WASHINGTON — The Worldwatch Institute said Saturday that the Chernobyl disaster last April has caused support for nuclear power to decline markedly in many countries, putting the future of the industry in doubt.
"Since the accident, the pro-nuclear consensus has collapsed in country after country and the future of nuclear power, already hanging by a thread in some nations, is now in greater jeopardy than ever," the group said in a report.
"Chernobyl has added to nuclear power's legacy of official deception and may mark a final break in trust between the nuclear Establishment and the public," said Worldwatch senior researcher Christopher Flavin, the report's author.
"Nuclear power has lost its appeal and is being rejected by people and political parties worldwide."
The report said opposition to nuclear power was growing in many countries even before the accident in the Soviet Ukraine on April 26, 1986, in which 31 people were killed, 300 suffered acute radiation illness, and a total of 18,000 were briefly hospitalized. Soviet officials have said that a total of 135,000 people had to be evacuated from the area.
The opposition stemmed from health and safety concerns, rising costs and problems of disposing of nuclear waste, Worldwatch said.
Since the accident, the report noted, three countries with nuclear plants--Austria, Sweden and the Philippines--have abandoned nuclear power altogether, and Greece decided not to proceed with its first reactor. Five other nations had decided before Chernobyl not to build nuclear facilities, it added.
In most of those nations that have built or were planning nuclear power plants, more than two-thirds of their citizens oppose building any more plants, according to public opinion polls, the Worldwatch report said.
"Indeed, about half the people in Europe favor the shutdown of existing facilities," Flavin said.
According to pre- and post-Chernobyl polls cited in the report, the opposition to building more nuclear power plants jumped from 65% to 83% in Britain, from 46% to 83% in West Germany, from 40% to 74% in Yugoslavia, from 33% to 64% in Finland, and from 67% to 78% in the United States.
Even in France, where pro-nuclear sentiment remains strong, post-Chernobyl opposition stood at 52%, the report stated.
In the Soviet Union, too, Worldwatch said, "There are reasons for thinking Chernobyl will cause a reassessment," and the ambitious Soviet program "is almost certain to be set back."
None of the seven Soviet nuclear plants scheduled to begin operation last year did so, the report noted.
Elsewhere, the report said, Austria decided to dismantle its sole nuclear plant and went on record as formally opposing nuclear power. Poland slowed its nuclear program and ordered a safety study. In Yugoslavia, planned plants were postponed pending a safety evaluation.
Finland, Switzerland and the Netherlands put nuclear expansion plans "on indefinite hold," the report said.
Outside Europe, nuclear power plans "have been cut even more drastically," the report added. Some cuts were under way before Chernobyl, Flavin said, but the accident helped to speed up the process.
For example, Brazil's sole operating plant was shut down by court order following the Chernobyl disaster "and work has almost stopped at the two plants being built," he said.