Nuclear Power Plants Marketing Paper
Nuclear Power Plants Marketing Paper
This dissertation investigates the public’s perceptions to the risk and threat of nuclear power plants. In order to answer the study’s objectives, content analysis was employed on news articles from two UK newspapers (The Times and the Telegraph), which was published from June-November 2012. This quantitative methodology is applied based on the assumption that the media has a significant influence in the formation of public opinion. As such, the media’s portrayal of nuclear power plants, specifically in news reports, affects public perception.
Results from the literature review show that the media tends to have biases towards nuclear power related issues. Moreover, findings from the content analysis reveal that both newspapers reviewed had an overall unfavourable position towards nuclear power plants. However, the content analysis showed that the UK public is more concerned about the high costs of building new power plants, especially in terms of possible higher electricity charges in the future, rather than safety concerns.
Chapter 1: General Introduction
1.1. Introduction / Background
Unlike other electricity generating methods, there has always been a very strong awareness of the potential hazards from nuclear power plants, specifically in terms of the danger from nuclear criticality and the release of radioactive materials. Despite the fact that there had only been three major reactor accidents in the history of civil nuclear power (i.e. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima), there is strong public concern regarding the safety of nuclear energy generation (World Nuclear Association 2012). This may be due to the original application of nuclear power in weapons production – made infamous by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. And although the primary use for nuclear power has shifted to commercial energy generation, the scars of the past remain as the nuclear power industry has continued to struggle in cleaning up its image.
The media’s intense scrutiny has also contributed to the public’s awareness and perceptions on nuclear power plants. Nuclear accidents have been highly publicised by the media and in many cases, the threats of nuclear power plants have been highlighted in media reports. According to Adams (2009), ‘the sensationalism prevalent in establishment news outlets has resulted in an over abundance of stories about leaks, spills, and minor incidents that were often portrayed as potentially catastrophic near misses’ (sec.3). This negative depiction of nuclear power is believed to have contributed to anti-nuclear sentiments from the public.
In recent years, the nuclear power industry’s image has become more positive as governments considered it as a sustainable source of energy and were planning to include it in their future energy mix. However, the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident brought back into focus major concerns about the safety of generating electricity from nuclear power plants. This incident is seen by many as the crucial factor which undermined the resurgent support for nuclear power. It is also believed to have sparked public fear about nuclear energy and have renewed anti-nuclear movements all over the world (San Francisco Chronicle 2011).
Looking back at the high-profile media coverage brought about by the accident, it seemed that the Fukushima incident renewed doubts about the safety and long-term viability of nuclear power plants. Comparisons were made with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, as fears of nuclear meltdowns and the effects of radiation, spread across the public (McNeill 2011).
Recent talks about expanding nuclear power plants in the United Kingdom have revived the media’s interest and public scrutiny regarding the risks and threats of nuclear energy. Shortly after the Fukushima disaster, the UK government’s plan to develop new nuclear power plants in the country was derailed as several nuclear energy companies have decided not to proceed with the projects. In September 2011, Scottish Southern Energy pulled out of a deal to develop a new nuclear power station in Sellafield, West Cumbria (BBC 2011). In March 2012, German-based energy utility companies E.ON and RWE announced that they will not continue their Horizon Nuclear Power project, which was supposed to develop nuclear reactors at Wylfa in North Wales and at Oldbury-on-Severn in Gloucestershire (Maddox 2012). More recently, in October 2012, French nuclear engineering group Areva and the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group, announced that they had dropped their bid on the Horizon project (Vaughan 2012). The withdrawals of energy companies in developing new nuclear power plants in the UK is believed to have been due to the backlash from the Fukushima disaster, as well as rising costs of nuclear power plant construction and nuclear energy production (BBC 2011).
Taking all these into consideration, this research seeks to analyze how the media has depicted news about nuclear power plants. The main assumption of this study is that the media can affect or influence the public’s perceptions on the threats and risks of nuclear power plants. As such, this research analyses media reports on nuclear power plants in order to understand how it is being depicted by the media. The expectation from this analysis is that negative media portrayals of nuclear power plants will have a negative impact on public perceptions; while positive media portrayals will have positive influence on public perceptions.
This study also provides a basic quantification of how much more media coverage is given to negative media portrayals vis-a-vis positive media portrayals. The assumption is that the number of negative articles versus the number of positive articles will show the media’s general view on nuclear power plants.
1.2. Aims and Objectives
The primary aim of this research is to investigate the public’s perception on the risk and threat of nuclear power plants. In order to achieve this, media reports about nuclear power plants were analysed. This is based on the assumption that the media has a big influence or impact on public perceptions. Therefore, analysing how the media is depicting nuclear power plants will provide important insights on the public’s opinion. The hypothesis is that negative media portrayal of nuclear power plants leads to negative public perception; while on the other hand, positive portrayal of nuclear power plants lead to positive public perception. Additionally, the research seeks to classify and quantify press reports on nuclear power plants as either positive or negative.
The following are the objectives of the study:
(1)To find out the public’s perception on the risk and threats of nuclear power plants
(2)To investigate how the media (i.e. news reports) depict/portray nuclear power plants to the public
(3)To classify and quantify press reports on nuclear power plants as either positive or negative
1.3. Research Methodology
The main research method used is Content Analysis, also known as Textual Analysis. Content analysis is a way ‘to gather information about how other human beings make sense of the world’ (McKee 2003, p.1). This is useful in exploring the topic because it can be used to analyze public perception based on news reports about nuclear power plants.
In conducting the research, news articles about nuclear power plants, which were published in two UK newspapers over the past six months, were analyzed. Important features and components of the news articles were coded. A matrix was created to categorize and interpret the news articles. This will help in evaluating the news articles as either being positive or negative towards nuclear power plants.
1.4. Main Achievements
The main contribution of this thesis is that it can help to expand the literature regarding nuclear power plants, specifically in terms of the perceptions on its risk and threats, based from the point of view of media and the public. One of the achievements of this dissertation is the deconstruction of news articles (using content or textual analysis) in order to understand whether it is positively or negatively depicting issues concerning nuclear power plants. This will provide insights on the media’s general treatment of and attitude towards the nuclear power industry, as well as helping to understand how the media influences the public’s perceptions.
1.5. Summary of the Dissertation
Chapter 2 of this thesis discusses the review of relevant literature. This helps in providing important background information on the topic, especially regarding past studies that may be related to this research. Chapter 3 provides a review of available research methodologies. This talks about methodologies which can be used to investigate the topic. Chapter 4 contains the main body of the research, specifically the methodology used, description of data collected, and the analysis and discussion of results. The final chapter provides the conclusions of the study and the recommendations for future research.
Chapter 2: Literature Review
The nuclear power industry has garnered much interest and scrutiny not only from the public, but also from academics, government agencies, and the media. Many studies have been conducted to investigate the various aspects of nuclear power generation, especially in terms of safety concerns and public opinion. This thesis will examine relevant literature in order to gather important information, which will help in building the main arguments that are necessary for a critical analysis of the topic.
2.2. Background information on Nuclear Power Plants
The science of atomic radiation, atomic change, and nuclear fission was developed from 1895 to 1945. During 1939 to 1945, most of the development was focused on the atomic bomb. In 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, the focus shifted towards the harnessing of nuclear energy in a controlled fashion for use in naval propulsion and electricity generation. From 1956 onwards, the main agenda for nuclear energy was to come up with technological developments and innovations to make nuclear power plants safer and more reliable (World Nuclear Association 2010).
The origins of nuclear science can be traced to explorations on the nature of the atom. It was the discovery of radioactive elements that spurred various experiments to investigate nuclear reactions and transformations (World Nuclear Association 2010). The most significant of these experiments was conducted by Enrico Fermi. In 1934, Fermi discovered the potential of nuclear fission. In 1942, he successfully created the first controlled and self-sustaining nuclear reaction (EBSCO Host 2012).
Fermi’s discoveries paved the way for more nuclear research and provided the world with a great source of power. However, the first application of nuclear power was not as an energy source but as a means to produce weapons. Fermi’s work became an integral component of the Manhattan Project, which was a nuclear research and development programme conducted by the governments of the US, UK and Canada during World War II. The project entailed the production of enriched uranium and the construction of large reactors to produce plutonium for use in nuclear weapons. These were eventually used in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 (World Nuclear Association 2010).
During the course of developing more nuclear weapons (led by the US and Russia), scientists realized that the enormous heat produced during the nuclear fission process could be harnessed either for direct use or for generating electricity. This new energy source also had various potential applications, such as in shipping and submarine propulsion. This realization later led to the establishment of civil nuclear energy programmes. By the 1960s, nuclear energy had become commercialized, with private firms constructing and operating nuclear power plants with approval from the government (World Nuclear Association 2010).
As of July 2012, there are 435 nuclear power plants that are operating in 31 countries. The US, France and Japan are the biggest users of electricity generated from nuclear energy. The US leads in terms of number of reactors in operation; while France leads in terms of share in nuclear electricity generation (European Nuclear Society 2012; IAEA 2012).
Figure 1. Nuclear Power Plants by Location
Source: European Nuclear Society (2012)
Figure 2. Number of reactors in operation, worldwide (as of July 2012)
Source: European Nuclear Society (2012)
Figure 3. Producers of Nuclear Electricity
In recent years, as the pursuit for greener, renewable energy sources to meet greenhouse emissions limits became an important part of government policy, many nuclear experts advocated for nuclear power as a viable source of green energy. Additionally, the rising prices of fossil fuels and the need for reliable domestic electricity supply have played a role in the resurgence or renaissance of nuclear power. In the next 10 years, new nuclear power plants will be built in China, India and South Korea. In Europe, Finland, France and the UK are also planning to expand their nuclear power plants (World Nuclear Association 2011).
2.1. Concerns about Nuclear Power
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, as nuclear power plants were constructed around the world, nuclear energy was hailed as a safe, clean alternative to other energy generating methods, such as coal or oil. The public only became aware of the potential dangers of nuclear power on March 28, 1979, when the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania suffered a partial meltdown. Although no one was injured from the accident, it highlighted the potential hazards from nuclear power and sparked fear and criticism from the public. Critics felt that the threat of a nuclear meltdown was an unacceptable risk. On the other hand, supporters maintained that with appropriate safety precautions, the risk of a nuclear meltdown is very small, almost to the point of being impossible (EBSCO Host 2012). Since then, there have been endless debates about the safety of nuclear power. Other high-profile nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011) only intensified these debates.
Another factor, which has damaged the image of nuclear power, is its own history: specifically, the initial application of nuclear fission for weapons production during World War II. In the years following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as the severe human and environmental damage caused by nuclear weapons came to light, the incident created mixed reactions from the public and the debate about the ethical justification of this event continues to this day (Pavlik 2012).
The anti-nuclear movement, which is a social movement opposing nuclear technologies, is the direct result of the above concerns about nuclear power. Initially, the movement was focused on nuclear disarmament. However, as nuclear power plants become commercialized during the 1960s and 1970s, some activist groups ‘raised alarms about the possibility of large scale nuclear accidents’ (Anon 2011, sec. 3).
The anti-nuclear movement gained much support following the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, as the movement’s speculations about the dangers of nuclear power plants seemed to materialize. Since then, the movement has prioritized on its agenda opposition towards the use of nuclear power plants. The movement has also been most active after major nuclear events; for instance, after the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters (Anon 2011).
Opposition to and concerns about nuclear power are centred on the following themes: (Martin 2007, p.43)
Nuclear accidents – the reactor core of a nuclear power plant could overheat and meltdown; resulting in the release of massive amounts of radioactivity
Waste disposal – the by product of nuclear power are significant amounts of radioactive waste, some of which remain dangerous for thousands of years
Nuclear proliferation – the facilities and knowledge to generate nuclear energy can be readily modified to create nuclear weapons
Cost – the building of reactors and the production of nuclear power are very costly
Nuclear terrorism – terrorists or criminals could target nuclear facilities and use it for malicious activities
Civil liberties – the risk of nuclear accidents, proliferation, and terrorism may be used to justify curtailing of citizen rights
Uranium mining – a considerable amount of uranium is found on indigenous land
Alternatives – the availability of other renewable energy sources and more energy efficient technologies provide a more practical alternative to nuclear power
Of these concerns, nuclear accidents and disposal of nuclear waste have had the greatest impact on the public. These concerns have also been used as the main arguments of anti-nuclear activists in campaigning against nuclear power use (Martin 2007).
2.2. Nuclear Power and the Media
The controversial origins of nuclear power (i.e., as a weapon for mass destruction) has made it an easy target for the media. The media’s apparent interest in all things nuclear can be traced to the ‘Ban-the-bomb’ movements of the 1960s, as the public became concerned with the effects of nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific from 1954. Moreover, the opposition of a number of well-known scientists, including Albert Einstein, Leo Szilard, and Eugene Rabinowitch (some of which were members of the Manhattan Project), to nuclear weapons had clearly fascinated the media and the public (Anon 2012). Since then, nuclear-related incidents have been highly-publicised by the media.
Mazur (1981) argues that one of the main problems with media coverage on scientific issues is that reporters’ process for data gathering is flawed: (a) the sources for scientific information are usually partisans in the controversy; (b) reporters usually get information from people they know, or based on the person’s reputation, or based on the stature and proximity of a source’s organization/affiliation; and (c) scientists, who have the technical expertise to become adequate sources, are almost never asked by reporters. These flawed practices consequently lead to biases in the reporting of scientific news and therefore, lead to biased public opinion.
Rubin (1987), in his comparative analysis of how the media reported on Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, found that both official sources and journalists have shortcomings when it comes to reporting of nuclear incidents. The author found that the optimistic bulletins of official sources regarding nuclear incidents had provided too little facts, which consequently diminished their credibility with journalists and the public. On the other hand, from the point of view of journalists, ‘a major or even moderate nuclear power plant accident is much more serious than an earthquake, flood, or hurricane’ (p.45). As such, any delay of information from official sources tends to motivate journalists to assume the worst about these official sources and they instead turn to alternative sources of information. This kind of behaviour highly compromises the accuracy of information and tends to produce a great deal of ‘worst-case scenario spinning’ (p.45). Rubin supported the findings of Mazur (1981) as he pointed out that journalists sometimes resort to worst-case scenario reporting instead of providing a more balanced view.
Similarly, a study by Friedman, Gorney & Egolf (1992) examined how the US media had treated the nuclear industry during coverage of the Chernobyl accident. Media coverage of five US newspapers and evening newscasts from three major US television networks were analysed in the study. The study tried to find out whether the media had provided enough background information about nuclear power and the nuclear industry during the first two weeks of US media coverage on Chernobyl – to ensure that the American public ‘would not be misled in their understanding of and attitude towards nuclear power’ (p.305). Additionally, the study also investigated whether reporters took advantage of the incident to condemn nuclear technology or the nuclear industry. Results of the study show that despite heavy media coverage of the accident, only 25% of the coverage allocated information on the safety, track record, and status of nuclear power plants. As such, there was insufficient information to help the public have a better understanding of nuclear power or to put the Chernobyl accident into proper perspective. However, it was found that reporters had generally showed balanced views of pro and anti-nuclear sentiments, and they did not show extreme amounts of panic-inducing, negative information. This study also supports Mazur’s (1981) and Rubin’s (1987) findings that media have some biases against nuclear power, especially in terms of providing more information regarding the safety of nuclear power plants.
A recent study by Friedman (2011) analysed the traditional and new media coverage of nuclear accidents and radiation, by comparing the media reporting on Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. The author found that the internet made an enormous difference in terms of the amount of information that was made publicly available during the Fukushima accident, compared to the information provided by traditional media during the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents. Although journalists still contributed significantly to the news about Fukushima, citizens also actively participated in the reporting and discussion through blogs, social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) and YouTube. Moreover, the internet helped traditional media in improving its coverage and providing more explanatory information, which allowed readers to better understand technical information. As a result, the media coverage for Fukushima was better than Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. This study opens up new perspectives about media reporting on nuclear power.
Academics and some media practitioners themselves acknowledge that the media has made mistakes by broadcasting or publishing unconfirmed information or speculations about nuclear incidents. For instance, during the Fukushima accident, journalists often refer to the term ‘meltdown’ without providing adequate perspective on its meaning and seemingly without concern for the consequent fear from the public that is induced by its usage (Russell 2011; Nisbet 2012).
Similarly, Bell (2011) criticizes the media hype over the coverage of the Fukushima accident. He contends that much of the media coverage regarding the nuclear component of the Fukushima accident has ‘lacked objectivity and proportionality, compounding already high public anxiety and confusion levels’ (sec 1). The media had also put too much attention on the hypothetical dangers of radiation. Moreover, realistic risks have been exaggerated, usually by poorly informed journalists and ‘alarmist agenda-driven commentators presented as experts’ (sec. 1). Bell (2011) criticizes media’s sometimes panic-inducing reports and worst-case conjectures – calling them irresponsible and unnecessary.
According to Nisbet (2012), ‘the long-term consequence of sensationalistic reporting is a general weariness and suspicion of nuclear energy’ (sec.6). The author also states that it cannot be denied that media’s perspectives and framing of nuclear energy is an integral element in the future of nuclear technology. The nuclear power industry depends on government subsidies and support. As such, it remains subject to the whims of politics, and as a consequence, it is ‘vulnerable to media portrayals and swings in public perceptions’ (sec.8).
The vast majority of studies conducted about media and nuclear power, particularly how media portrays nuclear power-related issues, reveal that the media has a tendency to be biased against nuclear power. Despite the nuclear industry’s efforts to improve the safety and security of nuclear facilities, these kinds of news do not get as much media coverage compared to negative incidents. The nuclear industry has also presented the contribution of nuclear energy towards climate change mitigation; however, this information is not widely known to the public. The media’s bias towards nuclear power has been ingrained for so many years and it will take a lot of effort, as well as a major paradigm shift, to change the framework that media has used in presenting nuclear power-related issues to the public.
2.3. How Public Perception on Nuclear Power is influenced by the Media
Numerous studies have proven that the media has a significant influence in shaping public opinion. As early as the 1970s, there have been studies about the agenda-setting function of mass media. According to a study by McCombs & Shaw (1972), broadcasters, editors, and newsroom staff have a key role in forming political reality through the way they select and present news. As a result, the public not only receive information about a given issue, but they also learn ‘how much importance to attach to that issue based from the amount of information in a news story and its position’ (p.176).
Mutz (1989) also explored the role of perceptions on the opinions of others in terms of forming public opinion. The author investigated two interrelated theories: (a) the third person effect, and (b) the spiral of silence. Results of the study were strongly supportive of some components of the third person effect, specifically that ‘perceptions of the influence of media reports on others were consistently greater than perceptions of influence on self’ (p.3). Mutz findings support the belief that media has an influence in forming public perceptions.
A study by Gunther (1998) found that mass media can influence personal opinions and an individual’s perception about what other people are thinking. His theory of the ‘persuasive press inference suggests that people infer public opinions from their perceptions of the content of media coverage and their assumptions of the persuasive impact of that coverage on others’ (p.486). Again, Gunther’s study supports the role of media in influencing public perceptions.
McCombs (2004) acknowledges the immense role of the mass media in shaping public opinion. He also states that the agenda-setting role of the mass media connects the storytelling origins of journalism to the arena of public opinion – a relationship which has significant consequences for society.
The far-reaching influence of media on public perceptions extends to discussions about nuclear power. Gamson & Modigliani (1989) conducted a study regarding media discourse and public opinion on nuclear power. The authors treated media discourse and public opinion as ‘two parallel systems of constructing meaning’ (p.1). They investigated the relationship between these two systems by analyzing the discussions on nuclear power in terms of four general media: (a) television news coverage, (b) newsmagazine accounts, (c) editorial cartoons, and (d) syndicated opinion columns. The analysis covered data from 1945 to 1989. The authors conclude that media discourse is an ‘essential context for understanding the formation of public opinion on nuclear power’ (p.1). This helps to explain the changes in public support for nuclear power, as influenced by media publicity. For example, there was a decline in support for nuclear power prior to the Three Mile Island (due largely from publicity caused by anti-nuclear movements) and a rebound of support after the media publicity had died out.
Mazur (1981) also conducted a study investigating media coverage and public opinion on scientific controversies. However, Mazur’s research did not specifically focus on nuclear power; rather, he investigated media coverage and public opinion on various scientific events. Mazur contends that ‘the rise in reaction against a specific scientific technology appears to coincide with a rise in quantity of media coverage, suggesting that media attention tends to elicit a conservative public bias’ (p.106).
A study by Pollock, Lilie & Vittes (1993) examined the conditions where mass attitudes towards particular issues are vertically constrained by core cultural values. According to the authors, vertical constraint is shaped by three inter-related variables: (a) the objective content of the issue, (b) the way the issue is framed by elites, and (c) the individual’s level of attentiveness to the controversy. In terms of discussions on nuclear power, it was found that a ‘value-based interpretation favoured by elites and promoted by the media is faithfully reflected in how the public understands the issue’ (p.29). Similar to the findings of other researchers, this indicates that the public highly depends on how information is promoted in the media and on the opinions of influential people, and they use this as the basis for forming their own perceptions. This is especially true for issues about nuclear power. Since nuclear power is a highly technical subject, individuals are dependent on the opinion of elites and the media, who are perceived to be better informed.
The history of nuclear power and major events in nuclear power plants help to provide insights on how public perceptions have been shaped throughout the years. The controversial origins of nuclear power in weapons production have generated suspicion and negative sentiments. Moreover, nuclear accidents such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima have increased the negative perceptions and fears about nuclear power plants (Anon 2012).
The concerns about nuclear power focus on the following: (a) nuclear accidents, (b) radioactive waste disposal, (c) nuclear proliferation, (d) high cost, (e) nuclear terrorism, (f) curtailing of civil liberties, (g) uranium mining in indigenous lands, and (h) availability of alternative energy sources (Martin 2007, p.43). Despite assurance from experts on the relative robustness of nuclear powered electricity generation, there are still fears about its safety, especially the possibility that nuclear power plants could meltdown and release dangerous radioactive materials (Anon 2012).
The media’s intense interest in nuclear-related issues can be traced to the controversial origins of nuclear power as a weapon of mass destruction. Since the 1960s, the media has been fascinated with nuclear power and have often given major coverage about nuclear power issues. Various studies have established that the media has biases in reporting nuclear-related issues and this often lead to biased public opinion (Mazur 1981; Rubin 1987; Friedman, Gorney & Egolf 1992). A number of academics and media practitioners also acknowledge that media’s sensationalistic reporting of nuclear events creates suspicion and weariness with nuclear energy (Russell 2011: Bell 2011; Nisbet 2012).
Researchers have also proven that the media has a considerable influence in shaping public perceptions about nuclear power. The media’s powerful role as an agenda setter and its influence in shaping public opinion has been proven in numerous studies (McCombs & Shaw 1972; Mutz 1989; Gunther 1998; McCombs 2004). Various studies have also proven that the public base their perceptions on nuclear power on the media’s coverage and portrayal of nuclear events (Gamson & Modigliani 1989; Mazur 1981; Pollock, Lilie & Vittes 1993).
Chapter 3: Review of Available Research Methodologies
A number of studies have attempted to examine the public’s perceptions on nuclear power. Various methodologies have been applied in order to accomplish this. In reviewing the available research methodologies, it was found that mostly quantitative research techniques have been applied in previous studies. Quantitative research techniques employ the use of numerical data in the analysis and interpretation of results (Given 2008). The review of available research methodologies served as the foundation in the selection of the methodology used in this research.
3.2. Content Analysis
Content analysis or textual analysis is a research technique often used in the study of communication. It is a research tool that is used in the ‘objective, systematic, and quantitative description of manifest content in communications’ (Palmquist 2005, sec.1). Content analysis can be used either in qualitative or quantitative research and can be applied in vast areas of study
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