Values predict attitudes toward nuclear power

March 25, 2009

Pullman, WA--March 25, 2009--Concerns about climate change and energy independence have led to renewed calls for the resurgence of nuclear power. Therefore, it is important to understand the level of and bases for public attitudes, both supporting and opposing nuclear power. According to a new study published in the March issue of the journal Risk Analysis, the American public is ambivalent about nuclear power. Public support is highest among those who trust the nuclear industry and the agencies that regulate it, and traditional values predicted support of nuclear power.

Stephen C. Whitfield of Booz, Allen and Hamilton, Inc., Eugene A. Rosa of Washington State University, and Amy Dan and Thomas Dietz of Michigan State University examined data from a U.S. national survey to see whether public attitudes toward nuclear power were affected by perceptions of risk as well as people's values, beliefs, and trust in the institutions that influence nuclear power.

Results show that perceived risk is lowest among those who trust the nuclear industry and its regulators. Trust in nuclear power is a key factor in public support.

Traditional values, such as assigning importance to family, patriotism and stability predicted support of nuclear power. People associated with altruistic values, such as concern with the welfare of other humans and species, were the least supportive of nuclear power. Less trust and lower education predicted greater perceived risk of nuclear power. Surprisingly, concern with global environmental problems, such as climate change, did not lead to increased support for nuclear power.

The findings are consistent with a long line of survey evidence and suggest that unless trust in the nuclear industry and its regulators can be increased, the hopes for a resurgence of nuclear power in the U.S. may be premature.

"The primary cause of attitudes toward nuclear power is a deficit in public trust of the industry and of the federal agencies that regulate it," the authors note. "Trust is a fundamental factor in public perceptions of risk and support for nuclear and other technologies."
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This study is published in the March 2009 issue of Risk Analysis. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article may contact journalnews@bos.blackwellpublishing.net.

Eugene A. Rosa is affiliated with Washington State University and can be reached for questions at rosa@wsu.edu.

Published on behalf of the Society for Risk Analysis, Risk Analysis is ranked among the top 10 journals in the ISI Journal Citation Reports under the social sciences, mathematical methods category - and is designed to meet the need for organization, integration, and communication and provide a focal point for new developments in the field. The analysis of risk is being increasingly viewed as a field in itself, and the demand for a more orderly and formal treatment of risk is great. This international journal is committed to publishing critical empirical research, conference proceedings, and commentaries dealing with risk issues.

Wiley-Blackwell was formed in February 2007 as a result of the acquisition of Blackwell Publishing Ltd. by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., and its merger with Wiley's Scientific, Technical, and Medical business. Together, the companies have created a global publishing business with deep strength in every major academic and professional field. Wiley-Blackwell publishes approximately 1,400 scholarly peer-reviewed journals and an extensive collection of books with global appeal. For more information on Wiley-Blackwell, please visit www.wiley-blackwell.com or http://interscience.wiley.com .

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