Nuclear plant concern for residents

Western Morning News, Wednesday, October 01, 2008

MORE than half of people living close to nuclear plants, such as Hinkley in Somerset, still have concerns over threats to security and health, a report has revealed.

Researchers from Cardiff University and the University of East Anglia said almost two-fifths (38 per cent) of local residents accepted their nearby power station "reluctantly", but 16 per cent were opposed outright to it.

One of the main criticisms from locals has been the lack of consultation over potential nuclear power plant schemes. The researchers found 54 per cent of those questioned worried about the risks of living within 10 miles of a power station. The results are a warning to the Government against assuming strong local support for new-build power stations on existing sites - thought to be the only places where it is likely the plants will be able to be given the go-ahead.

More than half of those questioned - 61 per cent - near Hinkley Point, Somerset , and half of those questioned near Oldbury, Gloucestershire, were in favour of new-builds on their local site. But the survey of 1,326 residents found almost a quarter at Hinkley Point and almost a third near Oldbury opposed a new power station.

Professor Nick Pidgeon, of Cardiff University , said the study showed locals tended to support new-builds in their area, but said: "There is a significant proportion which showed conditional support and their acceptance is potentially quite fragile, while a minority are opposed and are highly distrustful of industry and Government."

He said the Government and industry needed to be honest and start consulting now if there were sites under consideration if support was to be maintained.

The revelations have been welcomed by the campaign group Stop Hinkley (and Shut Oldbury). Group spokesman, Jim Duffy said: "I think the industry might have hoped for better results than this. There seems to be a big chunk of nominally supportive local people who have mixed feelings and, when reminded of the risks, tend to shy from nuclear.

"Professor Pidgeon reveals that over the five-year study, local people have demanded 'consultation in a proper manner', but the Government has already failed on this point with its rigged 2006 Energy Review, which buried the low figures for nuclear's usefulness towards climate change at the back of its bogus consultation. We're still waiting for the results of Greenpeace's complaint to the ombudsman."

The five-year study of the area around three nuclear power sites found about a third of residents believed the local plant brought benefits and had high levels of trust in local operators. Some 38 per cent were ambivalent, but accepted it because of concerns over climate change and energy security, 16 per cent were opposed to it and 12 per cent felt there was no point worrying about it. The in-depth interviews revealed terrorism and health were the most common concerns.

Professor Pidgeon said: "Any erosion of local confidence could have adverse consequences for relations between the nuclear industry and local communities... This clearly argues against complacency about the future. Engagement should start early. I would say to the government get on with it."

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Page Updated 03-Oct-2008