A photo of the remains of the control room for Reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, seen in November, 2000. Photo: Efrem Lukatsky / AP.
A photo of the remains of the control room for Reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, seen in November 2000. Photo: Efrem Lukatsky / AP.

30 years after Chernobyl: Half of Swedes oppose nuclear power

Researcher: we've had a completely different debate climate
2:22 min

As Europe marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, a survey shows that half of Swedes want to abandon nuclear power.

Half of respondents in the study, conducted by Gothenburg University’s SOM Institute, want to phase out nuclear power while 30 percent want to continue its use and 20 percent have no clear opinion on the matter.

The findings are relatively unchanged from the previous survey, where 49 percent said they wanted to dismantle Sweden’s nuclear plants and 34 percent wanted them kept in use.

Swedish attitudes toward nuclear power changed quite drastically in 2011 after the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan. Before that meltdown, a clear majority of Swedes were in favor of nuclear power. Since then, the trend has reversed.

However, Sören Holmberg, a political science professor at the SOM institute, said there are several explanations as to why a majority of Swedes have soured over nuclear power. The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant created a short-term effect, he said, like Chernobyl and other major meltdowns.

"But those times, public opinion quickly swung back again," Holmberg told Swedish Radio, referring to disasters before Fukushima. "That has not happened this time, and it is because we have had a completely different debate climate in this country. Enthusiasm for nuclear power has fallen on all counts and it has started to be phased out in neighboring countries, like Germany."

Sweden was the first country to raise the alarm about Chernobyl. On April 28th 1986, the nation detected an unexplained rise in radiation levels. The Soviet Union, which was responsible for the reactor, did not confirm the disaster until May 14th.

When the nuclear power plant broke down 30 years ago there were major concerns in Sweden about cancer cases shooting up as the radioactive fallout wafted over the countryside. However, that has not happened.

"On average, the exposure did not increase more than the background radiation so it was a very low dose increase," Göran Pershagen, a professor at the Institute of Environmental Medicine at the Karolinska Institute, said.

Since Swedes were exposed to low doses overall, the number of additional cancer cases have been so few that it is not possible to determine whether they can be attributed to what happened at Chernobyl.

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