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Attitudes of The Australian Public to Nuclear Power

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The production of energy for domestic consumption in Australia is currently dominated by coal, oil and gas, with only a minor component from renewable sources. Although Australia has significant reserves of uranium and is one of the world’s main exporters of the mineral, it does not itself exploit nuclear power. Australia has long debated the possibility of utilising its excess source of uranium for more than trading. To use Nuclear energy domestically has become a nationwide debate that continues today. This is an overarching debate with many individual aspects that are debated some of the focal points of the debate are waste disposal, location of nuclear plants, education and emissions. This advisory report will deconstruct the prevailing issue that underlies every debate, acceptance of nuclear energy by the Australian public. It’s acknowledged in all Nuclear energy conferences in Australia that public acceptance and bipartisan and long-term energy policies are essential prerequisites for large-scale nuclear investment. Wide-reaching consultation is critical and that the keys to the success of nuclear energy use in Australia are transparent policy development, widespread community consultation, in-depth psychological research and a robust regulatory system, capitalising on Australia’s strong regulatory history. The focus of this report is the perceived risk and social psychology of the potential for nuclear accidents. Previous research shows that a major accident at a nuclear reactor strongly affects laypeople’s attitudes toward nuclear power It is crucial to understand the public perception of the risks and effects of a nuclear accident. We can do this through various psychometric models that explain the public’s perception on nuclear power before and after major nuclear accidents.

Public Perception of Nuclear Power After a Nuclear Accident

Various studies have investigated the public perceptions before and after major nuclear accidents. The majority concluded with the result of a negative perception of nuclear energy being common. After the accidents at the nuclear power plants in Chornobyl in 1986 and on Three Mile Island (TMI) in 1979, many studies investigated people’s attitudes toward nuclear power comparing laypeople’s opinions of nuclear power before and after the disasters by comparing the findings of different samples both over time and between countries. In addition, a few longitudinal studies investigated attitudes assessed before and after the catastrophic events. Hence, the nuclear accidents accelerated the decline in public support of nuclear power.

A study investigating beliefs, attitudes, and behavioural intentions toward nuclear energy in the Netherlands within a sample of Dutch citizens two months before the Chornobyl accident (1986), one month after the accident, six months after the accident, and one year and seven months after the accident. Notably, Nuclear technology has advanced many generations since the Chornobyl plant and Australia would be implementing the latest generation design. One month after the accident, analyses revealed more unfavourable attitudes which became less antinuclear five months later. At the end of 1987, attitudes were more antinuclear than ever before. Furthermore, subjective probabilities of the occurrence of catastrophic accidents were found to be high immediately after the accident with the linear trend over time, in relation to those subjective probabilities, and the levels of concern decreased. The results underline the predominance of the perceived catastrophality of consequences attributed to nuclear energy in the public’s perception and evaluation of this technology.

Investigating public perceptions of risk and perceived benefit after Fukushima

It is this kind of perception that Australians also reflected in a study that took a nationwide survey before and after the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011. The survey showed most respondents (42%) willing to accept nuclear power if it would help tackle climate change. The post-Fukushima results show a majority of respondents (40%) were not willing to accept nuclear power as an option to help tackle climate change, despite the fact that most Australians still believed nuclear power to offer a cleaner, more efficient option than coal, which currently dominates the domestic production of energy. Expanding the use of renewable energy sources (71%) remains the most popular option, followed by energy-efficient technologies (58%) and behavioural change (54%). An online questionnaire was conducted to achieve the highest response rate. The same questions from 2010 were used in the 2012 questionnaire, only more questions were added, to enable comparisons and identify changes in public opinion. It is clear through these studies that the perceived risk of a nuclear accident provokes public opinion against the use of nuclear power. Notably, most participants answered that they didn’t trust the Australian Government to run nuclear plants safely. Most participants also agreed that they needed more information to form a clear opinion about nuclear energy. This implies the need for education where factual and easy-to-understand Australians hold intrinsic values to place and the thought of anything jeopardising forces people to look for alternatives. Renewable energy is an option that the majority of the Australian population accepts as a viable source for future domestic energy. However, there are many faults in renewables most notably its efficiency is too low for the Australian domestic demand.

Other methods & models of risk perception and what Australia thinks

Looking at a study from the UK, participants who lived within proximity of a Nuclear plant undertook a Q-method factor test which measured their viewpoints on 4 main factors. A total of 90% of participants didn’t not support the building of another plant. All the statements relating to the nuclear threat received high rankings, and the perspective emphasized, above all, a perceived need to stop using nuclear power and to move toward using renewable sources of energy as soon as possible. Nuclear power was regarded as risky, and neither clean nor a “necessary evil” that might be required to help combat climate change or improve the U.K. The Australian public has shown to hold similar values always with a focus on renewable energy as the future.

Understanding perceptions of risk are important to the development of nuclear plants in Australia as the public’s perceptions of risk are influenced significantly by the characteristics of authorities’ warning messages. Also, characteristics of the risk area population, such as resources, gender, or socioeconomic class, can influence understanding, belief, personalization, and response to warnings which could be of concern to Australia. Previous research suggests that both risk and benefit perceptions determine acceptance of nuclear power. Furthermore, people’s perceived benefits of a secure energy supply seem to have a stronger influence on acceptance than do perceived risks.

A study on ‘the social psychology of public response to warnings of a nuclear power plant accident’ showed respondents reported higher levels of risk perception and lower levels of trust, perceived benefits, and acceptance regarding nuclear power plants after the nuclear accident compared to before. The findings indicated that the nuclear accident in Fukushima resulted in a more negative perception of nuclear power and, hence, had important implications for the image of this energy technology among the public, at least in the short term. More specifically, the study examined how this event affected the degree to which trust, perceived benefits, and perceived risks influenced people’s acceptance of nuclear power stations. The results of the statistical modelling within this study showed that even after a nuclear accident, perceived benefits remain the most important determinant of acceptance, compared to perceived risks. An implication of this finding for communication with the public after a nuclear accident may be that focusing on both the risks and benefits of nuclear power will change the public’s acceptance of nuclear power. A similar study analysing the Australian public’s perceived benefits and risks should be laid out before the development of powerplants.


In summary, through psychometric model-based studies, it is clear the Australian public currently, accepts renewable resources as a future energy source and is more opposed to use of nuclear resources. Through a thorough investigation of various studies, results show that the Australian public’s sensitivity to the perceived risk of a nuclear accident would be detrimental to their well-being. The perceived risk of a nuclear accident is also an important factor with many studies showing participants would still choose alternative sources of energy over nuclear. It is also clear that the public perceived risk of a nuclear accident was heightened after the accidents at Chornobyl and Fukushima. At this current stage the current viewpoints for Australia’s future energy sources, correlate strongly with renewable resources and this is evidently the best option for the psychology of the Australian public.


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Attitudes of the Australian Public to Nuclear Power. (2022, August 30). GradesFixer. Retrieved September 24, 2022, from
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