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French people and nuclear energy – knowledge and perceptions

At a time when energy transition and climate issues are clearly emerging as major political and social concerns in the public debate in France, Orano wanted to question the French on how much they know about and how they perceive this energy and its industry. The results of this survey, carried out in partnership with group BVA, reveal perceptions that are still rooted with regard to the different impacts of nuclear energy, both in economic and environmental terms.

Among the key results:
  • For 54% of French people, the electricity mix of tomorrow will consist of nuclear energy and renewables.
  • For 47% of French people, nuclear power is an asset for the country.
  • The nuclear sector is also perceived as creating jobs by 56% of French people, a figure that rises to 67% among young people (18-24 year olds).
  • 69% of French people think that nuclear energy contributes to GHG production and climate change.
  • Nearly two in three (61%) French people are aware of the possibilities for recycling nuclear fuels used in power plants.
The French perceive nuclear energy as an energy for the future and an integral part of the future energy mix.
More than half of French people (54%) believe that the use of nuclear energy will remain stable or increase in France. The same proportion also considers that a nuclear and renewables mix will develop in the coming years in France, as opposed to 26% who are of the view that production will be from renewable energies exclusively.
Moreover, for a majority of French people, the nuclear sector is an asset for the dynamism of the French economy and for the energy independence of the country.
For 47% of French people, nuclear power is an asset for the country. This is 13 percentage points ahead of those who see it as a handicap (34%). Among the arguments deemed to be the most convincing to explain this position, we find France’s energy independence (46% of respondents identify this as one of the three most convincing arguments), French industrial know-how and export capacity (33%) and job creation.
The capacity to generate employment is indeed frequently identified as a factor. The nuclear sector is perceived as creating jobs by 56% of French people, a figure that rises to 67% among young people (18-24 year olds).
The French are unaware of the impact of nuclear energy in the fight against climate change. People still share misconceptions about this form of energy, including its cost.
69% of French people think that nuclear energy contributes to GHG production and climate change, whereas it represents the number one source of low-carbon energy in France. As an illustration of this perception, 11% and 10% of people think that coal and oil (respectively) contribute less to the greenhouse gas emissions than nuclear.
More broadly, many misconceptions about this energy source remain entrenched in the minds of the French. They believe that the share of nuclear-generated electricity in France is 59%, whereas it is actually 72%. Similarly, more than two in three French people think that nuclear energy is expensive to produce (68%), and that French electricity is more expensive or as expensive as that of other European countries (67%).
French people living near nuclear industrial sites display both a better understanding of the sector’s issues and are more convinced of its benefits, both economic and environmental.
Compared to the French population as a whole, the focus survey conducted on residents living near the sites of Orano La Hague (Manche, France) and Tricastin/Melox (Drôme/Gard, France) brings out a number of trends:
  • more precise knowledge of the issues: while 69% of French people believe that nuclear contributes to climate change, this view is down by 14 percentage points (La Hague) and 8 percentage points (Tricastin/Melox) among residents living near the sites.
  • a more positive image of the industry: while 47% of French people consider the nuclear industry to be an asset, 71% of residents around the La Hague sites and 62% of residents around Tricastin/Melox have a positive view of the industry and focus more on its contribution in terms of employment.
  • a greater degree of confidence in the safety of nuclear sites: while 52% of French people rate the risk of accident as one of the main arguments against nuclear, 77% (for La Hague) and 68% (for Tricastin/Melox ) of local residents consider these sites as safe.
  • concern shared with French people overall about management of nuclear waste, but also confidence in recycling: whereas for the majority of French people (56%) and equally for inhabitants close to the Orano sites (53% and 60%), management of nuclear waste remains a subject of concern, the great majority of French people (61% for the French overall and as many as 83% near La Hague) believe that recycling of used nuclear fuel is possible.
Philippe Knoche, Chief Executive Officer of Orano, commented: “The results of this survey reveal that the economic weight of the nuclear sector, which employs more than 220,000 people in our country, is a reality known to the French. Nevertheless, some preconceived ideas about this energy still seem to be shared by a majority of citizens. In as much as nuclear energy is an essential component of the energy mix, it is vital to make people aware of the realities of this energy and of the indispensable role it will have in successfully negotiating the energy transition“.

The survey was conducted by telephone from April 4 to 27, 2019, with a representative sample of the French population comprising 3,008 people aged 18 and over. Nationally, the survey was conducted with a sample of 2,405 people, allowing for an interpretation in each of the 12 metropolitan regions. The survey was duplicated at the local level, around the la Hague (301 respondents) and Tricastin/Melox (302 respondents) sites.

Source: Orano