Survey into attitudes to radioactive waste: Swiss citizens want to be consulted about disposal of radioactive waste

Bern, 23.09.2008 - The majority of Swiss citizens are sceptical of nuclear energy, in favour of finding a rapid, definite solution for disposal of radioactive waste and want to share directly in the decision-making processes. These are the salient points of a survey into the Swiss population’s attitude to nuclear energy and radioactive waste conducted in Switzerland in the summer of 2008.

The representative survey, in which 1,026 Swiss citizens were asked for their opinions, was carried out in all parts of the country on behalf of the Swiss Federal Office of Energy between July 11 and 30, 2008. A similar survey was conducted earlier in the spring of 2008 on behalf of the European Commission involving approximately 27,000 citizens of the 27 EU Member States. The report published today by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy contains the results of the Swiss survey and compares the findings with those obtained in the EU poll. Here are the most significant results to emerge:

Sceptical attitude toward nuclear energy

  • The majority of Swiss citizens are sceptical of nuclear energy. 52% said they were either fairly opposed or totally opposed to the use of nuclear energy in electricity production. Only 40% are in favour of its use. Opposition to nuclear energy is clearly greater in Switzerland than in EU countries, where only 45% of were opposed to the use of nuclear energy.
  • If a safe, permanent solution could be found for the disposal of radioactive waste, 37% of the opponents of nuclear energy would be prepared to change their opinion. However, a majority of 53% would still continue to oppose nuclear energy.
  • A substantial majority of the respondents perceived the advantages of nuclear energy, in particular with respect to diversification of energy sources (66%), reducing emissions of greenhouse gases (65%) and dependency on mineral oil (57%).
  • 77% of the respondents saw the risk of accident and the risk of terrorist attacks to be nuclear energy's greatest disadvantages. More than seven out of 10 of all respondents (72%) could not imagine wanting to live near a nuclear power plant.
  • At 49%, the proportion of advocates of nuclear energy among men is significantly higher than among women (32%). Citizens who position themselves on the left of the political scale tend to reject nuclear energy (74%) more than those who place themselves in the centre of scale (41% opposed) or those on the right (35% opposed). With 47% in favour there is more support for nuclear energy in rural areas than in the larger cities (29% in favour). In German-speaking Switzerland, where all five nuclear plants are located, the rate of support is between 39% and 45% and is clearly higher than in the French-speaking (36%) and Italian-speaking (33%) areas. The findings also show that citizens who felt well informed about disposal of radioactive waste tend to favour the use of nuclear energy.

Attitude to radioactive waste and deep geological repositories

  • Almost all Swiss respondents (97%) think a definite solution for storing radioactive waste has to be found now and the problem may not be left to coming generations to handle.
  • 46% view storage of radioactive wastes in deep geological repositories as the most suitable solution for long-term storage. 34% oppose the idea of deep geological repositories and 20% do not know what the best solution might be. Further, 77% think there is no safe solution for the disposal of radioactive waste.
  • If a deep geological repository were to be constructed in the vicinity of their homes 6 out of 10 Swiss citizens (60%) would want to be informed personally and be involved in the decision-making process. 17% would favour the involvement of local non-government organisations (NGO) in the decision-making process while only 18% felt the decision-making process should be left solely to the authorities responsible.
  • 53% fear potential hazards to health and the environment will arise if an geological disposal site were to be built near their homes. 25% fear radioactive materials could leak from such sites and some respondents are uneasy about transports of waste to final storage sites (11%), terrorist attack (4%) or about potential declines in land and property values (3%).

Knowledge of radioactive waste

To assess respondents' objective knowledge of radioactive waste they were asked to say whether statements regarding nuclear waste were true or false. The results showed that Swiss citizens' knowledge regarding radioactive waste is limited. However, compared to the citizens of EU countries the Swiss feel better informed about radioactive waste than others in Europe and do seem to have more knowledge of the subject.

  • 58% of the Swiss citizens surveyed feel they are not well informed about radioactive waste while 41% feel well informed. This indicates that Swiss citizens feel clearly better informed than EU citizens, of whom 74% felt they were not well informed.
  • 80% of the respondents know about the different categories of radioactive waste (low, intermediate and high-level radioactive waste) and that radioactive waste is produced in research centres, hospitals and certain industries. However, only one third (33%) know that the various categories of waste are produced in different quantities.
  • 81% of the respondents feel all categories of radioactive waste are very dangerous.
  • 82% know that radioactive waste is being stored in special interim sites until final repositories are built. However, 42% believe that radioactive waste is dumped at sea, 79% believe that waste is sent abroad for disposal and 79% think radioactive waste is already stored in deep geological repositories.
  • Men know more about the matter of radioactive waste than women. 49% of the latter answered the questions correctly while 58% of the men interviewed gave the correct answers. It was also apparent that those aged between 25 and 54 were more knowledgeable about the matter as were those who had spent the longest time in education and those who indicated they tended to be left on the political scale.

Rate of trust in information sources

Swiss citizens deem the information received about radioactive waste trustworthy if it comes from independent sources, and in particular from NGOs (33%), scientists (32%), and international organisations whose aim is promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy (30%). One quarter of the population (24%) trust the information from each of the two sources, Nagra and the Federal Council. Swiss citizens trust the information issued by the media least (7%).

Survey confirms procedure in Switzerland

Switzerland's selection procedure for sites for deep geological repositories is specified in the Deep Geological Repositories sectoral plan. This provides for comprehensive consultation procedures in which the population and communes in the proposed areas can state their needs and interests. Much emphasis is being placed on providing clear information and on taking decisions that are comprehensible to all. The potential consequences of a deep geological repository will be comprehensively studied at an early stage in developments.


The entire report on the Swiss survey "Attitudes towards radioactive waste in Switzerland" (in English only) is available on the Swiss Federal Office of Energy's Internet site.

The entire report on the European survey "Attitudes towards radioactive waste" (in English and German) is available at the following address:

Address for enquiries

Marianne Zünd, Head of Communications SFOE, 031 322 56 75 / 079 763 86 11
Specialist inquiries: Simone Brander, specialist for disposal of radioactive waste SFOE, 031 325 85 57


Swiss Federal Office of Energy

Last modification 05.01.2016

Top of page