A recent poll that found New Zealanders were less concerned about the safety of nuclear power than they were a decade ago would probably have different results if it was taken again today, an academic says.
Damage caused to nuclear power plants in Japan by the earthquake and tsunami, combined with the devastation in Christchurch after the February 22 earthquake, was likely to mean New Zealand attitudes to nuclear safety might have hardened, Massey University marketing Professor Philip Gendall said.
A study, conducted last year, found nearly 50 percent of New Zealanders polled said nuclear power stations were extremely or very dangerous for the environment. Ten years earlier, when the same question was asked, that was the view of 64 percent, Prof Gendall said.
Prof Gendall said 1172 New Zealanders were polled between August and November last year.
"It is interesting that, even before the nuclear crisis in Japan, 49 percent of respondents thought the environment was seriously endangered by nuclear power," he said.
"However, that was less than the 64 percent of New Zealanders who had the same opinion 10 years ago and given what is currently happening in Japan, that is likely to change in the next study."
Ten percent of respondents said nuclear power should be given priority to meet NZ's future energy needs.
Overall, environmental concerns took a back seat last year to pressing worries about the economy, healthcare, education and crime, Prof Gendall said.
"Just nine percent of respondents put the environment as the most important issue facing New Zealand while the economy was the major issue, identified by 32 percent of respondents as most important."
The greatest environmental concern related to pollution of rivers, lakes and beaches, with a quarter of respondents saying this was the most important environmental problem overall. Climate change was ranked fourth in terms of environmental problems facing New Zealand.
The study found most New Zealanders were in favour of legislation to protect the environment, even if it meant interfering with the rights of individuals and businesses to make their own decisions, Prof Gendall said.
He said the task of safeguarding the environment could not be left to the Government or the legal system.
"Ultimately, we are all responsible for the environment and we may have to accept some financial or other sacrifices to protect it."