In recent years the European nuclear fusion research and development (R&D) community has become steadily more aware of the need to take seriously societal awareness of its activities, and the extent to which these activities are regarded as acceptable by lay publics.
The origins of the study of public attitudes of fusion energy may be traced back to the publication of a European Commission (EC) report in the early 1990s (FPEB, 1990). That report identified the need for a better understanding of the social and economic issues concerning fusion research and development. Among the report’s conclusions was the recommendation that (FPEB, 1990, p. 14): “…adequate funds must be immediately allocated to ongoing studies on social acceptability in order that the evolution of opinion finds reflection in the orientation of research”.
In line with this recommendation, social research on fusion has been intended to provide the fusion community with a better understanding of the external conditions under which fusion plants, once available, might become economically attractive and socially acceptable.
Work on public attitudes in the last years has been aimed at investigating various psycho-social dimensions such as awareness of fusion, attitudes towards siting, place and identity, perception of risk, basis for understanding by different social groups or lay reasoning about new information in multiple contexts.
On-going activities within the Social Studies in this area include the design and implementation of a dedicated section on public attitudes towards fusion energy to be included in the Belgian SCK•CEN Barometer. The latter can provide in-depth analysis and serve as a large scale pilot study in the preparation of a future multi-national survey. The survey will address various dimensions of the public attitudes such as knowledge/familiarity; perception of risks and benefits / general attitude. Another task under consideration is the inclusion of one/two questions in the new European Social Survey (ESS) Rotating Module (ESS8): Public Attitudes to Climate Change, Energy Security, and Energy Preferences’ The ESS ERIC Scientific Advisory Board will address a new module using the high methodological standards in both fieldwork and questionnaire design for which it is well known.