The last decade has seen a marked increase in public concern about nuclear energy. As a consequence, it is now recognized that the future of nuclear energy will not only depend on technical and economic factors, but that public acceptability of this technology will play a crucial role in its long-term future. This paper summarizes trends in public reactions to nuclear power in various countries and discusses a number of studies on public beliefs and attitudes to nuclear power in general, and to the building of a nuclear power plant near to one's home. It is concluded that the qualitative aspects of the possible risks of nuclear energy play an important role in the public's perception of this technology. It is also clear, however, that differences in perception of the risks do not embrace all the relevant aspects of the public's assessment of nuclear energy. Public reaction is also related to more-general beliefs and values, such as emphasis on economic versus social priorities, attitudes to technology and environmental concern. 11 references.