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The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries (2014)

Chapter: IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.

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Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
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IDR Team Summary 4

Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.

CHALLENGE SUMMARY

Fifty years ago, approximately half of the general U.S. population believed that a nuclear reactor could explode like a nuclear weapon, though this is physically impossible. In light of Chernobyl and Fukushima, it would not be surprising to find that at least half of today’s population would believe the same and not trust assurances of experts to the contrary. In fact, these and other disasters, the lack of an implemented waste solution, and other problems have made early and continued assurances by the nuclear community as to the outstanding safety, security, and environmental record of nuclear power ring hollow to many.

Much the same can be said of nuclear risk-related communication programs. This lack of “better understanding” comes in spite of many efforts in the succeeding decades by the industry and nuclear scientists to communicate the risks in a clearer more compelling fashion. This continues to hamper and introduce uncertainty into the nuclear power industry. There is much to be learned by the public, but there is also much to be learned by the nuclear community about risk communication and the development of public trust.

Today there is no operating repository for the permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste anywhere in the world. The U.S. program, to develop and license the Yucca Mountain, Nevada site in the United States was brought to a halt in part due to unrelenting political and public opposition. But significant progress is being made elsewhere in the world and we can expect to see operation of the first such repositories

Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
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in Finland and Sweden in the coming decade or so, and France and Canada are making substantial progress after stopping and recalibrating their programs. We have also seen the continued success at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico, where transuranic (not high-level) wastes from defense-related activities have been disposed in a program that has now gone on for over a decade and leaves the host community asking for a broader waste mission.

The resistance to nuclear technology among the general public springs from a variety of reasons. People are often highly emotional and afraid of the risks of radiation while they will have an X-ray or take a transcontinental flight without a second thought. Explanations of relative risks by experts are often conflicting, difficult to understand, and caveated by scientists in ways that undermine confidence. The classic NIMBY reaction is also much in evidence as people are both afraid of having nuclear facilities nearby and worried about the stigma effect that can have real or perceived impacts on their lives.

The differences in public trust and public acceptance for nuclear medicine and nuclear power are stark and enormous. The U.S. public has been accepting more and more radiation exposures in medical treatments over the past two decades with little resistance while the public reaction to the siting of nuclear power facilities and nuclear waste management facilities, in particular, has been fierce. What lessons can be learned by each community from the experiences of the other? What can we learn from the success of others?

The challenge is for the nuclear community to understand that the resistance is not the public or the media’s fault and to fashion a different way of engagement and communication to bridge the gap in ways that may inform the nuclear community as much as the public.

Key Questions

•   What do we know about the U.S. public’s appreciation and understanding of nuclear technology and the associated risks? What can we learn from public acceptance of increasing medical exposures?

•   What do we know about risk communication writ large and how can these lessons be applied to the nuclear enterprise?

•   What can we learn from public acceptance of nuclear in other nations and in successful U.S. programs?

•   How have programs in the United States and abroad dealt with en-

Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
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hancing public trust and confidence and what lessons can be learned from their successes and failures?

•   Can we design an initiative that invites in a broader constituency of expertise related to the topic with the objective to not only improve risk perception among the general public but improve risk communication among the nuclear community? Can we tie this to a better understanding of not just what is communicated but how the engagement process works to improve public understanding and public acceptance?

Suggested Reading

Report to the Secretary of Energy. The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, 2012.

Choosing a way forward: the future of Canada’s used nuclear fuel. The Canadian Nuclear Waste Management Organization, 2005.

Dunlap RE, Kraft ME, Rosa EA, eds. Public reactions to nuclear waste: citizen’s views of repository siting. Duke University Press: Durham, NC, 1993.

Freudenburg WR, Rosa EA, eds. Public reaction to nuclear power: are there critical masses? Westview Press for the American Association for the Advancement of Science: Washington, DC, 1984.

Jenkins-Smith HC. Public beliefs, concerns and preferences regarding the management of used nuclear fuel and high level radioactive waste. Report for The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, February 2011.

National Research Council. One step at a time: the staged development of geologic repositories for high-level radioactive waste. The National Academies Press: Washington, DC, 2003.

National Research Council. Alerting America: effective risk communication : summary of a forum. National Academies Press: Washington DC, 2003.

Acknowledgments: NAKFI would like to acknowledge the late Eugene A. Rosa of Washington State University for his significant contributions to this area. Gene was university professor of sociology and the Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor of Natural Resource and Environmental Policy. Gene was a pioneer in research exploring the sociologic aspects of nuclear engagement and communication.

IDR TEAM MEMBERS—GROUP A

•   Robert L. Brent, Thomas Jefferson University, duPont Hospital for Children

•   Daniel G. Cole, University of Pittsburgh

•   Graham P. Collins, Freelance editor/science writer

Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
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•   Annie B. Kersting, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

•   Li Liu, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

•   Raymond J. Sedwick, University of Maryland

•   Kelly Servick, Science Magazine

IDR TEAM SUMMARY—GROUP 4A

Kelly Servick, NAKFI Science Writing Scholar, Science Magazine

IDR Team 4A was asked to create an initiative to restore the public’s trust in nuclear technology in the face of a gap between public perception and scientific reality.

Disasters such as the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine and, more recently, at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant, combined with the government’s failure to clearly communicate risk, have perpetuated the aura of suspicion and dread around the terms “nuclear” and “radiation.” Whether in the context of a medical treatment, an alternative to fossil fuel, or a new waste facility, these terms are highly charged, even in cases where the scientific community finds little or no human risk.

The breadth and complexity of such a misunderstanding makes the 3-year time line suggested in the IDR challenge seem prohibitively short. But the team decided, given the ambitious spirit of the conference, that these first 3 years should be devoted to laying the groundwork for a large organization—a “National Center of Nuclear and Radiation Communication”—devoted exclusively to informing the public about nuclear technology. With a full-time staff of diverse experts and a steady funding source, such an organization could continue to expand and evolve long after this 3-year “deadline.”

Hallmarks of Success

Before any initiative took shape, the group looked to a few success stories—including Canada’s progress in identifying 21 possible waste disposal sites under the supervision of an ethics committee, and the ongoing operation of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico—for guidance. As psychologist Paul Slovik explained in the preconference podcast tutorial, these successes likely hinge in part on the sense of participation and involvement from the public. From a psychological

Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
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perspective, individuals are more willing to take on a well-defined risk if they feel they have a choice and stand to benefit from a nuclear application. Having that risk imposed from outside, as in the planned Yucca Mountain waste storage facility, provokes feelings of fear and helplessness, the group concluded.

But beyond these broad examples, group members had more personal experiences with effective risk communication that offered guiding principles: One member served on a committee to explain the risk of contamination to a community in Colorado during the cleanup and closure of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility. She witnessed a shift in attitudes as the community became less adversarial and grew to trust the visiting scientists on the committee. Another member shared experiences with explaining the risks of radiation—including exposure from medical procedures such as computed tomography scans—to expectant parents. His advice sometimes even helped couples with decisions about whether to abort or carry a pregnancy.

In these examples, trust arose from dialogue and a personal relationship. The individuals facing a perceived nuclear risk interacted with a knowledgeable and receptive human, rather than a set of directions from an immutable and impersonal government body.

But the IDR Team recognized that retaining the cooperative, personal spirit of these conversations when scaling up the problem to a broader national dialogue on nuclear technology is a thorny problem. Two questions took shape early in the discussion: How can a large-scale initiative targeting diverse segments of the public build and maintain this sense of trust? And can individuals be motivated to participate in a dialogue even when the influence of nuclear technology is not as immediate as the threat of local contamination or the health of an unborn child?

Achieving Independence, Maintaining Support

Keeping in mind the value of trust-based, two-way communication, the group began to envision a centralized organization that might create nuclear dialogue on a national scale. Since the public often gets conflicting reports about the true risks of nuclear technology, an ideal initiative would create a beacon of clear information in a sea of sensationalist and alarmist voices.

Concerns about funding shaped the team’s vision from the start: any broad effort will require substantial and steady financing, which group

Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
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members acknowledged would likely come from the government. Yet public perception of the government—particularly on matters of nuclear risk—create a stumbling block. Group members who have experience with the Department of Energy’s communication on nuclear issues described its approach as “sanitized”: aimed at revealing as little as possible about its actions and intentions to avoid provoking opposition.

Regardless of whether the agency has revised its approach, the federal government is bound up with the public’s general feeling of mistrust, and cannot be the official mouthpiece for a fresh public communication effort, the group decided. Their solution—a new national center that would be an independent third party, much like the National Academy of Sciences. Like the Academy, this center would work to establish itself as a trustworthy, nonpartisan source of public information. It would act as a liaison between public interests/concerns and both government and nuclear industry. Diverse experts, from nuclear and radiological scientists and physicians to social scientists and communications specialists, would serve as full-time staff.

This organization would also align itself with the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, formed by the Secretary of Energy to assess U.S. policy on managing waste products from nuclear fuel. The commission’s 2012 report calls for an “independent federal corporation” in charge of responsible oversight of nuclear waste disposal decisions and communication. While this new center would not focus exclusively on waste disposal, its contribution to the Blue Ribbon Commission’s goals might allow it to draw financial support from the Nuclear Waste Fund, which collects fees from utilities that own or operate nuclear facilities, and which has amassed roughly 25 billion dollars to date.

Missions for a National Center

The team thought that laying out a detailed plan of action for this center would require a more complete understanding of public attitudes and areas of mistrust. Given the limited time frame of the conference, it instead focused on detailing the center’s mission and core principles, in a form that might be useful for pitching the idea to decision makers in government.

Intraorganizational culture

A defining feature of the center would be a spirit of civic engagement among its employees. Spokespeople for government and industry may see

Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
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their primary responsibility as defending the goals and reputation of their institution, not serving the interests of a public that may have doubts about (or outright aversion to) those goals. However, members of this new center should see themselves as advocates for the public’s interests, and would commit themselves to a fair and inclusive dialogue with citizens, based on sound science and ethical standards.

Fostering dialogue

Members also agreed that any productive dialogue would require a deeper understanding of public perceptions. Ongoing surveys should inform the center’s actions from day 1: experts would develop ways to identify both conceptual areas of misunderstanding about nuclear science and geographical areas where mistrust is particularly high. (In the spirit of transparency, the organization would also share the results of these surveys with the public.) The center would then organize and sponsor town hall meetings that target these areas of mistrust and give the public a chance to voice concerns and questions.

A second, related task would be to foster mutual understanding between the public and nuclear industry. The center would encourage utilities (waste and weapons facilities, power plants, etc.) to interact with the surrounding communities, either in person or through ongoing surveys. The presumed outcome of such discussions would be a greater sense of inclusion in future decisions, including the siting and design of future power or waste facilities.

Broad and adaptive education

Finally, the group identified a host of outreach possibilities to educate different age groups. Based on a feeling that students lack a strong foundational understanding of the science behind nuclear technology, members suggested new ways to motivate students: For elementary and middle school groups, these could include dynamic video games or summer camps. At higher levels, students might take advantage of massive open online courses (MOOCs) to develop their own informed opinions. And a series of nuclear-themed TED talks might engage a wide range of interested adults.

While IDR Challenge 4 was focused on “the public,” a rather vague way to refer to nonspecialists, Team 4A felt it is important to note that even leaders and decision makers who are well informed about the nuclear

Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
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enterprise may lack the skill to communicate risk or respond in times of crisis. A final requirement for the National Center of Nuclear and Radiation Communication would be to design programs that equip educators, policy makers, and other key providers of information with strategies for sending a clear, early message to the public, before suspicions and misinformation can take root.

After laying out the features of their ideal organization, the team acknowledged the enormous challenges involved in making it a reality. The question of funding weighed heavily on the closing discussions; several members doubted it would be feasible to access the Nuclear Waste Fund. But the team agreed that the diverse expertise at the conference had produced a novel vision—one worth fleshing out and presenting to policy makers with the hope of inspiring more deliberate and effective communication.

IDR TEAM MEMBERS—GROUP B

•   Shahzeen Z. Attari, Indiana University

•   Ronald L. Boring, Idaho National Laboratory

•   Lydia M. Contreras, University of Texas at Austin

•   Carolyn Crist, University of Georgia

•   Frederic H. Fahey, Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging

•   Kathleen L. Purvis-Roberts, Pitzer College

•   Aaron J. Simon, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

•   Andrew S. Whittaker, University at Buffalo The State University of New York

IDR TEAM SUMMARY—GROUP 4B

Carolyn Crist, NAKFI Science Writing Scholar University of Georgia

IDR Team 4B was asked to design and think about how to fund a 3-year public–private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts about the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust in the use of nuclear technology.

As part of this, the team outlined the various components of the “nuclear enterprise”—energy, medicine, weapons, food irradiation, and

Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
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more. Recognizing that the public likely thinks about bombs, Chernobyl, and Fukushima when the term “nuclear” is mentioned, the team noted the importance of discussing the actual risks and benefits of nuclear technology. The team also emphasized the need to understand the true risks associated with the nuclear enterprise in order to truthfully communicate them to lay audiences. By communicating the full breadth of nuclear use, experts may be able to help lay audiences understand that their personal risks related to nuclear radiation are limited compared to the benefits.

To understand how a public perception program might be implemented, the team discussed successful awareness campaigns for other socially contentious subjects, such as smoking cessation, bicycle helmets, texting while driving, flu vaccines, anti-bullying, and the BP public relations efforts after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The team also looked at the “rebranding” and “trust-building” ideas promoted by BP, clean coal, Earth Day, and childhood obesity campaigns.

To capture all of these possibilities in a broad sense, the team decided the initiative should stick to a traditional scientific path of implementing a social science experiment with a pilot program. The goal of the proposed 3-year initiative is to plan, execute, and evaluate one or more pilot programs in specific communities to understand how attitudes change. The long-term goal is to evaluate public understanding of nuclear power, energy, and medicine in the United States. This 3-year initiative is the first step.

The Pilot

The team would like to encourage more positive public perception and support of the nuclear enterprise by either or both:

•   A targeted energy and nuclear technology module in K-12 education,

•   An outreach initiative designed to spark engagement and public discourse, most likely through a public relations campaign.

This approach is based on the idea that people get their information through multiple channels. The two main channels discussed were formal education in schools and, as adults, information through traditional media, social media, and lifelong education. In the first channel, teachers provide information to students on a daily basis, but in the other, adults seek and locate information from a variety of sources.

Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
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As part of the pilot, the team would study attitudes in several communities before and after the education module or public relations campaign. The use of several different communities—such as a location with hospitals that use medical isotopes, a neighborhood near a nuclear power plant, and an area with little or no relation to nuclear technology—would address the need to examine the differences in perception and background knowledge. To evaluate the situation, the IDR Team would like to employ the mental model mapping technique, which is an explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world. Used for analysis in the early stage of design thinking and strategic design planning, mental models give psychological representations of real, hypothetical, or imaginary situations.

The evaluation tool would include a literature review, which would investigate the effective strategies used in other countries, such as positive public perception of nuclear energy in France, and successful communication campaigns employed in other fields in the United States, such as smoking cessation and the mandatory use of bicycle helmets. As part of this, the team noted the importance of “rebranding” the image of nuclear technology to emphasize its benefits and clearly stating the true costs and risks associated with the technology. Following the literature review, the team would conduct lay and expert interviews about nuclear technology, education, and communications to create the pilot programs.

Education

The first part of the pilot program would target the K-12 age group. In an education module about overall energy options and their supply chains, students can learn in a broad sense where energy comes from and how it is used. This would include oil, gas, coal, nuclear power, wind, solar, and biomass. Several tangible suggestions came to mind, such as books, packaged lectures, or hands-on demonstration kits to help children make a personal connection with energy technology. To build on that personal connection, the team would also like to include field trips or tours of local energy facilities, not only nuclear, for students to observe the workers, technology, and mechanics involved in the energy field. This component also involves the education and training of teachers in order to incorporate this module into their curriculum, which might include stipends for them to attend a summer short course or conference at the university level. In addition, the team recommends a specific module that targets high school students, pos-

Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
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sibly called Nuclear Science and Medicine, to inform students about the various applications of nuclear technology in energy, medicine, and food safety. This course would help high school students, who are more able to think abstractly about processes and chemical interactions, to develop a full understanding of nuclear technologies.

Public outreach

The second part of the pilot program would seek to spark engagement and public discourse through various media messages. This could involve a public relations campaign, advertising, and training of nuclear experts to better discuss their technologies and relevance to the public. One aspect of the intervention is creating a better crisis communication plan to promote transparency and facilitate trust after nuclear accidents, such as those at Three Mile Island and Fukushima, which highly influenced public opinion.

Based on communications research, the team identified six “success” factors to be incorporated into any messaging—knowledge and data, endorsement, medium, community, emotion, and why and how. Most of all, storytelling is a key component of helping the public to see a situation through the eyes of a nuclear expert or advocate.

By emphasizing knowledge and data, the team would use science-based facts and numbers to empower the public to formulate its own opinion and make decisions. For instance, no one was injured during the Three Mile Island incident, which many members of the public do not realize. Part of the problem in the past, the team agreed, is the separation between nuclear experts and the public in terms of knowledge. By keeping the general audience at arm’s length and building an air of authority, experts have talked down to lay people or withheld information. For example, during the Fukushima accident, officials did not release information quickly or with total transparency, which caused public distrust.

In addition, endorsements from “celebrities” and community play a key part in the messaging strategy. The idea is to use a well-recognized person or character who can present the message as a trustworthy third-party speaker. For instance, Bill Gates is a highly visible public figure in technology and philanthropy, and Homer Simpson is a well-known cartoon character who works at a nuclear plant. The idea is that Gates-like figures appeal to the current acceptance of “nerdy intellectualism” while Homer-like characters can use humor and sarcasm to turn around the images burned in our minds from the past in relation to nuclear technology. As part of this, building a

Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
×

community around nuclear technologies through social media or college campus activism is crucial to spreading the messages in a way that encourages authentic buy-in from public stakeholders.

Another aspect pulls in various media—books, YouTube videos, or even a Hollywood box office hit. Within the various media, the messages and stories can appeal to emotion, such as a child being successfully treated for a disease with nuclear medicine. The point is that all messages must explain benefits of nuclear technologies rather than only communicating risks in a way people can associate with their own lives. Most of all, messages should find a way to give the audience a “why and how,” or a call to action, to move forward with their new knowledge or favorable understanding of nuclear technologies. Depending on the community in the pilot program, this could be safety information for those who live near a nuclear power plant or a detailed but easy-to-understand brochure for a mother considering nuclear diagnostic tools and imaging tests for her child.

Evaluating the Pilot

Following the 3-year pilot program, the team would carry out measurements, evaluation, iteration, and repetition of the initial survey to see whether education and ad campaigns create new mental models about perceptions of nuclear technology. To measure efficacy, the answer comes from the “difference in the differences,” both before and after the campaign and among the different communities used in the experiment. The evaluation would assess changes in beliefs, knowledge, and attitudes among families and communities.

As part of the design and evaluation, the team would search for funding sources from various organizations in order to convince participants and others that the information campaign is based on balance, transparency, and objectivity. Thus, a neutral party should execute the pilot study. Once evaluation of the 3-year pilot program is complete, the team would hope to partner with other organizations to continue the research process and find new ways to promote positive public perception of the nuclear enterprise.

IDR TEAM MEMBERS—GROUP C

•   Marissa Z. Bell, SUNY University at Buffalo

•   Keith S. Bradley, Argonne National Laboratory

•   Megan Garcia, William & Flora Hewlett Foundation

Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
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•   David J. Harris, National Academy of Sciences

•   Bojan Petrovic, Georgia Institute of Technology

•   Nicholas St. Fleur, University of California, Santa Cruz

•   Susan M. Stevens-Adams, Sandia National Laboratories

•   Mark Sutton, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

•   Bao H. Truong, TerraPower LLC

IDR TEAM SUMMARY—GROUP 4C

Nicholas St. Fleur, NAKFI Science Writing Scholar University of California, Santa Cruz

IDR Team 4C was asked to design a 3-year plan for bridging the gap between public perception and nuclear experts on the risks of nuclear energy. First the team rephrased its challenge that supports a more inclusive objective to better reflect the broad nature of nuclear technology.

“How might we better understand and bridge the gap in perception between the public and nuclear experts on the nuclear enterprise.”

With this newly phrased task at hand, the team devised a 3-year time line centered on four stages: information collection and analysis, identification of a pilot project, pilot project execution, and project analysis.

Mind the Gap

The team’s plan of attack for this challenge centered on the idea of “Mind the Gap,” a risk communication challenge that requires increasing understanding between the public and scientists who cannot take a one-sided approach to its challenge. The problem must be tackled from both ends of the perception gap. As such, the team devised a plan to address scientists and the public equally. This short phrase as it relates to nuclear science risk communication can be broken into three parts: be aware of the gap, beware the gap, and tend the gap.

Be aware of the gap

To achieve success in a risk communication campaign, scientists must understand that their opinion of the benefits of certain aspects of the nuclear enterprise may not be the same as or resonate with the public.

Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
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Beware the gap

As previously mentioned, one of the risks with a communication challenge that involves the public and scientists is in addressing only one side of the equation. The team stated that it must be careful to not only reach out to the public, but to also reach out to scientists.

Tend to the gap

The team decided its approach would provide an objective message to educate the public on the nuclear enterprise. The team wants to allow people to draw their own well-informed conclusions. In keeping with its goal of objectivity the team decided to not use words such as “risk” or “benefit” when discussing nuclear energy with the public because it considers both words to be inherently subjective.

Information Collection and Analysis

Statistics from national surveys disclose the percentages of the public’s opinion for or against the nuclear enterprise. They do not reveal the reasoning behind those perceptions or the emotions that elicit such opinions.

For Team 4C, the best way to gain knowledge about public opinion is by examining what information already exists on the topic. The team’s first plan of action would be to conduct a meta-study that analyzes all of the previous scientific literature on the public’s perception on topics such as nuclear energy, nuclear waste, nuclear medicine, and related issues.

The team allocated 4 months to developing the meta-study. In addition to looking through the scientific literature, the team would also reach out to different populations across the United States to gain first-hand knowledge about people’s perceptions on the nuclear enterprise and compare those reactions to the reactions obtained from the meta-study.

Also included in the information collection stage is an effort to collect data from scientists on their thoughts about the public perception of nuclear sciences.

Identification of a Pilot Project

Nuclear science is a multifaceted enterprise. It encompasses medicine and energy as well as waste and radiation. The team decided that the best

Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
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way to tackle the problem as a whole would be to focus on individual aspects of the nuclear enterprise. The team would use the data they obtain from their meta-study to determine which aspects of the nuclear sciences the public perceives as most important.

The team will then take three or four of the ideas and develop them into pilot projects. Each pilot project will take place over the course of several months during the 3-year program.

Pilot Project Execution

The next part of Team 4C’s plan is to implement two to three pilot projects. The group divided the projects into those aimed at the public and those aimed at scientists.

Project for the public’s perception

The group thought of enlisting stakeholders and opinion leaders as a way of reaching the public. One member came up with the idea of identifying 2,000 people in America who hold some sort of influence over the public and then presenting what it considers an objective explanation of the nuclear enterprise. Another approach to the pilot project dabbled with the idea of enlisting a well-respected celebrity to act as an opinion leader.

This led the group to another idea: using storytelling to educate the public about nuclear energy. One team member said that when people don’t understand a topic or are not trained in it, they let their emotions dictate their opinions. Stories elicit emotions. The group figured a compelling (and scientifically sound) story about the nuclear enterprise could elicit a public movement. This idea was a bit controversial because team members were unsure of how they could develop such a story about nuclear energy that didn’t play off of people’s fears.

Project for the scientists’ perception

To help educate scientists the task force would develop a guide that amasses the information they gathered from polling the public. The team would promote their guide to scientists at universities and national labs. The team thought that a best-practices guide would be a successful pilot project for scientists looking to educate the public about their work, which would help scientists learn to better communicate to the public. Or it could

Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
×

be reformatted in a way that is more user-friendly for the everyday person, such as through social media or an educational website/video.

Project Analysis

The final step would be to analyze how effective the projects were at bridging the understanding between scientists and the public on nuclear energy through a new meta-study and surveys. The team would conduct a failure/success analysis according to defined metrics to determine which pilot project worked best. The most successful pilot projects would then be put forth as a case study for other organizations looking to increase public awareness of the nuclear enterprise as well as help scientists understand public opinion on their work. Funding for this project would come from a neutral not-for-profit organizations.

Conclusion

After rephrasing their problem the team agreed on an approach to bridging the gap between scientists and the public about the nuclear enterprise. The team used the central idea of “Mind the Gap” to first understand the perceptual differences between experts and the U.S. public on nuclear issues. Then the team created a 3-year time line centered on four stages of collecting information, identifying pilot projects, executing pilot projects, and analyzing results. By attacking the challenge as a two-sided problem the team outlined a plan for creating pilot projects for both the public and the scientists that will help bridge the communication gap on nuclear energy.

Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
×
Page 47
Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
×
Page 48
Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
×
Page 49
Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
×
Page 50
Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
×
Page 51
Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
×
Page 52
Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
×
Page 53
Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
×
Page 54
Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
×
Page 55
Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
×
Page 56
Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
×
Page 57
Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
×
Page 58
Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
×
Page 59
Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
×
Page 60
Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
×
Page 61
Suggested Citation:"IDR Team Summary 4: Design and fund a 3-year public/private initiative to better understand and bridge the perception/reality gap between the public and nuclear experts on the risks of the nuclear enterprise and to restore the public trust.." National Research Council. 2014. The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies: Interdisciplinary Research Team Summaries. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/18705.
×
Page 62
Next: IDR Team Summary 5: Define the means to promote U.S. interests in the international nuclear power field in an era of diminishing U.S. and Western European influence. »
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The National Academies Keck Futures Initiative (NAKFI) Conference in 2013 focused on the Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies to generate new ideas about how to move nuclear technology forward while making the world safer and more secure. Beyond the public's apprehension concerning the safety of nuclear power, which calls out for better communications strategies, several challenges lie ahead for the nuclear enterprise in the United States. The workforce in nuclear technology is aging, there is an overreliance on large, high-risk reactor designs, and the supply of radioisotopes for nuclear medicine remains unstable--all problems crying out for solutions.

The Future of Advanced Nuclear Technologies summarizes the 14 Interdisciplinary Research (IDR) teams' collaborations on creative solutions to challenges designed to propel the policy, engineering, and social aspects of the nuclear enterprise forward.

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