can affect people's concerns. Other
- the level of control
people feel they have over a particular hazard;
- the extent to which relevant decision makers,
regulators and industries are trusted; and
- the affective properties of a hazard -
whether it promotes a feeling of insecurity or fear.
74. This means that while boosting understanding
of the hazards and risk associated with nuclear power may help
to alleviate fears about new build to some extent, knowledge alone
is unlikely to be sufficient to overcome opposition.
75. Professors Pidgeon and Henwood argued that
dialogue was an important part of risk communication.
At the moment, there is not an obvious forum in which members
of the public can have a dialogue about how risk will be managed
with developers. The most obvious point of engagement for local
communities is the planning process but questions of risk management
fall outside the scope of this process.
Professor Pidgeon explained:
There is a disconnect in the sense that it is not
necessarily the developer's responsibility to engage on this [risk
management]. The local council do not have the resources to do
it, and HSE [Health and Safety Executive] and the ONR [Office
for Nuclear Regulation], the nuclear regulator, is in some sense
removed from that local process. We do not have a process whereby
we could have a conversation about that critical issue with local
76. The regulators responsible for managing health
and environmental risks (the Office for Nuclear Regulationthe
ONR and the Environment Agency respectively) do enjoy a
relatively high level of trust among members of the public.
Dr Hall (Acting Chief Nuclear Inspector of the ONR) told us that
his organisation engages with the local communities in a number
of ways. These include a local community liaison council that
meets every six months to provide reports about activities to
members of the local community, attending public debates, publishing
documents on the ONR website and providing an e-bulletin to people
who sign up online. However, most of these activities appear to
be one-way communications, from the "expert" to the
"public", rather than a genuine two-way dialogue, as
advocated by Professors Pidgeon and Henwood.
77. In addition, there is a further problem in
that the technical consenting regimes are a separate process to
the planning regime. While members of the public may be familiar
with the planning process, they tend to be less well acquainted
with the consenting regime and how they can engage with it.
This can lead to confusion and frustration, as Mr Jones (New Nuclear
Local Authorities Group) noted:
We are very concerned that ONR is going to turn up
in our local community and say something, because it is not aware
of the process that we have been through for the last three and
a half years, that will unsettle the community or move them back
a step [
][W]e hope that when they come to our local area
and when they come to any local area they will be cognisant of
what has gone on and be very aware of what the key issues are
and how they will deal with them. But there is genuinely nothing
more frustrating than someone turning around to the local community
and saying on risk, for example, "I am very sorry, the planning
inspectorate or the local authority can't consider risk. That
is a matter for ONR, who are coming to talk to you in a month's
78. It is important that local
communities have an opportunity to engage in genuine dialogue
about risk management with both the regulators and the developers.
It is disappointing that there does not appear to be a natural
forum for this kind of debate at present. The ONR and Environment
Agency should plan their public engagement activities to coordinate
better with the planning process, so that regulators and developers
can be present at the same public meetings.
79. Dialogue between the developer and local
community is also essential but not always easy to get right.
It was apparent from our visit to Hinkley Point C and Bridgwater
that EDF had made considerable efforts to engage with the local
community and to try to alleviate the negative impacts of the
construction process that local residents were concerned about.
Indeed, Chief Executive Vincent de Rivaz cited the agreement of
a section 106 deal with the local councils (under which EDF will
pay £64 million on education, transport and housing projects
to mitigate the local impacts of the construction process at Hinkley
C) as proof that local engagement had been successful.
Nevertheless, representatives from parish councils told us that
they had been "underwhelmed" by EDF's efforts to engage
locally and had been left with the impression that they were not
valued partners in the dialogue. They felt at times they were
being bamboozled by the large number of technical documents that
were produced by EDF as part of the planning process. They also
believed that the section 106 deal did not provide sufficient
compensation to them for the disruption that the construction
process would cause.
80. The planning process is by its nature very
complex and technical, and this may be one of the reasons why
local engagement is so difficult to get right. While developers
have the in-house expertise to produce technical documents, local
communities do not necessarily have the know-how to interpret
them fully. In addition, they are likely to be working on their
own submissions in their spare time, unlike developers who can
pay staff to work full time on consultations.
In the case of Hinkley C the local authorities were able to provide
some support to parish councils to help them to participate more
effectively in the planning process. We understand that this was
possible because EDF contributed some financial resources to the
councils for this purpose.
81. There is a mismatch between
the capacity of developers and that of local communities to participate
fully and effectively in the planning process, particularly where
large, complex and technical projects such as building a new nuclear
power station are concerned. The Government should consider
whether it is possible to provide advice and support to local
communities living near to nationally significant infrastructure
projects in a more systematic way than the current approach, which
depends heavily on individual local authorities. For example,
an independent advice service for communities living near to any
nationally significant infrastructure project could be established.
It could help local communities with interpretation of technical
documents and provide advice on what types of compensation might
be permitted under Section 106 agreements. It could be funded
by levy on developers submitting applications to the Planning
82. There was a suggestion from a number of witnesses
who were involved in new build projects that local support would
be more likely if there was a clear benefit to communities in
new build areas.
Jobs and new opportunities for local businesses to get involved
in the supply chain are an obvious example of one type of potential
benefit. We will
discuss how opportunities for the local supply chain might be
maximised in chapter 5. Many witnesses believed that the Government's
proposal to allow local authorities to keep the business rates
from renewable energy projects should be extended to include nuclear
energy projects too.
83. The Government has argued
that communities hosting renewable energy installations play a
vital role in meeting a national need for secure, clean energy,
and should be able to benefit from hosting such projects.
Communities hosting nuclear power stations are contributing towards
the same aims, and so it seems reasonable that they should also
be able to benefit from hosting new-build projects. We recommend
that Government extends the scope of its proposal to allow local
authorities hosting renewable energy projects to retain business
rates to include all forms of low-carbon energy (renewables, nuclear
and carbon capture and storage).
84. The long construction period for nuclear
power stations means that were such a measure to be introduced,
communities living near to nuclear new build sites would not see
any benefits for approximately 10 years (because business rates
would only be paid once the plant started generating). The community
representatives that we met during our visit felt that this was
too long to wait, particularly since there would be some impacts
from the construction process that could not be compensated for
through the section 106 process (such as loss of amenity of gardens
resulting from increased traffic on the roads).
85. Unlike renewables, nuclear
power stations take a long time to build and therefore have the
potential to cause considerable disruption to local communities
for an extended period of time. Government should investigate
whether it could be possible to provide any additional forms of
community benefit during the construction period (beyond the compensatory
measures already agreed to in the section 106 deal).
84 Ev 93 Back
House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, First Report
of Session 2012-13, Devil's bargain? Energy risks and the public,
HC 428, 9 July 2012 Back
Ev 125 Back
Ev w35, Ev 118 Back
Ev 118 Back
Q 139 Back
Ev 125 Back
Ev 130 Back
Q 142 Back
"Doubts mount over UK's nuclear energy future" The Telegraph,
21 August 2012 Back
Ev 111 Back
Q 110, Q 121 [Mr Brown] Back
"Centrica nuclear exit opens door to China", Financial
Times, 4 February 2013 Back
Ev 125 Back
Ev 125,Q 142 [Mr Brown] Back
Q 106 [Mr Jones], Qq 122-123 Mr Jones Back
Annex 2 Back
Ev 135 Back
Q 305 [Sir William McAlpine] Back
Ev w24 Back
Ev w23 Back
Ev 125 Back
Q 98 Back
Ev 125 Back
Ev 130, Q 106 Back
Q 107 Back
Q 132 Back
Q 106 [Mr Brown] Back
Q 138 Back
Q 212 Back
Annex 2 Back
Ev 130 Back
Annex 2 Back
Ev 93, Ev w24, Ev 114,Ev 130, Ev 118 Back
Q 127 [Mr Jones] Back
Ev 93, Ev w24, Ev 130, Ev 118 Back
Department for Communities and Local Government, Local Government
Resource Review: Proposals for Business Rates Retention, Technical
paper 8: Renewable energy, August 2011 Back