Referendum on nuclear power, Italians ahead of politicians

Luca Romano Scientific communicator April 18, 2024 05:00 Share Over half of …

Referendum on nuclear power, Italians ahead of politicians

Over half of Italians would vote in favor of a consultative referendum on new nuclear power plants. This was written by the survey company SWG which published the results of their latest survey on nuclear power. To the question “what would you vote in the event of a consultative referendum on the opportunity to reintroduce nuclear power in Italy”, over half (51%) of those interviewed replied that they would vote “Yes” – 24% declared themselves “definitely in favour” and 27 % “probably in favor”.

This is consistent with the previous survey: even on that occasion around half of Italians had declared themselves cautiously or enthusiastically in favor of the atom. Those against stand at 26%, of which 16% are “definitely against” and 10% are “probably against”, while those who are undecided amount to 23%. The best news for us is obviously the fact that young people (under 34) are the most favorable segment of the population, with almost 60% in favor, while we are sorry to still see a significant gender gap (even if, it must be said, the women are only 5% more against it than the general population, evidently many are still in the undecided range).

The fact that nuclear technologies find more favor in entrepreneurial areas and less so in agricultural areas is not big news, while the data relating to large population centers is surprising, where the data against them is probably pushed up by the left of the ZTL.

Italians' knowledge of the different sizes of nuclear reactors is tested. The first good news is that Italians have finally understood that the third generation and large-sized reactors currently on the market are exactly as safe as smaller ones: the percentage that answers “they are safe” is in fact exactly the same, 71%. There is a little more confusion about the environmental impact, where SMRs are considered “zero emissions” compared to large-scale reactors by 4% more respondents – in reality the environmental impact is substantially independent of the size ( and in this case the larger reactors would be favoured, but we are talking about laughable differences).

nuclear survey swg 3

There is also a bit of confusion regarding the availability of technologies, in fact SMRs are considered “immediately available” by 68% of those interviewed, compared to 64% for large-scale reactors (in reality SMRs are starting to be available for orders , but are not yet available “off the shelf” like conventional reactors), but it may also be that the way the question was framed (including fourth generation technologies) was misleading. For comparison purposes, the opinion of Italians on MMR (Micro-Modular Reactors) technologies is also asked, which are evaluated as safer than large and medium-sized reactors, with lower emissions, but less available.

In reality, MMR technologies, such as Oklo Inc.'s Aurora reactor, are not designed to produce electricity for the grid; they are instead designed to power isolated centers such as military bases, mining villages, scientific stations and the like. Since we cannot therefore evaluate them in the context of the decarbonisation of the electricity system, it makes very little sense to evaluate their emissions, except at most by comparing them with diesel generators.

The impact of NIMBY on nuclear power

nuclear survey swg 4

Here Italians are asked whether they would be willing to accept the construction of reactors within 20, 100 or 500 km from their home. Obviously we can consider the answer “500 km” as an absolute NO, given that a circle with a radius of 500 km has a diameter of 1000 km and Italy is approximately 1300 km “long”. Here the most interesting data is not so much that 39% of interviewees say they are willing to have a system within 20 km of their home (which is still notable), but the fact that, for these people, it does not make the slightest difference whether it is a medium or large sized reactor (the percentage rises slightly for MMRs, but these are of little interest to us, we have explained why). Going up to “over 100 km from home”, the percentage rises to 49% for large reactors, 52% for SMRs – not a huge difference, however.

Obviously there is no way of knowing how much these percentages overlap with those of those in favor, because for these questions only the answers were collected from those who had at least heard of the differences between the different technologies, but we can hypothesize that, among those in favor to nuclear power, around one in five still wants it as far away from their home as possible. Not so many, but not so few that we don't have to worry about it in the future.

Last, but not least: the second and third slides show that the perception of Italians regarding nuclear power is little or not at all influenced by the size of the reactor. The right-wing propaganda about nuclear power “next” therefore does not appear to be justified in the slightest by the polls, and therefore increasingly seems to be an attempt to postpone decisions that should be taken today. Advanced, large-scale third-generation nuclear is a proven and mature technology, and Italians seem to understand this well enough.

How curious are Italians about nuclear power?

nuclear survey swg 1

I would say this is the most interesting slide: regardless of whether they are for or against nuclear power, Italians are very interested in finding out more. In particular, the topics that arouse the most curiosity are the planning and design of a nuclear plant; safety management and the treatment and disposal of radioactive waste. These are topics that we have already covered very often on this page, but perhaps it is time to bring them to YouTube or at least translate them into other formats. In short, like all surveys on the atom in Italy, this too confirms that we are going in the right direction, but that there is still much to do.