The politics of power

LSE research shows that belief is stronger than knowledge when it comes to the nuclear options 

People's attitudes to nuclear power depend on their instinctive political beliefs rather than on available information, according to LSE research which has important implications for policy-makers. 

The government is facing an expected public outcry over proposals for a new generation of nuclear power stations which are being promoted as a way to tackle climate change and provide a secure future energy supply. Criticisms include concerns about radioactive waste management, nuclear power plant siting and the vulnerability of nuclear plants to terrorist attacks. This public opposition is a significant obstacle in permitting governments to pursue an energy strategy that includes nuclear power. 

nuclear power stationPrevious public opinion polls in the UK about nuclear energy have found substantial unease regarding nuclear power generation. Thirty-seven per cent of respondents in a YouGov/Economist poll in 2006 opposed the building of new nuclear energy facilities, while 47 per cent demonstrated opposition in a 2006 ICM/Sunday Telegraph poll. These survey results have also pointed to the influence of political stance on attitudes towards nuclear energy, with conservative voters being more likely to support nuclear power policy. 

The LSE study, Attitudes as an expression of knowledge and 'political anchoring': the case of nuclear power in the United Kingdom, uses UK data from the 2005 Eurobarometer report on radioactive waste. The Eurobarometer survey series is a social research tool of cross-national surveys undertaken by the EC since the 1970s and designed to regularly monitor social and political opinions of the EU public. One thousand and nine UK residents aged 15 and over were asked questions about their support for nuclear energy, their knowledge about radioactive waste and their beliefs about the consequences of nuclear energy use, as well as their political affiliations and trust in sources of disseminating information about radioactive waste. 

The research, by Joan Costa-i-Font, Caroline Rudisill and Elias Mossialos of LSE Health, notes that even with the topic being covered in detail by the media, people seem to have limited knowledge about it. People appear immune to information about nuclear power, basing their attitudes on their political affiliations and beliefs. Where knowledge appears to play a role in shaping attitudes about nuclear power, its importance is eclipsed by the role of political beliefs. Therefore, despite opportunities for individuals to learn about the risks of nuclear power, attitudes appear driven much more by an instinctive political decisions rather than a digestion of information. 

The LSE research concludes that future information campaigns about nuclear power generation be more sensitive to the instinctive ways in which people react to unfamiliar technology. It also concludes that meaningful debate involving the public could help in reducing the polarisation of attitudes reliant on political stance. 

It is found that trust in information sources is a significant determinant of attitudes. Trust in the nuclear power industry, international organisations and the media appear important for attitudes. This signals the need of strengthening the communications from these sources.


Useful links

Attitudes as an expression of knowledge and 'political anchoring':: the case of nuclear power in the United Kingdomis published in the journal Risk Analysis|. Contact the publisher for more information.

For full details of his research and publications see Joan Costa-i-Font's entry in the LSE Experts Directory: Dr Joan Costa-i-Font|

For full details of his research and publications see Elias Mossialos' entry in the LSE Experts Directory: Professor Elias Mossialos|