Although nuclear energy continues to be a "strongly" divisive subject in the European Union, support for the controversial source of electricity generation has grown "significantly" over the last three years, a new European Commission survey suggests.
A "permanent, safe solution" to managing radioactive waste seems to be the decisive factor when it comes to a possible shift in opinion about nuclear energy.
Should such a solution be found to safely storing the waste, some 39 percent of people say they would change their mind about nuclear energy, according to the poll released by the commission on Thursday (3 July).
Dutch, Belgians, Lithuanians, Britons, the French, Slovenians and Finns are the most open to new arguments. Half the opponents in these countries would change their view regarding nuclear energy should a solution to waste be developed.
However, 48 percent of Europeans—mainly in Austria, Greece, Bulgaria, Portugal and Germany—would stick to a firm No irrespective of any solution to waste. Eight percent are convinced there is no solution to be found.
The European Commission itself stopped short of saying what a permanent and safe solution should be, saying it instead is promoting expert discussion on the issue.
Brussels has recently set up a high-level group designed to establish common criteria on ways how radioactive waste should be treated. One of the possible methods discussed has been "geological storage facilities", currently used in Finland, the commission spokesperson said.
He also referred to a piece of EU legislation on radioactive waste that "is still on the table of the council [representing EU capitals] and has not been addressed".
According to the survey, 93 percent of Europeans say a solution for high level radioactive waste "should be developed now and not left for future generations".
In general, some 44 percent of Europeans express support for nuclear energy, while a nearly identical number, 45 percent, oppose it. The figures represent quite a shift in views compared to 2005, when 37 percent of people were in favour and 55 percent were against nuclear power.
There is a clear link between the level of citizens' support and whether their home country operates nuclear power plants. The Czechs, Lithuanians and Hungarians are most in favour.
Currently, 15 EU states have nuclear power plants—something that accounts for nearly a third of the electricity generated in the EU.
The current European Commission, under the leadership of Jose Manuel Barroso, has not shied away from supporting the nuclear path, a controversial option in many parts of Europe.
Brussels says that nuclear energy has a role to play in meeting the EU's growing concerns about security of supply and CO2 emission reductions.