Despite the massive and often neurotically inaccurate Western media coverage of the Fukushima nuclear accident, British public confidence in nuclear power has increased. In a poll by Populus for the British Science Association, 41 per cent of respondents said the benefits of nuclear power outweighed the risks – up 3 per cent.
It's a striking contrast to Germany, where politicians bowed to the "Green" fringe and the vowed to end the country’s nuclear programme – a move that will increase reliance on "dirty" coal and increase energy costs.
Britain opened the world's first nuclear reactor in 1956, but can no longer be described as a pioneer.
So what can explain this?
Perhaps the British public isn’t as stupid as the media – and many environmentalist campaigners – seem to think. Perhaps they were impressed by the resilience of the rattling, 40-year-old steam kettle at Fukushima that went into full meltdown – but which has yet to cause one fatality.
(The word "meltdown" no longer has that mythical resonance in the popular imagination that it did in the 1970s when it was a signifier for the beginning of the end of the world. As we noted here, we have now seen several, with minimal damage).
What the poll certainly indicates is that people are more rational than scaremongers suggest – and perfectly capable of performing risk analysis, weighing up the costs and benefits of a technology. This is hard to imagine happening without the internet as a source of information.
So it may be back to the drawing board for Greens, who seem to have lost their Kryptonite: the ability to steer people towards policy goals by scaring them witless. We've become numb to so many of these Chicken Little moments, and consequently have become a lot more sceptical when someone bursts into the room, screaming that some plan must be implemented immediately, and there's no alternative, or time to lose. Since so much environmental policy now requires the Precautionary Principle – the suspension of rational cost/benefit analysis – this poses serious problems for the Greens, an issue climate activist Mark Lynas confronts head-on in his new book.
Lynas admits that his former opposition to GM foods "wasn’t a science-based rational thing. It was an emotional thing and it was about the relation between humans and other living things".
Public support for nuclear energy has increased steadily in the past decade. Interestingly there is a gender gap opening up – with women much more fearful of nuclear energy, and men increasingly supporting it. What does that tell us? Answers below. ®