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30 September 2008
A failure to provide full and open public consultation on new nuclear power builds in Britain could undermine local confidence such energy sources, a new University-led study has found.
The project, which was carried out over five years and involved researchers from the Schools of Psychology and Social Sciences, explored people’s attitudes towards and concerns about nuclear power.
The team focused on residents living in three areas with existing nuclear power stations - Bradwell in Essex, Oldbury in Gloucestershire and Hinkley Point in Somerset.
They found majority support for new nuclear build in these areas but vitally that a proportion of this support was conditional. The vast majority of people surveyed wanted the industry and Government to fully involve local people in plans for siting new nuclear power stations locally.
Professor Nick Pidgeon of the School of Psychology led the study. "The proponents of nuclear power have made the assumption that it will be far easier to develop new stations at the existing sites, because, among other factors, they believe that local communities will be very supportive," said Professor Pidgeon.
"The findings suggest that failing to consult in a proper manner, or in a way that does not fully recognise and respond to local people’s concerns, would almost certainly undermine the local confidence and trust in local plant operators, which has been painstakingly built up in all of the locations that we studied over a considerable period of time."
The study also found that on a day-to-day basis residents view their local nuclear station as familiar and unremarkable. A belief that local operators can be trusted to keep the plants safe underpins local confidence in nuclear power. However external events such as terrorist activity remind people that there might be risks associated with their nuclear plant.
In addition the research revealed a number of different attitudes were held by people living at the three sites, showing that local residents are not simply pro or anti nuclear power.
Professor Pidgeon said: "Despite the apparent level of support for nuclear power that exists in these communities, our research also demonstrates that many remain ambivalent towards nuclear power, and strong mistrust of both the industry and Government is voiced by a further significant minority of residents. Accordingly, any such erosion of local confidence could have adverse consequences for relations between the nuclear industry and local communities, and for the nuclear new build programme as a whole. This clearly argues against complacency about the future."
Cardiff’s partner in the research was the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia. The study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, co-ordinated by the University of Kent, with additional support for the survey stage from The Leverhulme Trust. The paper, ‘Living with Nuclear Power in Britain: A Mixed Methods Study’ is available at www.kent.ac.uk/scarr.
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