Nuclear power plants: public perception to the risk and threat
This dissertation investigates the public’s perceptions to the risk and threat of nuclear power plants. In order to answer the study’s objectives, content analysis was employed on news articles from two UK newspapers (The Times and the Telegraph), which was published from June-November 2012. This quantitative methodology is applied based on the assumption that the media has a significant influence in the formation of public opinion.
As such, the media’s portrayal of nuclear power plants, specifically in news reports, affects public perception.
Results from the literature review show that the media tends to have biases towards nuclear power related issues. Moreover, findings from the content analysis reveal that both newspapers reviewed had an overall unfavourable position towards nuclear power plants. However, the content analysis showed that the UK public is more concerned about the high costs of building new power plants, especially in terms of possible higher electricity charges in the future, rather than safety concerns.
Chapter 1: General Introduction
1.1. Introduction / Background
Unlike other electricity generating methods, there has always been a very strong awareness of the potential hazards from nuclear power plants, specifically in terms of the danger from nuclear criticality and the release of radioactive materials. Despite the fact that there had only been three major reactor accidents in the history of civil nuclear power (i.e. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima), there is strong public concern regarding the safety of nuclear energy generation (World Nuclear Association 2012). This may be due to the original application of nuclear power in weapons production – made infamous by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. And although the primary use for nuclear power has shifted to commercial energy generation, the scars of the past remain as the nuclear power industry has continued to struggle in cleaning up its image.
The media’s intense scrutiny has also contributed to the public’s awareness and perceptions on nuclear power plants. Nuclear accidents have been highly publicised by the media and in many cases, the threats of nuclear power plants have been highlighted in media reports. According to Adams (2009), ‘the sensationalism prevalent in establishment news outlets has resulted in an over abundance of stories about leaks, spills, and minor incidents that were often portrayed as potentially catastrophic near misses’ (sec.3). This negative depiction of nuclear power is believed to have contributed to anti-nuclear sentiments from the public.
In recent years, the nuclear power industry’s image has become more positive as governments considered it as a sustainable source of energy and were planning to include it in their future energy mix. However, the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident brought back into focus major concerns about the safety of generating electricity from nuclear power plants. This incident is seen by many as the crucial factor which undermined the resurgent support for nuclear power. It is also believed to have sparked public fear about nuclear energy and have renewed anti-nuclear movements all over the world (San Francisco Chronicle 2011).
Looking back at the high-profile media coverage brought about by the accident, it seemed that the Fukushima incident renewed doubts about the safety and long-term viability of nuclear power plants. Comparisons were made with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, as fears of nuclear meltdowns and the effects of radiation, spread across the public (McNeill 2011).
Recent talks about expanding nuclear power plants in the United Kingdom have revived the media’s interest and public scrutiny regarding the risks and threats of nuclear energy. Shortly after the Fukushima disaster, the UK government’s plan to develop new nuclear power plants in the country was derailed as several nuclear energy companies have decided not to proceed with the projects. In September 2011, Scottish Southern Energy pulled out of a deal to develop a new nuclear power station in Sellafield, West Cumbria (BBC 2011). In March 2012, German-based energy utility companies E.ON and RWE announced that they will not continue their Horizon Nuclear Power project, which was supposed to develop nuclear reactors at Wylfa in North Wales and at Oldbury-on-Severn in Gloucestershire (Maddox 2012). More recently, in October 2012, French nuclear engineering group Areva and the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group, announced that they had dropped their bid on the Horizon project (Vaughan 2012). The withdrawals of energy companies in developing new nuclear power plants in the UK is believed to have been due to the backlash from the Fukushima disaster, as well as rising costs of nuclear power plant construction and nuclear energy production (BBC 2011).
Taking all these into consideration, this research seeks to analyze how the media has depicted news about nuclear power plants. The main assumption of this study is that the media can affect or influence the public’s perceptions on the threats and risks of nuclear power plants. As such, this research analyses media reports on nuclear power plants in order to understand how it is being depicted by the media. The expectation from this analysis is that negative media portrayals of nuclear power plants will have a negative impact on public perceptions; while positive media portrayals will have positive influence on public perceptions.
This study also provides a basic quantification of how much more media coverage is given to negative media portrayals vis-a-vis positive media portrayals. The assumption is that the number of negative articles versus the number of positive articles will show the media’s general view on nuclear power plants.
1.2. Aims and Objectives
The primary aim of this research is to investigate the public’s perception on the risk and threat of nuclear power plants. In order to achieve this, media reports about nuclear power plants were analysed. This is based on the assumption that the media has a big influence or impact on public perceptions. Therefore, analysing how the media is depicting nuclear power plants will provide important insights on the public’s opinion. The hypothesis is that negative media portrayal of nuclear power plants leads to negative public perception; while on the other hand, positive portrayal of nuclear power plants lead to positive public perception. Additionally, the research seeks to classify and quantify press reports on nuclear power plants as either positive or negative.
The following are the objectives of the study:
(1)To find out the public’s perception on the risk and threats of nuclear power plants
(2)To investigate how the media (i.e. news reports) depict/portray nuclear power plants to the public
(3)To classify and quantify press reports on nuclear power plants as either positive or negative
1.3. Research Methodology
The main research method used is Content Analysis, also known as Textual Analysis. Content analysis is a way ‘to gather information about how other human beings make sense of the world’ (McKee 2003, p.1). This is useful in exploring the topic because it can be used to analyze public perception based on news reports about nuclear power plants.
In conducting the research, news articles about nuclear power plants, which were published in two UK newspapers over the past six months, were analyzed. Important features and components of the news articles were coded. A matrix was created to categorize and interpret the news articles. This will help in evaluating the news articles as either being positive or negative towards nuclear power plants.
1.4. Main Achievements
The main contribution of this thesis is that it can help to expand the literature regarding nuclear power plants, specifically in terms of the perceptions on its risk and threats, based from the point of view of media and the public. One of the achievements of this dissertation is the deconstruction of news articles (using content or textual analysis) in order to understand whether it is positively or negatively depicting issues concerning nuclear power plants. This will provide insights on the media’s general treatment of and attitude towards the nuclear power industry, as well as helping to understand how the media influences the public’s perceptions.
1.5. Summary of the Dissertation
Chapter 2 of this thesis discusses the review of relevant literature. This helps in providing important background information on the topic, especially regarding past studies that may be related to this research. Chapter 3 provides a review of available research methodologies. This talks about methodologies which can be used to investigate the topic. Chapter 4 contains the main body of the research, specifically the methodology used, description of data collected, and the analysis and discussion of results. The final chapter provides the conclusions of the study and the recommendations for future research.
Chapter 2: Literature Review
The nuclear power industry has garnered much interest and scrutiny not only from the public, but also from academics, government agencies, and the media. Many studies have been conducted to investigate the various aspects of nuclear power generation, especially in terms of safety concerns and public opinion. This thesis will examine relevant literature in order to gather important information, which will help in building the main arguments that are necessary for a critical analysis of the topic.
2.2. Background information on Nuclear Power Plants
The science of atomic radiation, atomic change, and nuclear fission was developed from 1895 to 1945. During 1939 to 1945, most of the development was focused on the atomic bomb. In 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, the focus shifted towards the harnessing of nuclear energy in a controlled fashion for use in naval propulsion and electricity generation. From 1956 onwards, the main agenda for nuclear energy was to come up with technological developments and innovations to make nuclear power plants safer and more reliable (World Nuclear Association 2010).
The origins of nuclear science can be traced to explorations on the nature of the atom. It was the discovery of radioactive elements that spurred various experiments to investigate nuclear reactions and transformations (World Nuclear Association 2010). The most significant of these experiments was conducted by Enrico Fermi. In 1934, Fermi discovered the potential of nuclear fission. In 1942, he successfully created the first controlled and self-sustaining nuclear reaction (EBSCO Host 2012).
Fermi’s discoveries paved the way for more nuclear research and provided the world with a great source of power. However, the first application of nuclear power was not as an energy source but as a means to produce weapons. Fermi’s work became an integral component of the Manhattan Project, which was a nuclear research and development programme conducted by the governments of the US, UK and Canada during World War II. The project entailed the production of enriched uranium and the construction of large reactors to produce plutonium for use in nuclear weapons. These were eventually used in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 (World Nuclear Association 2010).
During the course of developing more nuclear weapons (led by the US and Russia), scientists realized that the enormous heat produced during the nuclear fission process could be harnessed either for direct use or for generating electricity. This new energy source also had various potential applications, such as in shipping and submarine propulsion. This realization later led to the establishment of civil nuclear energy programmes. By the 1960s, nuclear energy had become commercialized, with private firms constructing and operating nuclear power plants with approval from the government (World Nuclear Association 2010).
As of July 2012, there are 435 nuclear power plants that are operating in 31 countries. The US, France and Japan are the biggest users of electricity generated from nuclear energy. The US leads in terms of number of reactors in operation; while France leads in terms of share in nuclear electricity generation (European Nuclear Society 2012; IAEA 2012).
Figure 1. Nuclear Power Plants by Location
Source: European Nuclear Society (2012)
Figure 2. Number of reactors in operation, worldwide (as of July 2012)
Source: European Nuclear Society (2012)
Figure 3. Producers of Nuclear Electricity
In recent years, as the pursuit for greener, renewable energy sources to meet greenhouse emissions limits became an important part of government policy, many nuclear experts advocated for nuclear power as a viable source of green energy. Additionally, the rising prices of fossil fuels and the need for reliable domestic electricity supply have played a role in the resurgence or renaissance of nuclear power. In the next 10 years, new nuclear power plants will be built in China, India and South Korea. In Europe, Finland, France and the UK are also planning to expand their nuclear power plants (World Nuclear Association 2011).
2.1. Concerns about Nuclear Power
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, as nuclear power plants were constructed around the world, nuclear energy was hailed as a safe, clean alternative to other energy generating methods, such as coal or oil. The public only became aware of the potential dangers of nuclear power on March 28, 1979, when the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania suffered a partial meltdown. Although no one was injured from the accident, it highlighted the potential hazards from nuclear power and sparked fear and criticism from the public. Critics felt that the threat of a nuclear meltdown was an unacceptable risk. On the other hand, supporters maintained that with appropriate safety precautions, the risk of a nuclear meltdown is very small, almost to the point of being impossible (EBSCO Host 2012). Since then, there have been endless debates about the safety of nuclear power. Other high-profile nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011) only intensified these debates.
Another factor, which has damaged the image of nuclear power, is its own history: specifically, the initial application of nuclear fission for weapons production during World War II. In the years following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as the severe human and environmental damage caused by nuclear weapons came to light, the incident created mixed reactions from the public and the debate about the ethical justification of this event continues to this day (Pavlik 2012).
The anti-nuclear movement, which is a social movement opposing nuclear technologies, is the direct result of the above concerns about nuclear power. Initially, the movement was focused on nuclear disarmament. However, as nuclear power plants become commercialized during the 1960s and 1970s, some activist groups ‘raised alarms about the possibility of large scale nuclear accidents’ (Anon 2011, sec. 3).
The anti-nuclear movement gained much support following the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, as the movement’s speculations about the dangers of nuclear power plants seemed to materialize. Since then, the movement has prioritized on its agenda opposition towards the use of nuclear power plants. The movement has also been most active after major nuclear events; for instance, after the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters (Anon 2011).
Opposition to and concerns about nuclear power are centred on the following themes: (Martin 2007, p.43)
Nuclear accidents – the reactor core of a nuclear power plant could overheat and meltdown; resulting in the release of massive amounts of radioactivity
Waste disposal – the by product of nuclear power are significant amounts of radioactive waste, some of which remain dangerous for thousands of years
Nuclear proliferation – the facilities and knowledge to generate nuclear energy can be readily modified to create nuclear weapons
Cost – the building of reactors and the production of nuclear power are very costly
Nuclear terrorism – terrorists or criminals could target nuclear facilities and use it for malicious activities
Civil liberties – the risk of nuclear accidents, proliferation, and terrorism may be used to justify curtailing of citizen rights
Uranium mining – a considerable amount of uranium is found on indigenous land
Alternatives – the availability of other renewable energy sources and more energy efficient technologies provide a more practical alternative to nuclear power
Of these concerns, nuclear accidents and disposal of nuclear waste have had the greatest impact on the public. These concerns have also been used as the main arguments of anti-nuclear activists in campaigning against nuclear power use (Martin 2007).
2.2. Nuclear Power and the Media
The controversial origins of nuclear power (i.e., as a weapon for mass destruction) has made it an easy target for the media. The media’s apparent interest in all things nuclear can be traced to the ‘Ban-the-bomb’ movements of the 1960s, as the public became concerned with the effects of nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific from 1954. Moreover, the opposition of a number of well-known scientists, including Albert Einstein, Leo Szilard, and Eugene Rabinowitch (some of which were members of the Manhattan Project), to nuclear weapons had clearly fascinated the media and the public (Anon 2012). Since then, nuclear-related incidents have been highly-publicised by the media.
Mazur (1981) argues that one of the main problems with media coverage on scientific issues is that reporters’ process for data gathering is flawed: (a) the sources for scientific information are usually partisans in the controversy; (b) reporters usually get information from people they know, or based on the person’s reputation, or based on the stature and proximity of a source’s organization/affiliation; and (c) scientists, who have the technical expertise to become adequate sources, are almost never asked by reporters. These flawed practices consequently lead to biases in the reporting of scientific news and therefore, lead to biased public opinion.
Rubin (1987), in his comparative analysis of how the media reported on Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, found that both official sources and journalists have shortcomings when it comes to reporting of nuclear incidents. The author found that the optimistic bulletins of official sources regarding nuclear incidents had provided too little facts, which consequently diminished their credibility with journalists and the public. On the other hand, from the point of view of journalists, ‘a major or even moderate nuclear power plant accident is much more serious than an earthquake, flood, or hurricane’ (p.45). As such, any delay of information from official sources tends to motivate journalists to assume the worst about these official sources and they instead turn to alternative sources of information. This kind of behaviour highly compromises the accuracy of information and tends to produce a great deal of ‘worst-case scenario spinning’ (p.45). Rubin supported the findings of Mazur (1981) as he pointed out that journalists sometimes resort to worst-case scenario reporting instead of providing a more balanced view.
Similarly, a study by Friedman, Gorney & Egolf (1992) examined how the US media had treated the nuclear industry during coverage of the Chernobyl accident. Media coverage of five US newspapers and evening newscasts from three major US television networks were analysed in the study. The study tried to find out whether the media had provided enough background information about nuclear power and the nuclear industry during the first two weeks of US media coverage on Chernobyl – to ensure that the American public ‘would not be misled in their understanding of and attitude towards nuclear power’ (p.305). Additionally, the study also investigated whether reporters took advantage of the incident to condemn nuclear technology or the nuclear industry. Results of the study show that despite heavy media coverage of the accident, only 25% of the coverage allocated information on the safety, track record, and status of nuclear power plants. As such, there was insufficient information to help the public have a better understanding of nuclear power or to put the Chernobyl accident into proper perspective. However, it was found that reporters had generally showed balanced views of pro and anti-nuclear sentiments, and they did not show extreme amounts of panic-inducing, negative information. This study also supports Mazur’s (1981) and Rubin’s (1987) findings that media have some biases against nuclear power, especially in terms of providing more information regarding the safety of nuclear power plants.
A recent study by Friedman (2011) analysed the traditional and new media coverage of nuclear accidents and radiation, by comparing the media reporting on Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. The author found that the internet made an enormous difference in terms of the amount of information that was made publicly available during the Fukushima accident, compared to the information provided by traditional media during the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents. Although journalists still contributed significantly to the news about Fukushima, citizens also actively participated in the reporting and discussion through blogs, social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) and YouTube. Moreover, the internet helped traditional media in improving its coverage and providing more explanatory information, which allowed readers to better understand technical information. As a result, the media coverage for Fukushima was better than Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. This study opens up new perspectives about media reporting on nuclear power.
Academics and some media practitioners themselves acknowledge that the media has made mistakes by broadcasting or publishing unconfirmed information or speculations about nuclear incidents. For instance, during the Fukushima accident, journalists often refer to the term ‘meltdown’ without providing adequate perspective on its meaning and seemingly without concern for the consequent fear from the public that is induced by its usage (Russell 2011; Nisbet 2012).
Similarly, Bell (2011) criticizes the media hype over the coverage of the Fukushima accident. He contends that much of the media coverage regarding the nuclear component of the Fukushima accident has ‘lacked objectivity and proportionality, compounding already high public anxiety and confusion levels’ (sec 1). The media had also put too much attention on the hypothetical dangers of radiation. Moreover, realistic risks have been exaggerated, usually by poorly informed journalists and ‘alarmist agenda-driven commentators presented as experts’ (sec. 1). Bell (2011) criticizes media’s sometimes panic-inducing reports and worst-case conjectures – calling them irresponsible and unnecessary.
According to Nisbet (2012), ‘the long-term consequence of sensationalistic reporting is a general weariness and suspicion of nuclear energy’ (sec.6). The author also states that it cannot be denied that media’s perspectives and framing of nuclear energy is an integral element in the future of nuclear technology. The nuclear power industry depends on government subsidies and support. As such, it remains subject to the whims of politics, and as a consequence, it is ‘vulnerable to media portrayals and swings in public perceptions’ (sec.8).
The vast majority of studies conducted about media and nuclear power, particularly how media portrays nuclear power-related issues, reveal that the media has a tendency to be biased against nuclear power. Despite the nuclear industry’s efforts to improve the safety and security of nuclear facilities, these kinds of news do not get as much media coverage compared to negative incidents. The nuclear industry has also presented the contribution of nuclear energy towards climate change mitigation; however, this information is not widely known to the public. The media’s bias towards nuclear power has been ingrained for so many years and it will take a lot of effort, as well as a major paradigm shift, to change the framework that media has used in presenting nuclear power-related issues to the public.
2.3. How Public Perception on Nuclear Power is influenced by the Media
Numerous studies have proven that the media has a significant influence in shaping public opinion. As early as the 1970s, there have been studies about the agenda-setting function of mass media. According to a study by McCombs & Shaw (1972), broadcasters, editors, and newsroom staff have a key role in forming political reality through the way they select and present news. As a result, the public not only receive information about a given issue, but they also learn ‘how much importance to attach to that issue based from the amount of information in a news story and its position’ (p.176).
Mutz (1989) also explored the role of perceptions on the opinions of others in terms of forming public opinion. The author investigated two interrelated theories: (a) the third person effect, and (b) the spiral of silence. Results of the study were strongly supportive of some components of the third person effect, specifically that ‘perceptions of the influence of media reports on others were consistently greater than perceptions of influence on self’ (p.3). Mutz findings support the belief that media has an influence in forming public perceptions.
A study by Gunther (1998) found that mass media can influence personal opinions and an individual’s perception about what other people are thinking. His theory of the ‘persuasive press inference suggests that people infer public opinions from their perceptions of the content of media coverage and their assumptions of the persuasive impact of that coverage on others’ (p.486). Again, Gunther’s study supports the role of media in influencing public perceptions.
McCombs (2004) acknowledges the immense role of the mass media in shaping public opinion. He also states that the agenda-setting role of the mass media connects the storytelling origins of journalism to the arena of public opinion – a relationship which has significant consequences for society.
The far-reaching influence of media on public perceptions extends to discussions about nuclear power. Gamson & Modigliani (1989) conducted a study regarding media discourse and public opinion on nuclear power. The authors treated media discourse and public opinion as ‘two parallel systems of constructing meaning’ (p.1). They investigated the relationship between these two systems by analyzing the discussions on nuclear power in terms of four general media: (a) television news coverage, (b) newsmagazine accounts, (c) editorial cartoons, and (d) syndicated opinion columns. The analysis covered data from 1945 to 1989. The authors conclude that media discourse is an ‘essential context for understanding the formation of public opinion on nuclear power’ (p.1). This helps to explain the changes in public support for nuclear power, as influenced by media publicity. For example, there was a decline in support for nuclear power prior to the Three Mile Island (due largely from publicity caused by anti-nuclear movements) and a rebound of support after the media publicity had died out.
Mazur (1981) also conducted a study investigating media coverage and public opinion on scientific controversies. However, Mazur’s research did not specifically focus on nuclear power; rather, he investigated media coverage and public opinion on various scientific events. Mazur contends that ‘the rise in reaction against a specific scientific technology appears to coincide with a rise in quantity of media coverage, suggesting that media attention tends to elicit a conservative public bias’ (p.106).
A study by Pollock, Lilie & Vittes (1993) examined the conditions where mass attitudes towards particular issues are vertically constrained by core cultural values. According to the authors, vertical constraint is shaped by three inter-related variables: (a) the objective content of the issue, (b) the way the issue is framed by elites, and (c) the individual’s level of attentiveness to the controversy. In terms of discussions on nuclear power, it was found that a ‘value-based interpretation favoured by elites and promoted by the media is faithfully reflected in how the public understands the issue’ (p.29). Similar to the findings of other researchers, this indicates that the public highly depends on how information is promoted in the media and on the opinions of influential people, and they use this as the basis for forming their own perceptions. This is especially true for issues about nuclear power. Since nuclear power is a highly technical subject, individuals are dependent on the opinion of elites and the media, who are perceived to be better informed.
The history of nuclear power and major events in nuclear power plants help to provide insights on how public perceptions have been shaped throughout the years. The controversial origins of nuclear power in weapons production have generated suspicion and negative sentiments. Moreover, nuclear accidents such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima have increased the negative perceptions and fears about nuclear power plants (Anon 2012).
The concerns about nuclear power focus on the following: (a) nuclear accidents, (b) radioactive waste disposal, (c) nuclear proliferation, (d) high cost, (e) nuclear terrorism, (f) curtailing of civil liberties, (g) uranium mining in indigenous lands, and (h) availability of alternative energy sources (Martin 2007, p.43). Despite assurance from experts on the relative robustness of nuclear powered electricity generation, there are still fears about its safety, especially the possibility that nuclear power plants could meltdown and release dangerous radioactive materials (Anon 2012).
The media’s intense interest in nuclear-related issues can be traced to the controversial origins of nuclear power as a weapon of mass destruction. Since the 1960s, the media has been fascinated with nuclear power and have often given major coverage about nuclear power issues. Various studies have established that the media has biases in reporting nuclear-related issues and this often lead to biased public opinion (Mazur 1981; Rubin 1987; Friedman, Gorney & Egolf 1992). A number of academics and media practitioners also acknowledge that media’s sensationalistic reporting of nuclear events creates suspicion and weariness with nuclear energy (Russell 2011: Bell 2011; Nisbet 2012).
Researchers have also proven that the media has a considerable influence in shaping public perceptions about nuclear power. The media’s powerful role as an agenda setter and its influence in shaping public opinion has been proven in numerous studies (McCombs & Shaw 1972; Mutz 1989; Gunther 1998; McCombs 2004). Various studies have also proven that the public base their perceptions on nuclear power on the media’s coverage and portrayal of nuclear events (Gamson & Modigliani 1989; Mazur 1981; Pollock, Lilie & Vittes 1993).
Chapter 3: Review of Available Research Methodologies
A number of studies have attempted to examine the public’s perceptions on nuclear power. Various methodologies have been applied in order to accomplish this. In reviewing the available research methodologies, it was found that mostly quantitative research techniques have been applied in previous studies. Quantitative research techniques employ the use of numerical data in the analysis and interpretation of results (Given 2008). The review of available research methodologies served as the foundation in the selection of the methodology used in this research.
3.2. Content Analysis
Content analysis or textual analysis is a research technique often used in the study of communication. It is a research tool that is used in the ‘objective, systematic, and quantitative description of manifest content in communications’ (Palmquist 2005, sec.1). Content analysis can be used either in qualitative or quantitative research and can be applied in vast areas of study. In this research, content analysis is being examined as a quantitative research technique. Below are two examples of studies about public perceptions on nuclear power using content analysis.
Perko, Turcanu & Geenen (2012) examined the Belgian press coverage of the Fukushima nuclear accident and investigated the changes in public perception related to nuclear power. Two research methodologies were used in the study: (a) Content analysis of two Belgian newspapers, which covered the first two months after the accident; and (b) Public opinion survey, using more than 1000 face-to-face interviews in Belgium, conducted on the third month after the accident. The results of the content analysis show that the accident generated massive media coverage during the first few weeks with focus on various topics. However, attention decreased over time and eventually became limited to topics about the future of nuclear energy and the safety and crisis management of nuclear power plants. On the other hand, survey results show that the Fukushima accident has induced some changes in the public’s opinion about nuclear power.
Pujol (2011) conducted a comparative analysis of media storylines regarding the Fukushima accident from the US, UK, Australia, and India. The analysis of the storylines was done using content analysis. Results show that the in the US, more than 50,000 news articles regarding the Fukushima accident were published by newspapers during the review period. This is ten times the number of published articles from the UK and Australia. The least number of articles were published in India. Based on the principles of content analysis, the researcher assigned weights to the components in the news articles. These weights were later on measured for the analysis. Using content analysis the following aspects were evaluated in the news articles: (a) References to past nuclear accidents or bombing; (b) Relative presence in the storyline of some of the main issues related with nuclear crisis, i.e. explosion, meltdown, radioactive, and evacuated; (c) Key element in the construction of the storyline, i.e. Fukushima is a – nuclear crisis, nuclear disaster, nuclear accident, nuclear emergency, etc.; and (d) Sources used by the media.
Figure 4. Content Analysis Results by Media Storyline (1)
Source: Pujol (2011)
Figure 5. Content Analysis Results by Media Storyline (2)
Source: Pujol (2011)
Figure 6. Content Analysis Results by Media Storyline (3)
Source: Pujol (2011)
3.1. Surveys and Public Opinion Polls
Probably the most common research methodology used in determining public perception on nuclear power is through survey or public opinion polls. Surveys employ the use of questionnaires and these are administered to the sample population. Survey results are analysed using statistical techniques. Since survey represents data collected from a sample of the population, its findings can be generalised to the population. Surveys are useful in collecting data about a phenomenon that cannot be directly observed, such as opinions (Babbie 1973). Below are some examples of surveys and opinion polls regarding public perception on nuclear power.
3.1.1. Surveys for Academic Investigation
Brody (1984) examined the differences in opinion about nuclear power between males and females. The author found that based on various public opinion literatures, ‘women are more opposed to nuclear power than men’ (p.209). Using data from two Harris surveys on nuclear power, conducted in 1975-1976, Brody tested a number of hypotheses using competing explanations to account for sex difference. Findings support the stance from past studies that the greater concern about safety explains why women are less supportive of nuclear power. In contrast to men, women perceive nuclear plants to be less safe. Moreover, women tend to evaluate a number of problems with nuclear power as more serious, especially those that involve danger to health and human life. These differences are believed to account for the differences in the support of men and women for nuclear power.
In recent years, the UK has been witnessing political debates regarding the potential of nuclear power as a component of the state’s future energy policy mix. The call for nuclear power is spurred by the need for climate change mitigation and a more reliable energy source. Pidgeon, Lorenzoni & Poortinga (2008) conducted a quantitative study to find out how the public is responding to this issue. The data used for the study is a major British survey conducted in October-November 2005. A national representative quota sample of 1,491 respondents, aged 15 years and above was administered with the survey questionnaire. Survey results show that a high percentage of the British public are open to accepting nuclear power if it contributes to climate mitigation. However, this is a highly conditional view, as very few respondents actively chose this option over other renewable energy sources. In other words, most respondents ‘express only a reluctant acceptance of nuclear power as a solution to climate change’ (Pidgeon, Lorenzoni & Poortinga 2008, p.69).
3.1.2. Public Opinion Polls
GlobeScan Inc, as commissioned by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), conducted a large survey in 2005 to evaluate global public opinion regarding nuclear issues. The survey was conducted in 18 countries with approximately 1,000 adult respondents in each country. Survey results show that 54% of respondents across all countries believe that the risk of nuclear terrorism is high because of the insufficient protection of nuclear facilities. It was also found that while majority of respondents (62%) generally support the use of existing nuclear reactors, 59% are not in favour of building new nuclear power plants. Additionally, 25% of respondents believe that nuclear power is dangerous and that all operating nuclear power plants should be shut down (GlobeScan 2005).
Figure 7. Views on Nuclear Security (IAEA)
Figure 8. Support for Nuclear Power (IAEA)
Figure 9. Support for Nuclear Power (IAEA)
In 2007, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), together with Bisconti Research Inc and GfK, conducted a survey to find out the American public’s perception on nuclear energy’s role in reducing greenhouse emissions. Respondents were interviewed over the phone and the survey was administered on 1,000 adults. Survey results show that only 42% of respondents highly associated nuclear energy with clean air. This suggests that despite the vast amount of media and government attention on global warming concerns, there seems to be a lack of information on the role of nuclear energy in reducing greenhouse gasses. The survey also reveals that people who are aware of nuclear energy’s contribution in mitigating climate change have a more favourable opinion towards nuclear power in general. Additionally, findings show that although Americans see nuclear energy as important in the future, they do not recognize how much electricity it supplies today. These findings indicate that there are misperceptions about the US energy supply and that the public is underestimating the contribution of nuclear energy in mitigating greenhouse emissions (NEI 2007).
After the 2011 Fukushima accident, various public opinion polls were conducted in order to find out public perceptions on nuclear power, especially to determine if public opinion was influenced by the incident. One such poll was conducted by CBS News to measure public opinion about nuclear energy a few weeks after the incident. The telephone poll was administered to a total of 1,022 adults across the US. Results show that only 43% of respondents said that they would approve building of new nuclear reactors in the US. This is a steep decline from 2008, wherein 57% of respondents said that they approve of building new power plants. This indicates that support for nuclear energy in the US was negatively affected by the Fukushima accident. Moreover, when comparing poll results from the last three decades, it was evident that support for more nuclear power plants have gone up and down – up as the US looked for ways to meet electricity demands and down due to nuclear accidents at home and abroad. To illustrate, support for nuclear power plants was 69% in 1977 (the highest level ever recorded), but in 1979, support plunged to 46% after the Three Mile Island accident. Then after the Chernobyl accident, support dropped further down to 34%. The new poll also revealed that nearly 7 out of 10 Americans think that nuclear power plants in the US are generally safe. However, almost two-thirds said they were concerned that a major nuclear accident might occur in the country. Additionally, 58% said that the government was not sufficiently prepared to deal with a major nuclear accident. In terms of whether the overall benefits of nuclear power outweighed the risk, 47% agreed while 38% disagreed. Moreover, in terms of gender, majority of men approved of building new nuclear power plants; while most women disapproved (Cooper & Sussman 2011).
A similar poll was conducted in Sweden shortly after the Fukushima accident. The poll, conducted by Synovate, was administered to 1,000 respondents. Results show that 36% of respondents want to get rid of nuclear power plants. This is 15% higher than the results from a similar survey done in 2009. The results are clearly linked to what happened in Japan. This suggests that the Swedish public is getting more sceptical about nuclear power due to Japan’s nuclear crisis. (Associated Press 2011).
In the UK, GlobeScan Inc, as commissioned by the BBC, conducted a poll to find out public opinion on nuclear power. The poll was conducted from July-September 2011 and was administered across 23 countries, with a total of 23,231 respondents. Results show that compared to 2005, most people were more significantly opposed to nuclear programmes in 2011. Support for nuclear power remains high in the UK, US, China and Pakistan. On the other hand, opposition to nuclear power grew significantly in Germany, France, Russia, Japan, India, Indonesia and Mexico. Overall, only 22% of respondents agree that nuclear power is relatively safe and that more nuclear plants should be built. In contrast, 71% thought that nuclear power could be replaced by other energy sources. Additionally, 39% agree to continue using existing nuclear power plants without building new ones; while 30% prefer to have all reactors shut down immediately (Black 2011).
Figure 10. Public Poll Results (BBC)
Figure 11. Public Poll Results (BBC)
Results from various studies, which employed surveys and public opinion polls, show that public perception towards nuclear power plants has mostly leaned towards a negative viewpoint. Even for studies that were commissioned by nuclear associations and nuclear advocates, the findings are the same: majority of the public has negative perceptions about nuclear power.
Public opinion on nuclear power has gone up and down over the years depending on the situation. However, it can be observed that nuclear accidents have caused nuclear power acceptance to decline dramatically. Moreover, despite the improvements in nuclear safety and the role of nuclear energy in mitigating climate change, majority of the public is still hesitant about nuclear power plants.
3.1. Time Series Analysis
Time series analysis is one of the methodologies used in analysing public perceptions on nuclear power. Time series analysis requires data to be gathered over a period of time. Data is then analysed for changes in the population over the course of time. Time series analysis is focused on a specific population and this is sampled repeatedly (Babbie 1973).
A study by Rosa & Dunlap (1994) investigated three decades of public opinion on nuclear power. The authors examined the ‘rebound hypothesis’ which states that ‘large changes in public opinion towards increased opposition are likely to be temporary’ (Rosa & Dunlap 1994, p.295). This hypothesis was based on the results of opinion polls taken shortly after the 1986 Chernobyl accident and a year after the accident. In the weeks following the Chernobyl incident, public support for nuclear power declined and concerns about nuclear safety increased significantly in all opinion surveys. However, based on survey results taken a year after the accident, there were signs that nuclear power was gaining back some support. The authors found that the rebound hypothesis does not hold true for long-term survey results. Results of the Time Series analysis, from data taken for the past 30 years, show that public opinion has become increasingly unfavourable towards nuclear power instead of rebounding or regaining support.
Peters et al (1990) also used time series analysis in their research. They conducted a study to find out the opinion of West German population on the issues regarding Chernobyl and nuclear power. The authors conducted three large scale surveys in West Germany during November-December 1986, May-June 1987, and May-June 1988 in order to analyse the long-term influence of the Chernobyl accident on the opinions, attitudes and behaviour of the public. The study gave particular attention on: (a) the perception of threat caused by the event; (b) the credibility of the information sources, and the consequences drawn for dietary behaviour; (c) and attitudes towards the future use of nuclear power in West Germany. Results of the study indicate that most of the sampled population feel uncertain about the health consequences of the Chernobyl accident. Respondents also feel that information about the accident, which was given to the public from different sources, was generally insufficient. The results of the first and the third survey showed that the respondents’ assessment of the danger of the Chernobyl accident was not reduced throughout the three year sampling period. However, the political opposition towards the future use of nuclear power had decreased to some extent. Additionally, results from two elections (held after the Chernobyl accident), indicate that majority of the population – despite being critical and concerned about the risks of nuclear power – do not demand major changes in West Germany’s energy policy (Peters et al 1990).
The data from time series analysis are taken from a longer sampling period and as such, it is easier to see patterns from the respondents. Results from the time series studies also show that public perception on nuclear power plants tend to be negative and support for nuclear power may even decrease over time.
The review of available research methodologies shows that various research techniques can be used to analyze public perceptions on the risk and threats of nuclear power plants. Previous studies used quantitative research methodology. Several quantitative techniques were used in different researches: (a) Content Analysis; (b) Surveys and Public Opinion Polls; and (c) Time Series Analysis. In this study, content or textual analysis will be used to answer the objectives and research questions.
Chapter 4: Research Methodology and Results
This research seeks to determine public perception on the risk and threats of nuclear power plants. In order to answer the study’s objectives, content analysis (also known as textual analysis) was conducted on news articles from two UK newspapers. The aim of this analysis is to examine how the media, particularly newspapers, are portraying nuclear power related issues to the public. Results from the analysis will provide valuable insights on the public’s perceptions on nuclear power.
4.2. Methodology Used and Implementation
Content analysis is defined as a ‘research technique for the objective, systematic, and quantitative description of manifest content of communication’ (Palmquist 2005, sec.1). Content analysis is used to verify the presence of certain words, concepts, themes, etc. within texts and to quantify these in an objective manner. Examples of texts are books, essays, newspaper headlines and articles, historical documents, advertising, etc. In conducting a content analysis, the text is first coded or broken down into manageable categories. Then, these are examined either through conceptual analysis or relational analysis. The results of the analysis will be used to make inferences about the messages within the texts, writer, audience, and/or the culture and period to which these are a part of. Content analysis can examine certain aspects such as comprehensiveness of the coverage, intentions, biases, prejudices, etc. (Palmquist 2005).
There are two basic methods within content analysis (Palmquist 2005, sec.3). In this study, relational analysis was used in evaluating the data.
(a)Conceptual Analysis – a concept is chosen for investigation and the rate of its incidence within the text is recorded. It verifies the existence and frequency of concepts in a text. The researcher aims to examine the presence of such concepts in the context of his/her research question (i.e. whether there is a strong incidence of positive or negative words used in relation to a specific argument or respective arguments).
(b)Relational Analysis – builds on conceptual analysis by probing the relationships among concepts in a text. It is important to first decide which concept types will be explored in the analysis.
The following are the guidelines for coding and evaluating the news articles: (Department of English at Northern Illinois University 1997):
(a)What issue is being addressedWhat is the author’s major claim?
(b)What position does the writer take?
(c)What evidence or reasons does the author supply to support the claim?
4.3. Reliability, Validity and Generalisability
In terms of reliability and validity, the main issues for content analysis are regarding: (a) Stability – consistency in coding the data; (b) Reproducibility – consistency in classifying categories; and (c) Accuracy – the extent to which the classification of a text corresponds to a statistical standard (Palmquist 2005). Issues of reliability can be addressed by being consistent in coding and categorization.
Another issue with content analysis deals with generalisability. In content analysis, the generalisability of conclusions is very dependent on how concept categories were determined and how reliable those categories are. By developing rules that allow coding and categorization to be reproducible over time, the conclusions of the study will be more sound (Palmquist 2005).
4.4. Description of Data Collected
Data used for this research are news articles from two UK newspapers, namely The Times and The Telegraph. The sampled newspapers were randomly selected from a list of five newspapers using draw lots. The sampling period is the past six months, from June 20, 2011 to November 20, 2012. Throughout this period, all nuclear power related articles were collected and analysed. The important features and components of the articles are coded and classified. After coding, these were examined and quantified. The final phase of analysis and interpretation involves inferring from the results and juxtaposing them against the objectives of the study.
4.5. Analysis and Discussion
The analysis and discussion of results is broken down into subsections, which reflect the major findings of the study. The analysis is also partly modelled after the study of Pujol (2011), which evaluated news articles according to the presence of specific components.
4.5.1. Number of nuclear power-related news articles
Results show that in the past six months, there were a total of 61 news articles published regarding nuclear power. Of these, The Times published a total of 42 news articles or equivalent to 69%; while the Telegraph accounted for 19 news articles or 31%.
Most articles were published in October 2012 (The Times: 31%; Telegraph: 47%). This is due to the developments in the bidding of private companies for the construction of new nuclear power plants in the UK. The backing out of several investors, the entry of new players, and the announcement about the winning bid garnered a lot of media attention. This resulted in a spike in the number of published articles during this period.
Table 1. Number of nuclear power-related news articles
In analysing news articles from The Times, it was found that the newspaper’s articles about nuclear power can be classified as either Japan focused or UK focused. In contrast, the Telegraph only published news reports that are specific to the UK.
Japan centric news articles deal with local news from Japan, while UK centric news articles discuss issues relevant only to the UK. To make analysis easier and more insightful, the frequencies and coding were further subdivided between Japan focused and UK focused news articles. Japan centric news reports accounted for 38%; while UK focused articles represented 62% of the total articles published.
Table 2. Number of news articles by country focus
For Japan centric articles, most of the news reports published (equivalent to 44%) were from the month of July 2012. This is due to the wave of protests in Japan against the restarting of nuclear power plants in the country. The anti-nuclear movement in Japan peaked during this period as thousands of Japanese rallied against the government’s plan to reopen nuclear power plants which had been shut down for inspection after the Fukushima accident.
For UK focused news articles, the most number of reports were published in October 2012 (equal to 46%). This is due to the high media coverage about the development in the bidding for the construction of new power plants in the UK.
Times (Japan Focused)
Times (UK Focused)
Table 3. Number of news articles by country focus & by month
The results of the analysis show that compared to the period shortly after the Fukushima accident, the number of news articles about nuclear power is much less in the last six months. From the findings of Pujol (2011), nuclear power related news reports following the Fukushima accident was over 5,000 in the UK. The lesser coverage of nuclear related issues, due to the lack of highly controversial incidents resulted, in less articles published.
4.5.2. Issues being addressed in the articles / Author’s major claim(s)
Due to the differences in the issues being addressed across the various articles, the analysis is divided into three segments: (a) The Times: Japan Focus; (b) The Times: UK Focus; and (c) The Telegraph.
The issues being addressed in Japan centric articles from The Times revolve mainly around topics related to the Fukushima disaster. Despite the fact that the accident happened over 18 months ago, 94% of news articles still referred to the incident. Moreover, 88% of news reports discussed about nuclear safety concerns. This indicates that The Times views the Fukushima accident as a significant and newsworthy event and it continues to be an important issue in their news articles.
The Times (Japan Focused)Frequency mentioned from total articles
% From total articles
Abandon nuclear power10
Fukushima employee issues2
Nuclear safety concerns14
Restarting nuclear reactors7
Table 4. Issues addressed in the news articles – The Times: Japan Focused
For UK centric news articles from the Times, majority of articles (equivalent to 62%) dealt with the building of new nuclear power plants in the UK, especially in terms of bidding developments. Additionally, 54% of total news reports mentioned that the building of nuclear power plants is costly. These two topics are related as the discussion of building new power plants is often associated with costs. The main arguments about the UK government’s plan to expand its nuclear power programme revolve around the high cost of building new power plants.
The bidding for UK’s new power plants also generated a lot of media buzz because of several complicated developments throughout the bidding process. Several groups had dropped out of bidding for the projects amid various concerns, about cost issues, safety concerns, and the fallout from the Fukushima accident. The entry of new players towards the deadline was also seen as a news-worthy event. To top it off, the project was awarded to a Japanese firm and the winning tender was much higher than analysts had expected.
The Times (UK Focused)Frequency mentioned from total articles
% From total articles
Backlash from Fukushima disaster1
Building of new nuclear power plants creates more jobs2
Building of new nuclear power plants is costly14
Building of new nuclear power plants (bidding)16
Concerns for nuclear waste disposal1
Importance of nuclear power for future energy mix2
Nuclear energy is green energy5
Nuclear reactor decommissioning1
Nuclear safety concerns2
Positive use of nuclear waste1
Sale of nuclear fuel production asset1
Table 5. Issues addressed in the news articles – The Times: UK Focused
The results from the Telegraph echo those of the Times (UK Focused). Majority of news articles (89%) discussed the building of new nuclear power plants in the UK, especially the developments in the bidding process. Similarly, 79% of news reports mentioned about the high costs of building new power plants.
TelegraphFrequency mentioned from total articles
% From total articles
Backlash from Fukushima disaster5
Building of new nuclear power plants creates more jobs4
Building of new nuclear power plants is costly15
Building of new nuclear power plants (bidding)17
Nuclear reactor decommissioning1
Nuclear safety concerns4
Sale of nuclear fuel production asset1
Vulnerability of energy supplies1
Table 6. Issues addressed in the news articles – The Telegraph
The results of the analysis reveal that, based from the point of view of news publishers, the UK’s primary concern with nuclear power plants revolves around the high costs of building new power plants. Although the backlash from the Fukushima accident and safety concerns were mentioned, they seem to be minor concerns and did not receive a lot of media coverage during the period reviewed. The UK press, and therefore the UK public, seem to be more concerned about how much it would cost to build nuclear power plants, especially if the public will be made to pay for the increases in power bills because of the new power plants.
It is also very interesting to note that The Times had separated its coverage of nuclear-related issues in Japan with those of the UK. This distinction seems to imply that Japan focused news articles were more concerned with the Fukushima accident and safety issues. Moreover, the treatment of nuclear issues was much more negative in Japan centric news articles than in UK focused news. This is supported by the fact that in Japan based articles, nuclear protests received a lot of media coverage. On the other hand, UK centric news articles were somewhat more positive towards nuclear power issues. The separation and divergence in the coverage of nuclear power related news in Japan versus the UK seem to indicate that Japan’s nuclear issues are worse than that of the UK.
In comparing the results of the content analysis with the findings from previous studies, it is obvious that currently, the main concern of the UK public (as portrayed in the media) is not about safety issues but rather the high costs associated with the building of new nuclear power plants. This is in contrast to previous studies, which showed that the public was highly concerned about the safety risks and threats from nuclear power. Additionally, the UK public’s concerns on nuclear power safety seemed to have eased up compared to the period after the Fukushima disaster.
4.5.3. Writer’s position in the news article
Overall, news articles from both newspapers show an unfavourable position towards nuclear power. For The Times, 79% of news articles were not favourable towards nuclear power; while it was 58% for the Telegraph. It is interesting to note that the Telegraph seems to be more positive towards nuclear power, with 42% of news articles showing a positive position. This implies that the Telegraph is presenting more news reports that are favourable to nuclear power than The Times.
Favourable of nuclear power9
Not favourable of nuclear power33
Table 7. Position towards nuclear power (a)
In analysing The Times based on country of focus, the results are very interesting. Japan centric news articles are highly unfavourable of nuclear power plants, with 94%. On the other hand, for UK focused news reports, although the result was still unfavourable towards nuclear power, the percentage is much lower at 69%. This supports the previous finding that news reports about Japan are much more negative towards nuclear power compared to UK articles. Again, this indicates that the UK press seem to believe that Japan’s nuclear issues are worse compared to the UK.
Times (Japan Focus)
Times (UK Focus)
Favourable of nuclear power1
Not favourable of nuclear power15
Table 8. Position towards nuclear power (b)
The results above support the findings from numerous researches which proved that the media tends to have a biased view towards nuclear power. The findings are not surprising and only highlight the conclusion of other researchers.
4.5.4. Evidence or reasons to supply the author’s claim/s (Source of Information)
The discussion for source of information is also segmented based on the following: (a) The Times: Japan Focus; (b) The Times: UK Focus; and (c) The Telegraph. This is because writers use different information sources in their articles.
For the Japan centric news articles, the reports have one primary information source. Writer’s firsthand account accounts for 50% of information sources. This is due to the fact that most of the news articles revolved around the nuclear protests that were happening in Japan. As such, the writer (assigned in Japan) was reporting his/her personal account of the protests.
The Times (Japan Focused)Total
Scientists / Experts2
Writer’s firsthand account8
Table 9. Source of Information – The Times: Japan Focused
The main source of information for UK focused news articles in The Times is business sources, which accounts for 62%. As discussed previously, majority of news articles in The Times (UK centric) were about the building of new nuclear power plants and the related bidding process. As such, the newspaper took a mostly business approach in the treatment of news reports. The focus of most articles was developments in the tender submissions, especially issues regarding the private companies that were bidding in the projects. This accounted for the high frequency business related sources. It is also interesting to note that The Times mostly uses one primary information source for their reports. Additionally, there are instances when the specific details about information sources (i.e. name/s of person/s interviewed) were not mentioned.
The Times (UK Focused)Total
Local community sources2
Scientists / Experts2
Table 10. Sources of Information – The Times: UK Focused
Based on the analysis, most news articles relied on business sources for their information (34%). Another important data source was government authorities (31%). The prevalence of business sources is also attributed to the fact that most published news articles revolved around the bidding process for the building of new power plants in the UK.
Moreover, an important finding is that the Telegraph tends to include statements from government authorities in their reports in order to corroborate information from business sources. This indicates that the Telegraph tends to use multiple information sources for its news articles. Additionally, the Telegraph seems to provide more balanced information because it presents views from both business and government sides.
Table 11. Sources of Information – The Telegraph
Based on the findings of the content analysis, it showed that The Times (69%) published more news articles than the Telegraph (31%) during the period reviewed. It is interesting to note that The Times segmented their news reports according to country of focus, specifically Japan and the UK. Japan centric articles comprised 38%, while UK focused articles accounted for 62% of total nuclear-related news reports from the Times. The Telegraph did not mention news about Japan and focused its reports entirely on the UK.
The peak of the publication of news articles also depends on the occurrence of time-specific developments. For Japan focused news articles, most reports were published in July 2012 due to the nuclear protests happening in Japan. On the other hand, for UK centric news reports, majority of articles were published during October 2012. The same is true for the Telegraph.
Most nuclear power-related news reports in the UK were published during October because this was the time when the government announced new players in the tenders for the development of new nuclear power plants. It was also during this month that the winner of the project bid was announced.
In terms of the issues being addressed in the news articles, there are big differences between The Times’ Japan centric reports and its UK focused articles. For Japan centric reports, references to Fukushima disaster (94%) and nuclear safety concerns (88%) were very high. This is somewhat surprising given the fact that the Fukushima accident occurred more than 18 months ago. This implies that The Times still considers the accident newsworthy despite the passage of time.
For UK centric news reports (both from the Times and the Telegraph), most articles dealt with the building of new nuclear power plants, especially developments during the bidding process, and the high costs associated with new power plants. This implies that the focus of the UK press, and consequently the UK public, is issues related to the construction of new power plants rather than safety concerns. This observation also indicates that the UK press seem to consider Japan’s nuclear situation to be worse than the UK.
In analysing the overall position towards nuclear power, both The Times (79%) and the Telegraph (58%), showed an unfavourable view of nuclear power plants. However, the Telegraph seemed to have a more positive view of nuclear power plants (42%).
The results are more insightful when comparing Japan centric and UK centric reports of The Times. Japan focused news articles are much more unfavourable to nuclear power plants (94%); while UK focused reports account for 69%. This supports the observation that the UK press seem to view Japan’s nuclear issues more negatively.
In terms of information sources, The Times’ Japan centric reports use primarily the firsthand account of the writer (50%). This is due the fact that most reports were about the nuclear protests happening in Japan, so the writer was reporting from his/her actual experiences.
For The Times’ UK focused news reports, the primary source of information is business sources. The Telegraph used both business sources and government authorities as information source. These findings are due to the fact that most news articles revolve around the bidding developments for the construction of new nuclear power plants in the UK.
Chapter 5: Conclusions and Recommendations
In concluding the dissertation, the objectives of the study are answered. Results from both the literature review and the content analysis are used to address the study’s objectives.
(1) To find out the public’s perception on the risk and threats of nuclear power plants
One of the main assumptions of this thesis is that the media influences the perceptions of the public. The literature review was able to establish that the media does influence formation of public opinion (McCombs & Shaw 1972; Mutz 1989; Gunther 1998; McCombs 2004). And that the media’s influence extends to issues relating to nuclear power (Gamson & Modigliani 1989; Mazur 1981; Pollock, Lilie & Vittes 1993).
Results of previous studies gave some indications on how the public perceives the risks and threats of nuclear power plants. Some studies reveal that women are more unfavourable of nuclear power than men (Brody 1984; Cooper & Sussman 2011). Nuclear power also received more positive perception from the public in the context that is being used for mitigating climate change. However, there seems to be a reluctant acceptance of nuclear power as means to resolve climate change (Pidgeon, Lorenzoni & Poortinga 2008; NEI 2007).
In terms of support for nuclear power plants, several surveys and opinion polls show public support for existing nuclear reactors. However, majority of the public are not in favour of building new power plants. Additionally, a number of respondents are calling for the total shutdown of nuclear power plants (GlobeScan 2005; Cooper & Sussman 2011; Black 2011).
The Fukushima accident also influenced public opinion as more people had unfavourable perceptions towards nuclear power plants after the accident (Cooper & Sussman 2011; Associated Press 2011).
Based on the results of the content analysis, it can be inferred that the UK public’s perceptions towards the risk and threats of nuclear power plants have somewhat abated in the last six months. Most of the news articles featured in UK newspapers (The Times and Telegraph) are focused on the cost of building new power plants and developments in the bidding process (i.e. withdrawal and entry of private companies/bidders, winning tender, etc). Safety issues are not featured as much in news reports, which implies that this is not the primary concern of UK citizens during the review period.
(2) To investigate how the media (i.e. news reports) depict/portray nuclear power plants to the public
The literature review showed that the media tends to have biases towards issues related to nuclear power plants. This is due to flaws in data gathering procedures and the tendency of journalists to resort to worst-case scenario reporting when information is lacking. This in turn leads to biased public opinion (Mazur 1981; Rubin 1987; Friedman, Gorney & Egolf 1992).
Moreover, some academics and media practitioners point out that the media tends to overhype nuclear incidents, especially regarding the Fukushima accident. Additionally, some journalists used technical terms related to nuclear power plants without understanding its proper context (Russell 2011; Nisbet 2012, Bell 2011).
Based on the results of the content analysis, the issues addressed in the news articles vary. For The Times’ Japan centric news reports, the reference to the Fukushima disaster and nuclear safety concerns were often mentioned. For the UK centric news articles (both from The Times and the Telegraph), the main issues discussed pertain to the building of new power plants (i.e. bidding developments) and the high cost of new nuclear reactors.
It can be inferred that there is a significant distinction in the issues addressed between Japan centric and UK centric articles. Japan focused news reports concentrate on the safety aspects of nuclear reactors; while UK focused articles were more concerned with the high costs of building new nuclear power plants.
(3) To classify and quantify press reports on nuclear power plants as either positive or negative
Based on the results of the content analysis, both The Times and the Telegraph had a generally unfavourable position towards nuclear power plants. However, the Telegraph seems to have a better outlook on nuclear power. This indicates that the Telegraph presents more positive news articles about nuclear power compared to The Times. The results from the content analysis support the findings from other studies that the media tend to have a biased, negative view towards nuclear power plants.
5.2. Recommendations for Further Research
It is recommended for future research to conduct either in-depth interviews or focus group discussions in order to find out public perceptions towards the risk and threats of nuclear power plants. This will provide good insights regarding the topic, as well as allow the participants to discuss in detail the reasons behind their opinions.
Using qualitative methods, such as in-depth interviews or focus group discussions, is also a different approach compared to the usual quantitative techniques. The use of qualitative methodologies is expected to give interesting results to the topic, as well as providing a rich data source.
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