The Perils of a Half-Built Bridge: Risk Perception, Shifting Majorities, and the Nuclear Power Debate

Leiter, Amanda
February 2008
Ecology Law Quarterly;2008, Vol. 35 Issue 1, p31
Academic Journal
Much of the risk perception literature relies on the important but unstated assumption that manipulating public opinion to conform to scientific assessments of risk could help the public and, in turn, policymakers make better decisions about whether and how to regulate.' This Article argues that the assumption fails in the context of certain "multilayered" risks, or risks that pose tiered policy choices, for which the question is not just whether to regulate, but how to respond to derivative risks arising from the first set of regulatory changes. Examining the debate about the role of nuclear power in the United States' response to climate change, the Article observes that first- and second-tier risks often differ in character, or require different types of regulatory solutions (market-based versus command-and-control). Due to these variations, the public may hold starkly different views about regulation of each tier, and those views may be differently "sticky "-that is, differently susceptible to persuasion. In the context of the nuclear power debate, this tiering of opinion has perverse implications. The first-tier risks of nuclear power are those associated with individual reactors, including the risks of accident or terrorist attack; the second-tier risks are those associated with mining, transport, processing, storage, and disposal of radioactive materials. Recent work asserts that despite entrenched public fear of nuclear power, it may be possible to induce people to support construction of low-emissions reactors as a strategy for mitigating climate change. But even if policymakers could employ the risk education strategies discussed in the literature to shift public opinion in favor of nuclear reactor development, there is no reason to think such strategies would be equally effective at changing attitudes toward the second-tier risks of radioactive materials and the command-and-control regulations necessary to address those risks. To the contrary, many people would likely continue to oppose certain types of government action on these derivative problems, even assuming complete success of the hypothetical first-tier education strategy and resulting support for expansion of nuclear facilities. As a result, the United States could find itself with a thriving nuclear power sector, but without the political will to address the grave collateral risks. These observations lead to two conclusions, one related to the nuclear power example, and one to risk regulation more broadly. First, differently sticky public attitudes toward first- and second-tier nuclear risks and their regulatory solutions may defeat any effort to respond to climate change via an increase in US. reliance on nuclear power. Second, efforts to change public risk perceptions may not advance a regulatory agenda, and may even prove counterproductive. Specifically, where multiple risk layers exist, a successful first-tier education effort and consequent policy changes could create or expose second-tier risks that defy regulatory solution, leaving policymakers stranded at the abrupt and unexpected end of a half-built bridge. Depending on the gravity of the second-tier risks, this regulatory dead end could be one that neither policymakers nor the public would have chosen beforehand.


Related Articles

  • Design Options to Reduce Development Cost of First Generation Surface Reactors. Poston, David I.; Marcille, Thomas F. // AIP Conference Proceedings;2006, Vol. 813 Issue 1, p281 

    Low-power surface reactors have the potential to have the lowest development cost of any space reactor application, primarily because system alpha (mass/kg) is not of utmost importance and mission lifetimes do not have to be a decade or more. Even then, the development cost of a surface reactor...

  • Probabilistic Risk Analysis toward Cost-Effective 3S (Safety, Safeguards, Security) Implementation. Mitsutoshi Suzuki; Toshiro Mochiji // AIP Conference Proceedings;2014, Vol. 1615, p33 

    Probabilistic Risk Analysis (PRA) has been introduced for several decades in safety and nuclear advanced countries have already used this methodology in their own regulatory systems. However, PRA has not been developed in safeguards and security so far because of inherent difficulties in...

  • Modification of Neutron Kinetic Code for Plate Type Fuel Nuclear Reactor. Khan, Salah Ud-Din; Khan, Shahab Ud-Din; Yang Zhifei // Science & Technology of Nuclear Installations;2013, p1 

    The research is conducted on the modification of neutron kinetic code for the plate type fuel nuclear reactor. REMARK is a neutron kinetic code that works only for the cylindrical type fuel nuclear reactor. In this research, our main emphasis is on the modification of this code in order to be...

  • Uncertainty Analysis in Reactor Physics Modeling. Ivanov, Kostadin; Parisi, Carlo; Cabellos, Oscar // Science & Technology of Nuclear Installations;2013, p1 

    No abstract available.

  • Nuclear propulsion systems. A. Achkasov; G. Grechko; V. Shishkin // Atomic Energy;Jul2007, Vol. 103 Issue 1, p532 

    Abstract  The main results of the work done at the Research and Design Institute of Electrical Technology on the development of designs and the creation of nuclear steam-producing systems (SPS) for propulsion are presented: the SPS VM-A for the first Soviet nuclear powered submarine, the...

  • Comparison of Reactivity Control Systems for the Submersion Subcritical Safe Space (S∧4) Reactor. Schriener, Timothy M.; El-Genk, Mohamed S. // AIP Conference Proceedings;1/21/2008, Vol. 969 Issue 1, p348 

    This paper compares the effectiveness of two control mechanisms for the S∧4 reactor, namely: (a) rotating BeO drums with 120° thin segments of enriched B4C in the radial reflector; and (b) sliding windows in the radial reflector. Investigated are the effects of using these control...

  • Hitachi to scale back nuclear plans in UK.  // Daily Mail;11/16/2013, p97 

    THE next company planning to build nuclear reactors in Britain has scaled back its ambitions in a blow to the UK's power sector.

  • Necessity of nuclear fuel cycle closure. Muravyov, E. // Atomic Energy;Apr2012, Vol. 111 Issue 6, p404 

    The results of a systems study confirming on a new level the need to develop fast reactors with a closed nuclear fuel cycle and the best transition times to a closed nuclear fuel cycle are presented. The results obtained show that nuclear fuel cycle closure is a necessary step for developing...

  • Thermal-Mechanical Studies for Gas-Cooled Space Reactor Designs. Kapernick, Richard J.; Creamer, William C. // AIP Conference Proceedings;2006, Vol. 813 Issue 1, p766 

    Los Alamos National Laboratory has been involved in the development of reactor concepts to be used as a power source for nuclear electric propulsion and/or for surface power sources. As part of this effort, a high fidelity thermal-mechanical analysis method has been developed for rapid...


Read the Article


Sign out of this library

Other Topics