Risk communication

Risk communication in the nuclear field may have several aims to:

  1. Warn people in case of a nuclear emergency
  2. Inform about radiation risks
  3. Prevent panic and outrage
  4. Support the stakeholders in making informed decisions related to radiation risks
  5. Establish two-way communication and joint problem solving.

In this research area we combine several concepts from risk communication theory, among which agenda setting and information processing. A combination of all approaches - individual, societal and also institutional - is used to study, explain and improve communication about radiation risks.

The scales applied in the research range from individual, psychological, cultural and societal to political, and are tested in different populations and different contexts.

The methods employed are the following: public opinion surveys, media content analysis, media framing analysis, dialogue groups and experiments. In this domain we:

  • Carry out scientific research
  • Promote and mentor master and PhD students in collaboration with different universities
  • Participate and organise lectures and courses
  • Provide advice to different practitioners of risk communication (European Commission, IAEA, federal authorities, etc). 

Contact: Perko Tanja

On-going projects

EAGLE FP7 project

Enhancing educAtion, training and communication processes for informed behaviour and decision-makinG reLatEd to ionising radiation

In order to improve the education, training and communication processes for informed behavior and decision-making related to ionizing radiation risk the European Commission launched in August 2013 a coordination and support action called EAGLE (http://eagle.sckcen.be) under FP7-EURATOM. The project aims at revealing and coordinating existing information and communication strategies targeting the general public on the subject of ionizing radiation, its applications and its effects, taking into consideration also the lessons learnt from the 2011 disaster in Fukushima (Japan). For this purpose, the EAGLE project is analyzing the education, information and communication needs for the general public at EU level on ionizing radiation, identifying and exchanging good practices in communication with citizens, addressing the gaps between information sources, media and the general public and providing support based on modern communication tools for the coordination of information and communication strategies for the general public. The project is coordinated by SCK•CEN (Tanja Perko).

More information at: http://eagle.sckcen.be/

Contact: Perko Tanja

Analysis of media reporting after the Fukushima nuclear accident

In the framework of the PREPARE FP7 project, a  large study was carried out concerning media reporting about the Fukushima nuclear accident. The media content analysis was conducted in five PREPARE project countries (Belgium, Italy, Norway, Slovenia, Spain) and in Russia which presented- a joint research partner from outside of the project. The goal of this media analysis was threefold.

  1. Firstly, to improve public communication for nuclear emergency management, with focus on nuclear emergency preparedness.
  2. Secondly, to identify the differences in media reporting about the same nuclear event and with the similar radiological consequences in different countries.
  3. Lastly, to identify the influencing factors on media reporting about a nuclear emergency.

The results of the analysis give insight into the information that has to be communicated by the emergency managers to the mass media  and well as methods of delivering those risk messages effectively.

Contact: Perko Tanja

Risk communication in nuclear/radiological emergencies

The nuclear/radiological incidents or accidents that happened in the last decades have shown that such events may have wide-spread consequences that touch on multiple aspects of the society. Possible consequences include not only health risks for the population (e.g. radiation diseases), but also social changes (e.g. stigma), psychological effects (e.g. distress, depression) and economic threats (e.g. rejection of farming products).

Such consequences may be limited with effective risk communication, which informs the public on the problem and specific dangers, prevents ineffective fear-driven and potentially dangerous public response, and provides guidance on appropriate response.

Communication for nuclear/radiological emergencies should be prepared in advance. As emergency management entails an open-end cycle of risk mitigation, emergency preparedness, crisis response and recovery, the related communication is not limited to the crisis communication during a nuclear/radiological event, but covers a long-term process requiring two-way communication and specific communication tools and methods.

At the same time, the studies on risk communication for nuclear/radiological events have focussed up to now on severe accidents. Small incidents, which happen more often and provide a valuable source of information and knowledge, have hardly been addressed.

In our activities we seek to address the entire pre-crisis – crisis – post-crisis communication cycle and to cover a broad spectrum of contexts, including small incidents. This involves, among other, acquiring a good understanding of how people process the information given in case of an emergency.

We are involved in the following activities in the field of nuclear emergency management:

  • Research: public opinion studies, media content analysis, dialogue groups …
  • Lectures and courses
  • Mentorship for master and PhD students
  • Advice to nuclear emergency management (local, national, European and international level)

Contact: Perko Tanja

Public Understanding of Risk

As members of the International Radiation Protection Association (IRPA) in the Task Group on Public Understanding of Risk we contribute to IRPA’s initiative to improve public communication and to develop a resource for informing and educating the public about radiation risk including risks from the medical applications.

Contact: Perko Tanja

Study on information sources in communication about radiological risks

Many studies point out that people under stress have difficulty hearing, understanding and remembering information. Yet, provision of clear, objective and understandable information to the public during an emergency reduces public stress and contributes to the prevention and mitigation of consequences of an emergency. An important question is how effective are different information sources in delivering messages and which of the information sources are the most heard, understood and accepted by the general public? The focus of the research lays down on the effectiveness of different information sources tested in an experimental setting in the preparedness phase of a nuclear emergency management. The research is done in collaboration with the University of Antwerp.

Contact: Perko Tanja

Past projects

Modelling of risk perception and risk communication in nuclear emergency management: An interdisciplinary approach

A PhD by Tanja Perko in collaboration with Antwerp University (Prof. Thijssen) aimed at modeling risk perception and information processing in nuclear emergency management.

The PhD research explored the effect of risk communication in nuclear emergency management, on individuals exposed to communication concerning a nuclear event or related protective actions. The research brought insights into:

  • How the people process information important for nuclear emergency management.
  • How they acquire information about nuclear risks and subsequently convert it into behaviour change (or intention to behaviour change).
  • How they make decisions about radiation risks.

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

Contact: Perko Tanja