“Nuclear Energy Sounded wonderful 40 years ago” – public attitudes towards CCS

Research, Science and Technology Studies, Science Communication

Around the world there is increasing interest from government and industry in the potential for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies to play a part in decarbonisation – indeed the UK government has made their commitment to this technology clear. In their 2012 Carbon Capture Roadmap they say:

“Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) has the potential to be one of the most cost effective technologies for decarbonisation of the UK’s power and industrial sectors, as well as those of economies worldwide. The Government is committed to helping make CCS a viable option for reducing emissions in the UK and in doing so to accelerate the potential for CCS to be deployed in other countries. Our vision is for widespread deployment of cost-competitive CCS “(DECC, 2012).

Yet despite so much high-level faith, this is a technology that is still at the experimental stage and surrounded by many unknowns.  And it has been the subject of little public debate.  So what do ordinary citizens think about Carbon Capture and Storage?

Over the past year or so, my UCL colleagues and I have been exploring this question, through a series of discussion meetings with environmental activists, planning councillors, and adult and youth community group members.  We found that views on CCS are shaped strongly by factors wider than the technology alone.  In particular, people made trade offs between different energy futures – thinking about how supporting CCS affects the government’s likelihood to support wind energy, or whether CCS will lock us into a fossil fuel future for longer, for example.  Most importantly, people very quickly drew parallels to nuclear power – the industrial scale of the technology and the potential for unforeseen negative consequences, for instance.  

While there might not be much public disquiet around CCS at the moment, this is far from a positive reaction waiting to be voiced – in private opinions were generally negative. This, and the use of nuclear power as a framing device, may present a challenge to policy-makers and industry committed to implementing CCS while promoting education as the main mechanism for public acceptance.

The full paper is now open access and so freely available here.