This Public Attitudes toward Clean Energy (PACE) index is the world’s largest publicly-released international study on what people think about nuclear energy. Surveying is conducted by Savanta, and commissioned and analyzed by Radiant Energy Group. The PACE index was set up to track support/opposition for clean energy sources, what drives those attitudes, and how institutions can better cater to what the public wants.
The Global Opinion
1.5x more people support nuclear energy’s use than oppose it. Across the 20 countries surveyed, 28% of survey respondents oppose the use of nuclear energy while 1.5x more (46%) support it. 17 of the 20 countries surveyed have net support (support exceeding opposition) for nuclear energy’s use. Support is over 3x higher than opposition in the world’s two most populated countries, China and India.
Preference for nuclear energy is larger than for onshore wind, biomass from trees, or gas with carbon capture and storage. 25% of those surveyed say their country should focus on nuclear energy, behind only 33% preference for large-scale solar farms. Those with a technology-neutral and positive outlook to tackling climate change have a greater preference for nuclear than any for other source.
Reliability is the public’s highest-priority energy attribute. Nuclear is seen as the most reliable thermal source of energy. No energy attribute is seen as important by a greater share of the public than reliability. While 66% of respondents view nuclear as reliable, biomass and gas are seen as reliable by fewer than 60%.
Emissions from nuclear energy are seen as high by the majority. Over half (53%) of respondents see nuclear energy as creating a fair amount or a great deal of greenhouse gas emissions.
Cost of nuclear is seen as low by more people than the cost of wind or solar in countries that have previously phased out nuclear’s use. In Germany, Japan, South Korea and Sweden, countries that have had the largest politically-mandated nuclear phase-outs, nuclear energy is the most positively viewed technology for reducing energy bills.
Safety and waste concern is high in all countries surveyed. However, the correlation between safety or waste concern and support is relatively low. Globally, 79% of respondents mention a concern about nuclear safety. Within this group, a majority of 40% nonetheless support the use of nuclear energy while a minority of 33% oppose it.
Gender and nuclear knowledge consistently divide nuclear support. Male demographics and those self-identifying as most knowledgeable about how nuclear energy works are consistently the most supportive of nuclear energy’s use.
Age and environmental concern inconsistently divide nuclear support. In the majority of countries surveyed, younger and more climate-concerned demographics tend to be the least supportive of nuclear energy’s use. However, this dynamic is not universal. In South Africa, younger and more climate-concerned demographics are the most supportive of nuclear energy’s use.
Across the G7, right-wing voters are currently the most supportive of nuclear energy. Nuclear sector employment standards, unionization rates, environmental regulation, and, often, nuclear plant state ownership, would suggest left-aligning voters could more closely identify with nuclear energy. Despite this, support for nuclear energy is strongest amongst right-wing voters.
What the Public Wants
While support/opposition metrics provide a view of public sentiment they are a bad proxy for how the public wants governments to act. Within the group of respondents who say they tend to oppose nuclear energy’s use, 54% do nonetheless support government policy to keep operating existing nuclear plants and 17% wish to build more nuclear plants.
The public wants to keep using nuclear power and build new plants. Within nuclear-powered countries, over 3x more respondents want to keep using nuclear power rather than phase it out. Within the four countries without existing commercial reactors, 2x more respondents want to build new nuclear power plants rather than ban their use.
ESG fund managers risk losing investors by excluding nuclear stocks. In the US, 25% say they would prioritize socially responsible funds that include nuclear stocks, a greater share than the 20% who would prioritize funds that exclude nuclear.
The public wants to see greater reliability from nuclear energy. The perceived reliability of nuclear energy is a key driver of its support. People who view nuclear energy as reliable have over 4x more support for its use. This support multiplier is larger than that seen in all other nuclear energy attributes, including safety and waste management.
“This year may have marked a turning point for the nuclear energy industry. The COP28 pledge to triple global nuclear capacity by 2050 meets the public’s overwhelming demand for new nuclear to be built. The nuclear industry, as well as the governments and banks that support it, should carefully listen to what the public wants and start delivering beyond what the public expects.”
Richard Ollington, Partner at Radiant Energy Group
“Governments that abandon nuclear energy are now facing a backlash from their voting citizens. It is striking that the four countries with the biggest nuclear phase-outs are now countries where the public overwhelmingly sees nuclear as being low cost, more so than even wind and solar."
"Nuclear has long been trapped on the outside of the ESG world looking in. Our report suggests that financial institutions wishing to align themselves with the public’s new attitudes towards nuclear may need to update their standards to include nuclear in the future.”
Mark W. Nelson, Founder and CEO at Radiant Energy Group