Click for next page ( 16


The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 15
2 Public Concerns There exists a long and extensive legacy of disputes over the siting of facilities, both public and private (Popper 1981, Seley 1983). Various public groups have objected to gas stations, airports, highways, group homes (com- munity residences for the mentally retarded), recombinant DNA laboratories, and, of course, nuclear power plants. During the past decade, the list of controversial facil- ities appears to have expanded. It is evident that a waste repository will engender strong reaction from local public groups, independent of the reactions, both in support and opposition, of official government entities In siting some types of facilities, a low-profile or Machiavellian approach has worked in the past. Particu- larly notable is the group home, which was rarely opposed when first introduced but is now subject to predictable controversy. Estimates range from a 30 percent to a 75 percent rate of rejection for proposed group homes, despite little evidence of any real harm to host com- munities (Seley 1983). Power plants, too, underwent a cycle of acceptance prior to the Three Mile Island accident and subsequent public response. In the few instances involving commer- cial high-level radioactive waste, efforts to search for sites have been subject to controversy. It is apparent that any effort to find a site for a repository (or repositories) will engender a range of concerns that must be addressed if siting is to proceed without undue delay and social disruption. This is a conclusion based on both historical evidence and the demands of societal equanimity. This chapter has four objectives: (1) to assess the trends and characteristics of public concerns about the management of radioactive wastes, (2) to evaluate the 15

OCR for page 15
16 adequacy of current scientific understanding of these public concerns, (3) to examine critically the hypotheses that have been put forth to explain patterns of public concerns, and (4) to note the major limitations of the data base and methodology for current understanding and inferences. THE DATA BASE This section examines the various subsets of the data base available for assessing the attitudes of the general public and some of the major characteristics of public response. Later in the chapter we address the limitations to both the data and the methods for making inferences from them. Inasmuch as the problem of isolating radio- active wastes has been a matter of public concern for less than a decade, it is not surprising that social science research on public response to the problem is also of recent vintage. Government agencies have funded extensive research on the technical issues of waste isolation, but far less funding has supported investiga- Lions of the social issues raised by nuclear power. Hence, the data base for assessing the attitudes of the general public has a number of deficiencies. Neverthe- less, there exists a sizable amount of past work that, if tapped judiciously, can suggest major characteristics of public response. Several collections of relevant public opinion polls have appeared in Public Opinion Quarterly (Erskine 1963, de Boer 1977). In 1978 the Battelle Human Affairs Research Centers published a comprehensive overview of more than 100 national, state, and areawide polls and surveys dealing with public attitudes on nuclear power (Melber et al. 1977). This overview was subsequently updated by the Battelle group to include polls and surveys taken from 1977 through the summer of 1979 (Melber et al. 1979). For the past decade, national polling agencies such as Cambridge Reports, Opinion Research Corporation, Louis Harris and Associates, and, more recently, the Gallup Poll, have regularly sampled opinion on nuclear power and nuclear wastes. Finally, Robert Cameron Mitchell of Resources for the Future has carefully appraised the various surveys of nuclear power (Mitchell 1978, 1980). A second body of data consists of psychometric studies conducted by Decision Research Inc., by the International

OCR for page 15
17 Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), and by the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research. Decision Research Inc. has asked people to make judgments about risky technologies and activities, to rate their risks and benefits on as many as 18 different risk attributes (e.g., newness, severity of consequence), and to state their preferences for risk reduction (or "acceptable" risk). Nuclear power has been included in the studies, along with some 29 (recently broadened to 93) other technologies and activities. Three groups of subjects--college students, a local chapter of the League of Women Voters, and a local businessmen's organization--have given answers so far. Decision Research has also asked college students to write scenarios of the maximum credible nuclear power disaster that might occur during their lifetimes. The work of Vlek and Stallen (in press) and of Stallen and Thomas (1981) is similar to that of Decision Research but has involved a representative sample of the population of the greater Rotterdam area. Scholars at IIASA have utilized an attitude formation model to inquire into public beliefs about nuclear power, obtaining the views of energy experts, a heterogeneous sample of the Austrian population, and participants in a nuclear energy refer- endum in the United States (Otway et al. 1978). A third collection of studies has used clinical methods to explore personal fears and emotional responses to nuclear energy. Prominent among these are the works of Robert Jay Lifton, which include Death in Life (1968) and The Broken Connection (1979), based on interviews of the survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Psycho- logical analysis has also been conducted by Pahner (1976), who reviewed behavioral literature, press reports, inter- views, and public demonstrations at reactor facilities to identify the conscious and unconscious fears that influ- ence public attitudes to nuclear power. Robert L. DuPont (The Media Institute 1980) has analyzed the news media handling of nuclear power issues, while others have examined the attitudes of media representatives (Rothman and Lichter 1982). Recent studies of psychological stress in the people who live near the Three Mile Island nuclear plant have provided additional empirical data on public fear and anxiety (U.S. President's Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island 1979, Bromet 1980, Houts et al. 1980). There have also been a number of public votes on nuclear power issues. In 1976 there were unsuccessful

OCR for page 15
18 referenda in California and six other states aimed at restricting nuclear power. The California referendum, defeated by a 2-1 margin, has been the subject of several detailed analyses tGroth and Schutz 1976, Hensler and Hensler 1979). Questions involving nuclear power appeared on 1980 ballots in an additional six states, and nuclear waste was a primary issue in all but one. Voters approved three and rejected three of these initiatives. Organized political activity on nuclear energy has been examined as part of the broader study of political interest groups. Energy and environmental groups differ markedly from interest groups whose principal motive is economic interest in government decisions (McFarland 1976, Berry 1977). Both staff and member-supporters place high value on influencing public policy per se rather than mea- suring success in immediately tangible economic terms. These "public interest" groups have organized success- fully around both promotion of and opposition to nuclear power. Antinuclear groups have used a variety of means, including ballot initiatives and protest and civil disobedience (Nelkin 1981a, 1981b). How these means are selected through the internal decision processes of these and other protest groups is not well understood (Lipsky 1968), although Berry (1977) and Douglas and Wildavsky (1982) agree that the internal structure and dynamics of voluntary groups shape their public positions signifi- cantly (see also Wilson 1973, Chaps. 13 and 14). . . . . . . . . . . . . . Attentlon has also been pale to pUbllC attitudes to nuclear power in a number of other societies. Poll data comparable with those in the United States are available for a number of other countries (see, for example, Greer- Wooten and Mitson 1976, Renn 1981). Nelkin (1977), Nelkin and Pollock (1981), Zinberg (1982), and Paige and asso- ciates (1980) have provided comparative overviews of the nuclear controversy, public information campaigns, and public reaction in European countries. The data base, nonetheless, is uneven, as discussed below. THE EMERGENCE OF PUBLIC CONCERNS Public attitudes to civilian uses of nuclear power were generally positive until the last decade. Generally, there was little concern prior to the late 1950s about the risks posed by the few reactors in operation. There

OCR for page 15
19 was, to be sure, considerable concern over the develop- ment of nuclear weapons and substantial public support for efforts to limit them (Erskine 1963). There was also concern over the dangers of atmospheric fallout of radio- activity from the testing of nuclear weapons (Kraus et al. 1963, Kopp 1979). As the debate over the dangers of fallout continued, the press began to report incidents that raised questions about the safety of nuclear power (Figure 2.1): an acci- dent at Sylvania Electrical Products in New York, control problems at the Argonne National Laboratory reactor, an accident at an experimental military reactor in Idaho, and the Windscale accident in Great Britain. In 1957 the AEC published its first major report (WASH-740) on safety, citing the potentially catastrophic consequences of a major reactor accident unless strict protective measures were engineered, and Congress debated federal insurance for nuclear power plants. This attention to nuclear power plant safety coincided with the intense debate over fallout, suggesting that media attention to nuclear safety was related to the widespread anxiety over fallout (Mazur 1975). An early test of public sentiment toward nuclear waste occurred in a 1960 survey of attitudes on the siting of the Indian Point reactor, which revealed that 57 percent of respondents felt confident that waste isolation was safe and only 13 percent had some questions (Rankin and Nealey 1978, p. 112). A national survey by the Sind- linger Company in the same year found that none of the respondents who opposed nuclear power gave waste manage- ment problems as a reason (Rankin and Nealey 1978, p. 112). Nuclear power was not a major political issue during most of the 1960s. However, there were protests over the construction of some individual nuclear power plants, and in 1968 the environmental movement revived dormant public concerns over nuclear power and elicited new ones as well. At first the focus was largely on possible adverse environmental impacts, particularly thermal pollution. During the 1970s, however, public attention shifted from environmental to safety issues, prompted by such incidents as the leaking of radioactive wastes from storage tanks at the Hanford Reservation in Washington State in 1973. In 1974, a survey by Opinion Research Corporation found that 52 percent of the respondents believed that waste management was a serious problem. That was more than the combined percentages of respondents who cited radiation, nuclear accidents, and thermal pollution as concerns.

OCR for page 15
20 550 500 450 400 ce o 350 2 me Z 300 cr 6 cam 6 250 J - ~ 200 o UJ m ~150 At 100 50 Three Mile Island Environmental Impact Study WindsCale AEC Safety Rept. Accident (Wash. 740) Enrico Fermi \/{ Price Anderson Act Plant Accident / \ Bodega Head 8< `,J \ Ravenswood `~\ t__ Idaho Accident Chalk River Ace ident ~1 G.E. Managers Resign Browns Ferry F i re |~\ ECCS Hearings I,/ \ Rasmussen Report Am/ (Wash 1 40n} 1 BY " ~ O . , , 1 1945 1950 1955 1960 1 965 1970 1975 1980 YEAR 1 1 FIGURE 2.1 Media concern as indicated by attention in The New York Times. Source: updated from R. A. Kasper son. 1980. The dark side of the radioactive waste problem. P. 159 in Progess in Resource Management and Environmental Planning, T. O'Riordan and K. Turner, eds. New York: Wiley, 1980), Chap. 6, p. 159.

OCR for page 15
21 Waste issues continued to rank at or near the top of public concerns over nuclear power during the latter half of the 1970s, and state and local governments began to pass laws restricting the use of their areas for disposal. Meanwhile, public support for nuclear power waned tde Boer 1977). The long-term impacts of the accident at Three Mile Island (Figure 2.2) are not yet apparent but are likely to include some loss of enthusiasm among sup- porters of nuclear power and the movement of more people into opposition (Mitchell 1980, pp. 18-19). Since 1978, Harris polls have found respondents opposed by nearly 2-1 majorities to nuclear plants being built within 5 miles of their homes. A 1980 Harris poll also found that a majority of the public continued to support nuclear power, but more than 8 of every 10 respondents believed that fundamental changes in regulation were needed to keep the risks of nuclear power Within tolerable limits" (Marsh and McLennan 1980, p. 39). Moreover, a Resources for the Future survey in 1980 found that nuclear power stood at the bottom of the public's list of preferred energy sources. Thus, if the high level of concern about radio- active wastes persists public acceptance will be a difficult goal to achieve for any large-scale waste management program. DEMOGRAPHIC CORRELATES OF PUBLIC CONCERN Public opinion about nuclear power varies according to certain characteristics. The most noteworthy difference is that between men and women. Polls and surveys have revealed a consistent tendency for women to be more uncer- tain about or opposed to nuclear energy than men are. The 1977 Battelle review, for example, found that among men the mean support for nuclear power was 65 percent, as compared with 46 percent among women. Polls conducted after the accident at Three Mile Island suggest that it may have further widened these sex differences. The Cambridge Reports opinion polls indicate that these sex differences also extend to opinions on nuclear waste, with women significantly less confident than men that the problem can be solved (Rankin and Nealey 1978, p. 116). A Rand Corporation study of the California nuclear referendum revealed sex to be one of the few demographic factors that correlated significantly with nuclear attitude (Hensler and Hensler 1979). Another study, which involved reinterviews with respondents to obtain

OCR for page 15
22 , l r T l l r 0 00 f-~m =~- ~. \ ~/S I \ ~1 -i _ jo -1 _ e _1 -jo  ~_ !~- C~ o Z o Q a) ~n 6 , ._ LL r' o oo ,_ n u) _ C) oo o LL toIt CD /r I Il / \ J\ ,/~5, V 1 im !o, I ~o ~ Z !- 1 1 1 1 1 O O O O O Q O O O O 0 a) oo ~ca LO ~_ 1N30U 3d z ~ cn 1 ._ CD _ ~ ~ <: ~ 1~m e O ~5 ~ o U] n ~ U] H ~ tQ - * a, ~s ~ ~ ~ o 3 ~ tn o U] U] ~ U] ~ ~ - a, t) ~ 3 u' ~ O .,1 o Q c: ~ Q ~r1 C,) - n ~ a Q ~, ~ C~ ~ O ~ o .,, - - .o ,c Q ~ P. tQ U] - o . Q, ~ O :r: 0 o `4 O a; ~ s C~ : H O G h ~ :~: a, ~ Q ~ - ~5 O ~ ~ O .., .., ~ ~: s E~ U] o .,, ~: ~ .,, s o ~q o~ ~a ~ s u] ~ c o H C) .,. C o ~q a,' ,0 W S~ C 3 - ~4 a) ~ C o s C o U] U] a 1n o U] ~q aJ - U] ~ ~n cn H .,' ~: S E~ JJ tQ o

OCR for page 15
23 their views about a nuclear waste facility in New York State, found that exposure to the controversy that surrounded it increased negative attitudes among women but not among men (Mazur and Conant 1978). Studies of the Three Mile Island accident also indicate higher levels of continuing psychological stress in mothers of young children (Bromet 1980). The contrast between the sexes is all the more striking given that it appears to be independent of other socioeconomic factors and that recent polls have shown few differences between the sexes in their attitudes to environmental issues (U.S. Council on Environmental Quality 1980, p. 29). A prime ingredient in this differential response is concern over the catastrophic releases of radioactivity from nuclear plants. All recent polls reveal that women are significantly more concerned (and uncertain) about nuclear power than are men. Even the stated uncertainty may mask latent concern; the woman who is "not sure" may actually be signifying dissent (Duncan 1978). The common but erroneous belief that nuclear plants can explode like nuclear weapons may also play a role, for it is known that women across a variety of cultures are less prone to violence and more concerned about loss of life than men are (Setlow and Steinem 1973, Steinem 1972). One study, using free-association questions, found women signifi- cantly more fearful than men that nuclear plants might "explode n and more concerned about the long-term effects of radiation (Kasperson et al. 1980). A survey of 1,004 Massachusetts residents found that women were opposed to nuclear power not because they were less knowledgeable or because they harbored antitechnological values but rather because they felt more concern about safety and moral questions rather than about economic growth (Reed and Wilkes 1980a). One analysis of women's magazines and the feminist press has concluded that the genetic effects of radiation on women and, hence, on future generations particularly influence the concerns of women (Nelkin 1981a). While considerable evidence exists of a differ- ential response between the sexes, however, a searching and authoritative explanation has not yet been forthcoming. Other demographic correlates of concern about nuclear power and nuclear wastes are less well understood. Younger persons (those under 30) are more likely to oppose nuclear power than are older persons. Correla- tions with education and income tend to be ambivalent or inconsistent. Some survey results indicate that more

OCR for page 15
24 highly educated and higher income groups support nuclear power, whereas others provide contrary results or show no significant association. In their review of polls on nuclear wastes, Rankin and Nealey found few differences related to education and income on the question of whether such wastes "are too dangerous" to produce, although they did find a greater tendency for low income and less educated respondents to be unsure. Despite the polarization over nuclear power in the scientific community and the extensive media coverage of nuclear issues, the public has largely refused to join either side. A national survey In 'H78, in fact, revealed that only 2 percent of the respondents were active Dar - ticipants in the controversy over nuclear energy, with another 27 percent sympathetic and 21 percent unsympa- thetic to the antinuclear movement (Mitchell 1978, p. 5). The remaining 44 percent of those polled defined them- selves as neutral. This division contrasts with the larger active public participation in and support for the environmental movement as a whole (Figure 2.3). Mass public support for environmental activism does not imply similar support for antinuclear activism (Mitchell 1980). The Three Mile Island accident appears to have had only a marginal impact on public sentiment, increasing the active segment from 2 to 4 Percent and the svmn~th-t i from 27 to 29 percent . These changes, however, are balanced by an increase in the unsympathetic from 21 to 26 percent (Mitchell 1980), and attitudes m~v Nat van have stabilized. ~ - ~ r ~ _ I,, ~,~ a_ ~ = it_ Thus' while several small minorities are active in supporting or opposing nuclear power/ the broad middle of the public, while certainly wary of nuclear power and more positive toward other energy sources, thus far remains uncommitted. Finally, an apparent difference of opinion exists between technical experts on the one hand and the lay public and public officials on the other. Technical experts tend to see high-level waste management as a more solvable problem than do members of the public. This difference in attitude has been demonstrated by research at Battelle (Maynard et al. 1976) and is also apparent in the different responses of the business and regulatory communities in the 1980 Marsh and McClennan national poll on risk (Table 2.1). These results suggest that technical experts may underestimate the degree and misperceive the reasons for public concerns.

OCR for page 15
25 Z~ lo O I_ Z ~ UJ LU ~ To r- .,: .o ~4, ~ Z Q _ C O ._ ~ 6 J Z ' Z Z ~ I o 1~ ~ o 1 ~ 1 to C" ._ ~- ._ ~ C) 4_ ._ ~ . ~ A _ ~In . _ 6 ~ a, Z ~4- Q ' ~O O ~ ,1 o A 10 ~ 3 hi ~ . O Sit U) . - at at U) V O ~ Q ,. U] v ~ . - - l ~ s 3 V ,' O ~ ~ O O U] tr; P C' H O ~ CQ 00 a, SJ ~ o z 1 S" Q ~n - o ~D o z ~n V o U] a) ~;

OCR for page 15
37 1 ' ' ' ' ' 1 0 ._ - - o - ._ 0 x ~ ~/ o ~n - J ~ .// e{_ _r 1 1 1 1, ~8V ~ ~ ~ 2 j\ c~ 1ii o ~ ~ ~- _ _ ~ o ~ ~ 8 ,- ~ ~ _ . == 0 - . ~ 0 0 ,C tD 0 0 0 8 ., ~ _ c'. ~ ~ c .c ~ ~ ~ ~ --"' ~ E ~ 10 0 tD o ~ 0 e~',O=.0 O c ~ ~ c, E a a ~ ~ 8 I 0) 0) co o, ~z ~ ~ 0 c 0 a, ie _ e ~ 41' _ ~ ~o a) - e _ 0 _ _ ~ r~ _ _ 17 0 ~ z o, _ 0 c~ u ~c~ N N - ~ ~ ~N r ~ N ~a: 0, N CO _ _ ~ r ~r~ o N O <0 N _ - N 0) C~ C~ 40 ~ O UD U' ~ cn O C o CO.O ~ E ~ CD (V - co c cn ~ C .' ~: (n ._ c CO Q . E o o Ct E ~ . g ~ ae ~ ~ ~ ~ ' .,,~~,~-.~-o~ _ 0 =c ~= =~_ :. 4' E ~ c 0 ~ a' ~ O ~ ~D .. o ~ 0 E C. ~ ~ o o ~ o o, o .,' O O ~n Ll O - ~ I_~ -~ a) 54 O . z ~Q U] - U] 3 a C ., a V C t. C O - .,' C .,, O V o . - V .V~ ~ _I Q Q P., a,' U] U] o UO O .~1 - r ~ -

OCR for page 15
38 that only scientists commanded "a great deal" of con- fidence on nuclear power issues (58 percent), with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (39 percent), the President of the United States (24 percent), the heads of electric power companies (19 percent), and the companies that produce equipment for nuclear power plants (12 percent) lagging far behind (Harris & Associates, 1976, p. 29). A 1980 survey of Wisconsin residents revealed that most of them did not believe that the government was moving fast enough to solve the problem or was interested in what local citizens thought about having a waste repository in their community. These respondents ranked the federal government behind the news media, university scientists, and environmental groups, and just ahead of friends and acquaintances, as the most reliable source of information about nuclear wastes (Kelly 1980). The Office of Tech- nology Assessment (1982, p. 31) also recently concluded that "the greatest single obstacle that a successful waste management program must overcome is the severe erosion of public confidence in the Federal Government, citing policy instability, the capacity of the federal government to implement policy, and perceptions of trustworthiness (pp. 31-34). As inheritor of the Atomic Energy Commission's difficulties in waste management, the Department of Energy bears the burden of an unfortunate legacy. It is not surprising that the Keystone Group, composed of leading industry, environmental, and university repre- sentatives, could quickly agree that DOE's lack of credibility was a major obstacle to an effective waste management program (Keystone Group 1978), or that a 1979 General Accounting Office report suggested creation of an overall planning institution outside of DOE as a means of fostering public acceptance (General Accounting Office 1979, p. 11). In this respect, current institutional changes may provide some opportunities, an issue the panel addresses in Chapter 6. METHODOLOGICAL AND DATA-BASE LIMITATIONS Despite this social research on public concerns about nuclear energy, the body of knowledge developed thus far is limited in two important ways in its utility to administrative policymakers. First, in a democracy the government's authority to control or shape public behavior is subject to constitutional constraints. Even

OCR for page 15
39 if it were possible to predict political behavior accu- rately and to change it at will, there would be legal and political limits on the government's ability to bring about those changes. Second, much social research is limited by small sample size, often atypical sample pop- ulations, and complexity of behavior. Research relevant to public policy is only rarely amenable to controlled experimentation, and the "natural experiments" provided by governmental actions are rarely documented or con- trolled well enough to permit clean inferences. Risk psychology investigations have chosen to focus on small, atypical sample populations in an effort to examine the complex cognitive and affective processes at work. While such studies have contributed to a richer scientific understanding of how beliefs develop, their emphasis on individuals' motivations do not yet allow unambiguous analyses of organized social behavior, including reaction to waste repository site selection. Studies of political opposition to nuclear energy in other nations face a problem of a different kind. Behavior is affected by social and cultural setting, so that patterns observed in one nation may not apply in another. In addition, comparative studies face the methodological difficulties of social research in general. The emergence of the Green Party in the Federal Republic of Germany as a significant electoral force, accordingly, does not presage antinuclear candidacies in other elec- toral systems--much less the success of such political campaigns. These limitations do not, of course invalidate com- parative studies. Awareness of the relationship between governmental structure (e.g., a parliamentary system in the FRG) and political behavior (the possiblity of successful single-issue parties) bears on the design of decision processes. Moreover, both radioactive waste management and antinuclear activism are international activities, in which transfer of information across national boundaries plays a significant role. Thus, comparative studies are valuable as a form of intelligence in the short run and as a source of basic understanding for institutional design in the long term. Studies of political action and polls estimating poten- tial electoral response are based on relevant samples: political action involves the self-selected fraction of the population that chooses to participate, and opinion polls rest on solid statistical foundations. This con- siderable strength is tempered, however, by problems in

OCR for page 15
40 the reliability of the data and the legitimacy of policy inferences based on the data. The history of opposition to nuclear energy itself demonstrates the fluidity of the public agenda; the concept that the attention span of mass societies is limited has been developed in some detail by political scientists (Downs 1972, Cobb and Elder 1976, Berry 1977). Ballot initiatives in several states have shown considerable (if declining) support for nuclear power, but more detailed inferences are harder to establish. The wording of referenda varies from place to place, as do margins of victory, voter turnout, and the collateral effects of other items on the ballot. Demonstrations and civil disobedience exhibit even larger variations. All are energized by particular facilities, and their organizers seek to take advantage of favorable circumstances such as weather or the opening of the school year (a time when students can be more easily recruited). Yet these regularities serve to underscore the irregular nature of these events, and thus the unpredictability of their occurrence. Finally, their unpredictability as events is a major element of their power as a medium of social expression. The threat of violence, in particular, commands media attention. Opinion polls, perhaps the most highly validated of these measures, also face significant problems of method. Re-interviewing the same persons over a period of time (panel studies) demonstrates that opinion-poll responses change substantially over time, for reasons that are poorly explained. In part, instability of opinion esti mates is caused by differences in the wording of poll questions and variation in respondents' understanding of the wording. Mitchell finds that changes of up to 40 percentage points result from changes in the wording of questions about nuclear power plants and their safety (Mitchell 1980, p. 12). These questions about the quality of political data are compounded by problems of interpretation. The repub- lican framework of American government accords funda- mental legitimacy to voters and those whom the voters elect as representatives. The repeated affirmations of support for nuclear power, in Congress and the Executive Branch and in state referenda, have therefore set the directions of public policy. The rise of controversy has nonetheless led to major adaptations of public policy--a measure of the responsiveness of the American political - process.

OCR for page 15
41 Despite the clear power of the majority, the history and current texture of American government is replete with instances in which well-organized minorities with intensely held beliefs have influenced the public agenda and the action of government. Studies of antinuclear groups and their activities provide measures of the inten- sity of opposition. The prominence of the nuclear con- troversy is due in part to the success of this minority in raising its concerns among the wider public and within the institutions of government. Moreover, the trend of opposition and its success within government may be lead- ing indicators of the challenges to be faced in reposi- tory siting. It remains difficult, however, to convert these general observations into specific qualitative inferences, much less make quantitative estimates. Political action is Eve` fill ", ~ "1~ a =~, c; 1nnovaclOn and competition matter (Hirschman 1970). The competition ranges over many dif- ferent dimensions, and there is no simple measure of effectiveness or figure of merit with which to keep score. Indeed, the emergence of quality of life and the ever- lower expectations of acceptable risk reflect innovation in the dimensions along which competition takes place. Because they are widely used in electoral strategy, opinion polls illustrate the problems of interpretation and legitimacy with special clarity. Social scientists have debated the significance of opinion polls for sev- eral decades (Roll et al. 1972, Bennett 1977). The portrait of the American voter remains controversial in ways that bear directly on complex policy matters such as radioactive waste: how stable are attitudes? How well informed are they? How are they affected by social set- ting? While there is a rough consensus among political scientists and sociologists on these questions, it has been a difficult one to win and sustain in the face of new findings. In the judgment of the panel, extending the conclusions of this body of research to policy applications in repository siting is of doubtful merit. More pragmatically, survey data seem to be in a state of flux, with evidence that the molar; Pv ~,nnnrh for ^~] ^~' energy is eroding. These imperfections in quality of social scientific data, the scientific interpretation of them, and the use of social science in governance all limit the policy applicability of studies of public concerns. The panel is mindful, however, of the risk that these caveats may lead to the conclusion that social research is useless in repository siting. The reverse is true. W~ ~ ~ _ _ _ ~ ~J ~ _ ~ ~ _ _ _ _ _ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

OCR for page 15
/ 42 The diversity of research methods that has been applied to analyzing public concerns leads to qualitative findings that are robust and that merit careful attention in the siting of nuclear waste repositories FINDINGS . 1. While electoral, legislative, and administrative behavior in the United States have historically demon- strated substantial support for the economic benefits of nuclear power, over the past 15 years (and particularly since 1979) this support has weakened significantly at all three levels. In the same period, an articulate organized opposition has emerged, one with support among a significant minority of the population. 2. There is widespread perception that nuclear energy entails risks to health and safety. This perception is exacerbated by the fact that most public groups do not distinguish clearly between the risks of nuclear weaponry and nuclear power plants. The extent to which fear over nuclear weapons enters into attitudes on nuclear wastes is difficult to pinpoint, but it is undoubtedly an element in the formation of public opinion. Concern over cata- strophic accidents in nuclear power plants adds to these fears of technology. 3. The level of knowledge about nuclear power and radioactive wastes remains low among the general public. This limited knowledge, however, does not explain the high level of concern. It is uncertain whether greater amounts of information would reduce or increase public concern, but improved public understanding of waste management problems is a central need for developing an informed public policy and a socially acceptable manage- ment program. 4. Public concern and the perception of threat are exacerbated by mistrust of government in general and by the appearance of secrecy or desire to exclude the public from governmental decisions about radioactive waste and repository siting. REFERENCES FOR CHAPTER 2 Bennett, W. L. 1977. The growth of knowledge in mass belief studies: an epistemological critique. American Journal of Political Science 21:465-500.

OCR for page 15
43 Berry, J. 1977. Lobbying for the People. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. Bromet, E. 1980. Three Mile Island: Mental Health Findings Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine. Clelland, D., and M. Bremseth. 1977. Student reactions to breeder reactors. Paper presented at the Annual Meetings, American Sociological Association, Chicago, September. Cobb, R., and C. Elder. 1976. Participation in American Politics. Press. Commoner, B. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University 1969. The myth of omnipotence: the hidden costs or nuclear power. Environment 11:8-13, 26-28. de Boer, C. 1977. The polls: nuclear energy. Public Opinion Quarterly 41:402-411. del Sesto, S. 1980. Conflicting ideologies of nuclear power: congressional testimony on nuclear reactor safety. Public Policy 28:39-70. Douglas, M., and A. Wildavsky. 1982. Risk and Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press. Downs, A. 1972. Up and down with ecology: the issue-attention cycle. Public Interest 28:38-50, Summer. Duncan, O. nuclear Ebbin, S., and R. Rasper. 1974. Citizen Groups and the Nuclear Power Controversy. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. Erskine, H. G. 1963. The polls: atomic weapons and nuclear energy. Public Opinion Quarterly 27:155-190. Firebaugh, M. W. 1981. Public attitudes and information on the nuclear option. Nuclear Safety 22:147-156. Fischhoff, B., P. Slovic, S. Lichtenstein, S. Read, and B. Combs. 1978. How safe is safe enough? A psychometric study of attitudes toward technological risks and benefits. Policy Sciences 8:127-152. General Accounting Office. 1979. The Nation's Nuclear Waste--Proposals for Organization and Siting. EMD-79-77. Washington, D.C. Green, H. 1975. The risk benefit calculus in safety determinations. George Washington Law Review 43:791-804. Greer-Wooten, B., and L. Mitson. 1976. Nuclear Power and the Canadian Public. Institute for Behavioral Research, York University, Toronto. D. 1978. Sociologists should energy. Social Forces 57:1-22. reconsider

OCR for page 15
44 Groth, A. J., and H. G. Schutz. 1976. Voter Attitudes on the 1976 Nuclear Initiative in California. Environmental Quality Series, No. 25. Institute of Governmental Studies, University of California, Davis, December. Harris, Louis, & Associates. 1976. A Second Survey of Public and Leadership Attitudes Toward Nuclear Power Development in the United States. Summary, N.Y.: Ebasco Services. Hensler, D. R., and C. P. Hensler. 1979. Evaluating Nuclear Power: Other Choice on the California Nuclear Energy Initiative. R-2341. Santa Monica, Calif.: Rand Corporation. Hirschman, A. O. 1970. Exit, Voice and Loyalty. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Houts, P., R. Miller, G. Tokuhata, and K. Ham. 1980. Health-Related Behavioral Impact of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Incident. Report submitted to the TMI Advisory Panel on Health Research Studies of the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Department of Health. Kasper son, R., G. Berk, D. Pijawka, A. B. Sharaf, and J. Wood. 1980. Public opposition to nuclear energy: retrospect and prospect. Science, Technology, and Human Values 5:11-23. Kelly, J. E. 1980. Testimony on Behalf of the State of Wisconsin Regarding the Statement of Position of the United States Department of Energy in the Matter of Proposed Rulemaking on the Storage and Disposal of Nuclear Waste, Docket No. PR 50-51. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, D.C. Keystone Group. 1978. Letter to Frank Press, September 19. Kopp, C. 1979. The origins of the American scientific debate over fallout hazards. Social Studies of Science 9:403-422. Kraus, S., R. Mehlina. and E. El-Assal. 1963. Mass Public Opinion media and the fallout controversy. Quarterly 27: 191-205. Lifton, R. J. 1967. Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima. New York: Random House. Lifton, R. J. 1976. Nuclear energy and the wisdom of the body. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 32:16-20. Lifton, R. J. 1979. The Broken Connection: On Death and the Continuity of Life. New York: Simon and Schuster. Lipsky, M. J. 1968. Protest as a political resource. The American Political Science Review 62:1144-1158.

OCR for page 15
45 Marsh and McClennan. 1980. Risk in a Complex Society. A Marsh McClennan Public Opinion Survey Conducted by Louis Harris and Associates, Inc. Summary, N.Y.: Ebasco Services. Maynard, W. S., S. M. Nealey, J. A. Hibert, and M. K. Lindell. 1976. Public Values Associated with Nuclear Waste Disposal. Seattle, Wash.: Battelle Memorial Institute, Human Affairs Research Centers. Mazur, A. 1975. Opposition to technological innovation. Minerva 13:58-81. Mazur, A., and B. Conant. 1978. Controversy over a local nuclear waste repository. Social Studies of Science 8:235-243. McFarland, A. 1976. Public-Interest Lobbies: Decision Making on Energy. Washington, D.C.: American Enterprise Institute. The Media Institute. 1980. Nuclear Phobia--Phobic Thinking about Nuclear Power: A Discussion with Robert L. DuPont, M.D. Washington, D.C.: The Institute. Melber, B. D., S. M. Nealey, J. Hammersla, and W. L. Rankin. 1977. Nuclear Power and the Public: Analysis of Collected Survey Research. U.S. DOE Report PN2-2430. Seattle, Wash.: Battelle Memorial Institute, Human Affairs Research Centers. Melber, B. D., S. M. Nealey, A. Weiss, and W. L. Rankin. 1979. Nuclear Power and the Public: Update of Collected Survey Research. Draft. Seattle, Wash.: Battelle Memorial Institute, Human Affairs Research Centers. Mitchell, R. C. 1978. The public speaks again: a new environmental survey. Resources 60, September-November. Mitchell, R. C. 1980. Polling on nuclear power: a critique of the polls after three mile island. Pp. 66-98 in Polling on the Issues, A. H. Cantris, ed. Washington, D.C.: Seven Locks Press. National Council of Churches. 1979. Energy and Ethics. New York. National Research Council. 1979. Energy in Transition, 1985-2010. Committee on Nuclear and Alternative Energy Sources. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences. Nealey, S. M., and W. L. Rankin. 1978. Nuclear Knowledge and Nuclear Attitudes: Is Ignorance Bliss? Seattle, Wash.: Battelle Memorial Institute, Human Affairs Research Centers.

OCR for page 15
46 Nelkin, D. 1977. Technological Decisions and Democracy: European Experiments in Public Participation. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage. Nelkin, D. 1981a. Nuclear power as a feminist issue. Environment 23:14-20, 38-39. Nelkin, D. 1981b. Anti-nuclear connections: power and weapons. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 37:36-40. Nelkin, D., and M. Pollack. 1981. The Atom Beseiged: Extraparliamentary Dissent in France and Germany. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. Office of Technology Assessment. 1982. Managing Commercial High-Level Radioactive Waste. Washington, D.C. Otway, H., D. Maurer, and K. Thomas. 1978. power: the question of public acceptance. 10:109-118. Pahner, P. D. 1976. A Psychological Perspective of the Nuclear Energy Controversy. RM-76-67. Laxenburg, Austria: International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Paige, H., D. S. Lipman, and J. E. Owens. 1980. Assessment of National Systems for Obtaining Local Acceptance of Waste Management Siting and Routing Activities. International Energy Associates Limited, Washington, D.C. Popper, F. J. 1981. Siting LULU's. Planning 47:12-15, April. Rankin, W. L., and S. M. Nealey. public about nuclear wastes. Nuclear News 21:112-117. Reed, J. H., and J. M. Wilkes. 1980a. Sex and attitudes toward nuclear power. Paper delivered to the Annual Meetings, American Sociological Association, August. Reed, J. H., and J. M. Wilkes. 1980b. Nuclear knowledge and nuclear attitudes: an examination of informed opinion (unpublished paper). Renn, O. 1981. Man. Technology and Risk: A Study on . Summary. Nuclear Futures 1978. Attitudes of the Intuitive Risk Assessment and Attitudes towards Nuclear Energy. Julich, West Germany: Kernforschungsanl~ge Julich. Roberts, R. 1975. Public acceptance of nuclear energy--the government's role. Speech to the Atomic Industrial Forum, San Francisco, 29 November. Roll, Jr., C. W., and A. H. Cantril. 1972. Polls: Their Use and Misuse in Politics. New York: Basic Books. Rothman, S., and S. R. Lichter. 1982. The nuclear energy debate: scientists, the media and the public. Public Opinion 5:47-52, August/September.

OCR for page 15
47 Seley, J. E. 1983. The Politics of Public Facility Planning. Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath & Co. Setlow, L., and G. Steinem. 1973. Why women voted for Richard Nixon? Ms Magazine 2:66-67, 109-110. Slovic, P., S. Lichtenstein, and B. Fischhoff. 1979. Images of disaster: perception and acceptance of risks from nuclear power. In Energy Risk Management, G. Goodman and W. Rowe, eds. London: Academic Press. Stallen, P. J. M., and A. Thomas. 1981. Psychological Aspects of Risk: The Assessment of Threat and Control. Paper prepared for the International School of Technological Risk Assessment, Erice-Sicily, 20-31 May. Steinem, G. 1972. Women voters can't be trusted. Ms Magazine 1:47-51, 131. Sundstrom, E. P., E. J. Costimiris, D. A. DeVault, D. A. Powell, J. W. Lounsbury, T .J. Mattingly, Jr., E. M. Passino, and E. Peelle. 1977. Citizens' Views About the Proposed Hartsville Nuclear Power Plant: A Survey of Residents' Perceptions in August, 1975. Oak Ridge, Tenn.: Oak Ridge National Laboratory. U.S. Council on Environmental Quality. 1980. Public Opinion on Environmental Issues: Results of a National Opinion Survey. Washington, D.C. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 1975. Reactor Safety Study--An Assessment of Accident Risks in U.S. Commercial Nuclear Power Plants. Wash-1400, NUREG-75/014. Washington, D.C. U.S. President's Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island. 1979. The Need for Change: The Legacy of TMI. Washington, D.C. Vlek, C. A. J., and P. J. M. Stallen. In press. Risk perception in the small and in the large. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance. Weinberg, A. 1972. Social institutions and nuclear energy. Science. 177:27-34. Wilson, J. Q. 1973. Political Organizations. New York: Basic Books. Zinberg, D. S. 1982. Public participation: U.S. and european perspectives. Pp. 160-187 in The Politics of Nuclear Waste, E. Colglazier, ed. New York: Pergamon Press.