|THE FUROR OVER FISSION|
The Images and Realities of Nuclear Technologies
November 20, 1996
The Nuclear Power and Fear
Other Forum Topics
How has the media impacted the perception of nuclear technology?
How has morality impacted the growth of nuclear technology?
Can nuclear power overcome nuclear fear?
Isn't nuclear fear better than nuclear arrogance?
Will fear ebb as memory of the Cold War fades?
Is nuclear fear an American phenomena?
A question from Carol Worth of Herndon, VA
Dr. Weart -- After 10 years working with Waste Management Symposia, the largest international nuclear waste conference in the world, as a journalist and writer, I've been in the D.C. area for two years and am familiar with DOE, NRC, NCI, NEI, the new pro-nuclear Technology Eagle Alliance and several other factions of the nuclear power and weapons cleanup industry. What I can't figure out is how the proponents can change inflated risk perception? What do we need to do, given the historic, almost archeatypical perception of "things nuclear", how is it turned around?
When the pendulum has swung so far (from ignoring the public) to public perception of risk DRIVEing policy, regulations and cleanup technologies -- we're in serious trouble and without leadership. How do we communicate this, how do we counter childhood images?
Dr. Spencer Weart responds:
Beyond the general approach I suggested in answering Ray Barrett's question, people associated with the nuclear industry have special responsibilities and opportunities. They need to shed any thought that ALL anti-nuclear arguments are irrational, and publicly attend to the parts of the problems that are real (I think they've made good progress here in recent years).
Perhaps more important and certainly more difficult, they need to respect and attend to arguments that are not of a technical nature. Engineers and industrialists are not comfortable in dealing with social issues, but those issues are unavoidable. The largest problem seems to be a fear that nuclear energy, more than any other technology, is simply beyond public control. People may address this with cartoons of mad scientists or slavering corporate bosses, but it's a genuine human problem when important decisions are made where people who are affected can't even follow what's happening.
Solutions must go beyond talk to actually sharing power. An example is the old suggestion that communities near nuclear facilities should be given a share of the economic benefits--not as a payoff, but so they can hire their own experts, set up their own radiation monitoring devices, and generally be real players in avoiding or responding to accidents.