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Nuclear skepticism

April 21, 2011

A quarter of a century after the world's worst nuclear accident in Chernobyl, almost two-thirds of Ukrainians think atomic energy is dangerous, but Russians are more circumspect. That's according to a new DW survey.

The deserted town of Pripyat near Chernobyl, Ukraine
Now deserted, Chernobyl is in northern UkraineImage: AP

In Ukraine, the site of the world's worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl in April 1986, around 60 percent of people think that nuclear power is dangerous. Only one in three Ukrainians - 31 percent - says it's safe. Meanwhile, in neighboring Russia, just 43 percent think nuclear energy is dangerous.

That's according to a survey carried out by the Institute for Economic and Political Analysis in Eastern Europe (WPA) on behalf of Deutsche Welle. The polling took place in April, and 1,000 people were interviewed in Russia and Ukraine respectively.

It seems that most Ukrainians believe that nuclear catastrophes like Chernobyl, and the recent Fukushima disaster in Japan, are exceptions. Of those questioned, 44 percent said an accident like Fukushima was unlikely to recur. Around 8 percent think that the advantages of nuclear power outweigh the potential risks.

But 41 percent admitted their opinion had changed as a result of nuclear disasters. Of those, 23 percent argue for a comprehensive ban on nuclear energy. A further 18 percent want governments to consider shutting down nuclear power plants. That means less than half are actually demanding phasing out atomic energy.

Has Ukraine overcome the effects of Chernobyl? Chart showing survey results in Ukraine

The DW-Trend survey shows that nuclear power is accepted by just short of the majority of Ukrainians. Despite their own bitter experiences, they don't share the skepticism of the Germans, who are much more vehemently anti-nuclear.

The survey also asked Ukrainians if they feel their government has properly handled victims of the Chernobyl disaster. Almost half believe the victims have been well treated. But around a third think the government hasn't done enough.

Do you think nuclear power is dangerous? Chart showing survey results in Russia

A total of 57 percent of Ukrainians believe the country has overcome the consequences of Chernobyl. Just 27 percent disagree.

In general, the survey reveals that Chernobyl divides the generations in Ukraine. For younger people, the accident plays less of a role than for the generation that was directly affected by it. Among those who were in their 20s and 30s at the time of the accident, and are now in their 50s and 60s, 43 percent are against nuclear power.

Trust in Russian technology

A similar survey in Russia revealed that only a third of the population thinks there should be a nuclear phase-out. One in five of those asked failed to give an opinion.

As far as the ongoing Fukushima disaster is concerned, 44 percent of Russians surveyed believe that such an accident could not happen in Russia, and therefore that it had not changed their opinion about nuclear power. Particularly those aged over 50 seem to trust Russian atomic technology. As in the Ukraine, 8 percent of Russians think the benefits of nuclear energy outweigh the risks.

Do you think nuclear power is dangerous? Chart showing survey results in Ukraine

The DW-Trend survey shows that there is less antipathy towards nuclear power in Russia than in Germany. It's notable that even in the eastern regions of Russia, which are geographically relatively near to Japan, there is no more anti-nuclear sentiment than in western Russia. For most Russians, nuclear energy remains a credible energy option for the future.

Author: Bernd Johann, Kishor Sridhar / ji
Editor: Nancy Isenson