Risk perception and attitudes towards radiation risks and nuclear activities

Risk perception is an important element in policy development and public decision-making. It remains one of the most important challenges in nuclear risk governance, as proven by the lessons learnt from past events. Through our research we seek to bridge between the different theories underlying risk perception research (psychometric models, cultural theory, social amplification of risk, mental model approaches) and to incorporate findings from other fields, such as information processing theory.

The main empirical tool we employ is a large scale public opinion survey carried out at regular intervals: the SCK•CEN Risk Perception Barometer. A core part of this survey assesses perception of radiation risks in the Belgian population and confidence in authorities for managing these risks.

The research focusses on:

  • Understanding the variation in the perception of risks from nuclear and non-nuclear activities and hazards.
  • Possible explanatory variables for risk perception.
  • Interactions among risk perception, attitudes and behaviour.
  • Trust in the management of nuclear installations and in nuclear actors and the relation with risk perception.
  • Specific elements such as the perception of the Fukushima accident, the threat of malevolent use of radiation and radiation risks from contaminated food.

On-going projects

The SCK•CEN Risk Perception Barometer

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Perception and consumers' behaviour towards contaminated goods in the aftermath of a nuclear or radiological accident

In the aftermath of the nuclear accident in Fukushima, the management of contaminated goods (food and other goods) came forward as an important issue in post-accidental emergency management.

In the framework of the FP7 project PREPARE, stakeholder panels have been organised in ten European countries (Belgium, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Netherlands, UK)  in order to discuss strategies and guidance concerning ther management of contaminated goods.  The panels brought together emergency management actors, producers, food processors, retail and consumers.

Final Report

Contact: Turcanu Catrinel

OPERRA (Open project for European research area) 

Risk perception of low doses of ionizing radiation: Public and scientific uncertainties

Estimating the effects of low doses of ionizing radiation on human and environment is nowadays one of the key research topics in the radiation protection field (Melodi  SRA). However, there has been less focus on the public understanding and perception of low radiation doses. One of the biggest challenges in communicating risks about low doses to the public is related to the complex scientific uncertainty that exists in this field. Although uncertainty is inherent to science, the low dose field is complicated by many aspects, including a lack of consensus between scientists on dose-response relationships and epidemiological challenges in identifying risk factors. A dedicated task in the FP7 project OPERRA focuses on public and expert perception and communication related to low doses of ionizing radiation. 

More info: http://www.melodi-online.eu/operra.html

Contact: Perko Tanja

GENTLE (Graduate and Executive Nuclear Training and Lifelong Education)

Designing lectures and course material related to risk perception

In a dedicated work package of the project we set up course material and lectures related to radiation risk perception in the context of a master course on Nuclear Energy focusing on the education of young professionals working in the industry, research organizations and (inter)governmental organizations.

Contact: Perko Tanja

Risk perception and the influence of media channels

In the framework of a collaboration with KU Leuven, Institute for Media Studies (Belgium), this study investigates whether or not the specific media channel used to get information about the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident had effects on the risk perception of the accident. The influence of five primary communication channels (TV, radio, newspapers, internet and interpersonal communication) are studied, as well as several different internet sources (websites of newspapers, radio and television channels and those of (non-)governmental agencies, in addition to Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other sources, such as YouTube).

Contact: Perko Tanja

Risk perception and the feeling of solidarity in the case of a nuclear accident

Managing the consequences of nuclear accidents is costly and in many cases exceeds national budgets and expertise. In order to recover from the consequences of the accidents in Chernobyl and Fukushima, the international community has provided assistance to the affected societies and to the affected people. Help from different institutions (e.g  IAEA) is frequently reported in international documents, whereas the feeling of solidarity among the general, not-affected population is not scrutinized. Do people living far from the accident care? How much and for how long? Do the nuclear disasters have the power to mobilize world’s sympathy and support? If they do, do these feelings last for a longer period, or do the willingness to help and to share the consequences disappear with new events appearing on the first pages of newspapers? The research is empirically grounded on data from a public opinion survey addressing the feelings of sympathy and solidarity in the Belgian population (n > 1000) and from media content analysis of Belgian press reports about the nuclear accident in Fukushima. Results of this research are an added value for a better decision-making in nuclear emergency preparedness and response and contribute to an enhanced interaction of the radiation protection field with society. The research is conducted in collaboration with the University of Antwerp, Belgium.

Contact: Perko Tanja

Previous projects

Modelling Risk Perception and Risk Communication in Nuclear Emergency Management: An Interdisciplinary Approach

Risk perception and risk communication are modelled in the context of different nuclear events and communication campaigns; for this purpose an interdisciplinary approach is used, combining several research fields: risk communication, political communication, risk perception, emergency management, radiation protection and opinion formation. The case studies investigated range from communication in the framework of nuclear emergency preparedness, to crisis communication and post-crisis communication of radiological risks.  A new approach based on a prominent model adapted from political communication is introduced for the analysis of risk communication. Predictors of the reception and the acceptance of information are defined. In addition, the dissertation addresses shortcomings in previous research on media reporting about severe and minor nuclear events by developing strict scientific and coding protocols, measurement methods and codebooks. Several practical guidelines stemming from the research are proposed for sound risk communication in nuclear emergency management.

More info:  http://www.m2p.be/publications/1358880649.pdf

Contact: Perko Tanja

Differences in risk perception: General public versus employees at a nuclear installation

In collaboration with the Faculty of Economics & Management, University of Brussels, Belgium, a study was carried out to determine the differences in the perception of risks between employees who are regularly exposed to radiation and lay people. This provides important insights into how information about potential hazards is processed. In the present study we examined the perception of different radiological risks among lay people and employees at a nuclear research centre: nuclear waste, medical X-rays, natural radiation, an accident at a nuclear installation in general, and the Fukushima accident in particular.

More info

Contact: Perko Tanja

Risk perception of ionising radiation among hospital personnel

A Master thesis by Charlotte Stiévenart in collaboration with Ecole de Santé Publique-ULB, Belgium, explored risk perception among medical staff (doctors, nurses, technicians, hospital physicists) professionally exposed to ionising radiation. A dedicated questionnaire was designed for this purpose and completed in Dutch or French language by 81 professionals from five major hospitals in Belgium.
The results show, among other, that almost half of the respondents perceived the risks due ionising radiation in their working environment as low or very low, while a third perceive these risks as average risks. Ionising radiation risks account for about one third of the perceived job risk. However, the non-nuclear job-related risks typical to a hospital environment are almost equally important in explaining the perception of the overall job-related risk. Furthermore, a relationship was discovered between safety behaviour and risk perception: the more the respondents use the protection equipment, the lower is their risk perception. Having a safer behaviour leads to a feeling of increased safety and controllability of the risk, and thus, a lower (personal) risk perception of ionising radiation risks. Finally, the results revealed that respondents with more general knowledge about ionising radiation tend to perceive risks from ionising radiation at the workplace as lower than the other, non-nuclear risks.

Contact: Turcanu Catrinel