Challenging dominant radiological and nuclear risk communication narratives in a post-trust and post-truth environment

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Geography

Abstract

While climate change has given nuclear power a new lease on life as a carbon neutral source of energy, it is the subject of almost unique public dread. This poses a significant, if geographically uneven, obstacle to any nuclear renaissance. The aim of this research is to understand the determinants of public perceptions of nuclear power and the potential for scientific risk communication interventions to change them in a 'post-truth' era of pervasive public distrust. This project will:
1. Explore the historical evolution of public risk perceptions around nuclear power and radiation.
2. Explain whether, how, and why those perceptions vary and change.
3. Develop and test communication interventions to shift public perceptions.
RATIONALE FOR STUDY:
After WWII humankind's relationship with radiation dramatically changed, with the debates around fallout and nuclear power becoming key political battlegrounds. The unique fear that radiation in the context of nuclear power elicits became the focus of intense academic work. Psychometric research highlighted three key factors to risk perceptions: understanding of risk, feelings of dread and the number of people exposed (Slovic et al, 1982). Nuclear power was one of the key empirical cases for risk research during the 70s and 80s. In a landmark study Fischoff et al. (1978) noted nuclear power's uniquely dreaded profile in comparison to any other risks. However, it was also found that radiation fears were far from unified, with radiation from nuclear power a source of major concern, whilst natural or medical sources were not. Despite decades of extensive research on nuclear power acceptability/public support, nuclear remains highly controversial.
The Social Amplification of Risk Framework (SARF) is a suitable theoretical framework to use for the creation of risk communications strategies as it accounts for the complex socio-cultural, socio-political and historical framing that radiation and nuclear inevitably is subject to (Kasperson, 2012). Additionally, it also provides a framework for how to attenuate perceived risks, something that is central to this project. However, the decline and shift of public trust in regulators and industry towards interest groups has created a range of issues for risk communication (Lofstedt, 2005). This has severely impacted nuclear power, especially in relations to its secretive weapons background (Weart, 2012) and its 'manufactured' nature whereby it is marked by human agency, which can aid distrust (Beck, 1992). Indeed, Kasperson (2012) calls for work into the relationship between SARF and trust, as well as a close examination of the amplification process regarding nuclear power and radiation.
Furthermore, the concepts of post-truth and truth decay have gained interest recently as public discourse is increasingly polarised. Social media plays an important role in this, especially regarding the creation of 'info bubbles'. In turn, social media algorithms create the possibility for an interesting application of SARF and the amplification of certain viewpoints. These developments have also seen the role of 'objective facts' has become diminished with competing sets of 'facts' being deployed to support a certain viewpoint (Kavanagh & Rich, 2018). This is especially pertinent in nuclear discourse, where there are large discrepancies on e.g. casualties and health effects after nuclear accidents which, in turn, affect public perceptions significantly.
As Slovic (2012) notes, Fukushima highlighted that risk communication strategies for nuclear power are inadequate and the need for effective strategies to be designed prior to the next nuclear accident. This research will therefore be able to make significant academic contributions, not only in regards to risk communication around nuclear power and radiation, but wider contributions in regards to SARF and post truth/trust research.

Publications

10 25 50
publication icon
Lindberg, JCH (2019) The lingering ghost of Chernobyl in NUCLEAR ENGINEERING INTERNATIONAL

publication icon
Lindberg, JCH (2020) Nuclear a la Hollywood in NUCLEAR ENGINEERING INTERNATIONAL

publication icon
Lindberg, JCH (2018) Pressuring light water in NUCLEAR ENGINEERING INTERNATIONAL

publication icon
Lindberg, JCH (2020) Making sense of radiation in NUCLEAR ENGINEERING INTERNATIONAL

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2104527 Studentship ES/P000703/1 01/10/2018 30/09/2024 John Lindberg
 
Description My research has started to influence the way certain nuclear organisations frame the nuclear debate, going beyond just climate change, and how they engage with policymakers, the general public, etc. This work continues as my research progresses.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Energy
Impact Types Societal

 
Description Continious training on communication and engagement
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact Through my part-time employment with the World Nuclear Association, I have been able to take my research and started to implement and teach it to the global nuclear industry. This work is still in its early days, but I am frequently called upon to make internal presentations on how to better communicate around nuclear energy with the industry in all parts of the world.
 
Description Travel grant
Amount $500 (USD)
Organisation Society for Risk Analysis 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United States
Start 12/2018 
End 12/2018
 
Description Conference Presentation - ENYGF2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presented research at the European Nuclear Young Generation Forum in Ghent, with approximately 30 people in attendance, which sparked a good conversation about the importance of communication practices and challenges faced by the nuclear industry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Conference Presentation - SRA2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Presented research at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Risk Analysis in New Orleans. The presentation sparked an interesting discussion about some of my research, which I have adapted into a yet-to-be-published research paper.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Conference presentation - International Conference on Radiation Safety: Improving Radiation Protection in Practice (United Nations) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Spoke at the International Conference on Radiation Safety: Improving Radiation Protection in Practice, hosted by the United Nations (International Atomic Energy Agency), presenting parts of my PhD research. Very good engagement during and following the presentation, with follow-ups arrange, etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL http://streaming.iaea.org/21562
 
Description Guest blogger, The Empowered Atom 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Was invited to become a guest blogger for an interdisciplinary project - the Empowered Atom - which merges science and art, where I worked with an artist who interpreted my texts and found ways to bring my research to life. Throughout the project, very good feedback was received.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.theempoweredatom.com/nuclear
 
Description Interview, IAEA Bulletin 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Was interviewed for the IEA Bulletin, one of the largest publications in the world of nuclear, about the importance of youth engagement and diversity in nuclear.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/bulletindecadeafterfukushima.pdf
 
Description Opinion piece 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Published an opinion piece in one of the largest Swedish newspapers about the importance of nuclear energy and some of the early findings about radiophobia that had been made. Co-authored with Professor Gerry Thomas of Imperial College.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.gp.se/debatt/v%C3%A5r-str%C3%A5lningsfobi-raserar-sveriges-klimatledande-roll-1.5474143
 
Description Podcast interview, "Effects of Chernobyl" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Podcast interview about the health effects of radiation following the Chernobyl accident
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://chasingbandos.podbean.com/e/john-lindberg/
 
Description Podcast interview, "How Public Perception Can Impact Nuclear Energy" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Podcast on the issue of nuclear waste and public perception, and why it is important to take into account aspects of my research in future communication strategies on these issues.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.deepisolation.com/nuclear-waste-podcast/how-public-perception-can-impact-nuclear-energy/
 
Description Podcast interview, "Titans of Nuclear" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Interviewed as a part of the Titans of Nuclear podcast series, which interviews different experts in different fields of the nuclear industry and beyond. I presented findings from my research and its policy- and behavioural impacts, which subsequently sparked a lot of interest following the episode's release and requests to present further findings have been made by both industry and third sector representatives - all in line with the intended purpose.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.titansofnuclear.com/experts/JohnLindberg
 
Description YouTube interview - Communication & Nuclear 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Was interviewed by a YouTuber about the importance of a new comms paradigm for nuclear, why we need nuclear energy, etc.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92MP7_F2c-U&t=6s&ab_channel=OsamaBaig