The significant emotional burden caused by the events at the Fukushima power plant in Japan ignited the attention of Italians who will soon be called on to express their opinion towards nuclear power in a June referendum. In 1987, Italian citizens voted to abolish nuclear power after the Chernobyl nuclear power disaster, but the government wants to return to it.
Nuclear power continues to be a controversial topic in Italy, but the latest news in Japan is fueling a growing online debate. Nielsen analyzed online discussions around sources of energy and, in particular around nuclear power before and after March 11, the day of the Japan earthquake.
In the first three months of the year through March 10, online messages about power sources averaged 800 posts per day. On March 11, conversations on nuclear energy spiked 500 percent and kept growing in the following days reaching a peak of 4,000 discussions on March 15 (+2,200 percent versus March 10)
After the tsunami hit Japan, 61 percent of discussions on all energy sources concentrated on nuclear power. Despite the upcoming referendum, prior to March 10, nuclear power represented only 18 percent of messages.
The earthquake and Fukushima emergency unleashed an impressive online debate between those who are in favor and those who are against nuclear power. But even with the increased volume of messages, the pro/con ratio did not change between the two parties: the number of messages with a positive attitude towards nuclear power still represented just one-quarter of those who are against it even though the number of neutral parties was reduced 13 percentage points post-tsunami.
Post tsunami, online discussion for Italians shifted from ecological and economic concerns and concentrated more on the safety of nuclear power and the risks connected with radioactivity leaks. The direct effect of Fukushima raised Italians’ fears on the two most pressing topics: Is nuclear power safe? What are the risks?