Following a series of warnings from professional organisations, the energy crisis has shown in practice that Europe needs nuclear power plants to provide reliable, cheap, and low-emission energy on the Continent with severe capacity constraints. However, some of the Western political elite continue to adhere to their ideology-driven, anti-nuclear stance; they call for the closure of existing plants and hinder the launch of new investments. The difference between the results of the European Social Survey (ESS) in 2016 and the 2021 Project Europe Research of Századvég, which preceded the energy crisis, already showed that public support for anti-nuclear policy was steadily declining. Based on the results of the 2022 autumn survey of Századvég, it can be stated that the energy crisis has accelerated the trend: in a single year, the rejection of nuclear energy among European citizens decreased by as much as in the previous five years.
Public support for nuclear energy in Europe is growing
As a result of the energy crisis, the proportion of people rejecting nuclear technology in the EU has significantly fallen. While in the autumn of 2021, 26 percent of European citizens opposed the use of nuclear energy, in the autumn of 2022 this proportion decreased to 15 percent, according to the results of the Project Europe Research conducted by Századvég.
The energy crisis has drastically reduced the proportion of those opposed to nuclear energy in the EU
Over the last twelve months, the shift in European public opinion towards the promotion of nuclear energy has significantly accelerated. The percentage of those in favour of nuclear power – who say the technology should produce very much or much energy – has increased from 26 percent to 40 percent. Among those with a moderate stance — who have chosen the options of not too much or little — the rate has remained unchanged at 35 percent. Compared to the previous rejection rate of 26 percent, the proportion of those with an anti-nuclear stance has decreased to 15 percent.
Over a longer period of time, the change is even more noticeable. In six years, the proportion of those supporting and opposing nuclear energy have reversed: while in 2016, 41 percent rejected and 15 percent supported the technology, the proportion of those in favour of nuclear power has now increased to 40 percent, and that of those against nuclear power has decreased to 15 percent. Interestingly, the proportion of those who have taken a moderate stance can be considered stable over time: in 2016 it was 36 percent, and in 2021 and 2022 it was 35 percent.
Support for nuclear energy is increasing in all EU Member States
There are still significant differences in support for nuclear energy in the EU Member States, but the differences are steadily narrowing with the drastic transformation in the Member States that have rejected nuclear power. Similarly to the 2021 results, the option of very much was chosen by the most people in Czechia (32 percent), Bulgaria (30 percent), and France (27 percent) in the 2022 survey. It is noteworthy that the two clearly supportive options (very much and much) were chosen by an outstanding number of people in Hungary, more than two-thirds (68 percent) of the population.
Some of the anti-nuclear member states continue to maintain their relative position in country rankings, however, the degree of rejection in these countries has also decreased significantly over the last twelve months: In Austria from 57 to 47 percent, in Cyprus from 41 to 37 percent, in Greece from 45 to 30 percent, and in Portugal from 46 to 29 percent.
Other, previously extremely anti-nuclear, Member States, are catching up with the EU average: In Latvia, for example, the proportion of those who have chosen the option of none has decreased from 34 percent to 12 percent, which has moved the Member State from the former anti-nuclear category to the “middle ranking” of the EU. The most instructive example is Germany, where – despite decades of anti-nuclear political campaigning – the proportion of those rejecting nuclear technology has dropped to less than a third in six years, so that today only a fifth of the population represents the previously majority position. Overall, it can be stated that the results of the 2022 survey show an increase in support for nuclear energy in all Member States compared to both the 2016 and 2021 research.
The Project Europe Research
In the first half of 2016, the Századvég Foundation conducted a public opinion poll survey covering all 28 European Union Member States, with the aim to analyse the opinions of EU citizens regarding the issues that most affect the future of the EU. In a unique way, Project 28 conducted the widest possible survey of 1,000, that is a total of 28,000 randomly selected adults in each country. Gaining an understanding of society’s sense of prosperity and mapping the population’s attitudes towards the performance of the European Union, the migration crisis and the increasing terrorism were among the most important goals of the analysis. Following the surveys in 2017, 2018 and 2019, on behalf of the government, the Századvég Foundation has been conducting the research under the name of Project Europe since 2020, which continued to reflect on the topics that most dominated the European political and social discourse.
In 2022, the aim of the survey is again to map the population’s attitude towards the most important public issues affecting our continent. In addition to society’s sense of prosperity, the performance of the European Union, the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, and the perception of the migration crisis, in line with the latest challenges affecting Europe, the dominant theme of this year’s poll has been the Russian-Ukrainian war, the energy crisis, energy supply, and family policy. In addition to the European Union Member States, the 2022 research covered the United Kingdom, Norway, Switzerland, Moldova, Albania, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and surveyed a total of 38,000 randomly selected adults using the CATI method between 13 October and 7 December.