Introduction


Nuclear power produces about 20 percent of the world's electricity (NEI, 1998). About 443 power plants around the world produce this energy, allowing the nuclear industry to be somewhat competitive with the other types of power production plants (NNI, 1999.) Nuclear power emerged in the 1950s, and, fearing public reaction, the government restricted the technological information behind this form of energy production. They believed that the public would respond negatively because of how nuclear power was produced--by splitting uranium atoms. The word "nuclear" and the process behind fission resembled something many people recognized as being similar to a nuclear bomb. By restricting this information about the production of nuclear power, the public formed their own opinions about the nuclear industry (Wober, 1992).

Public acceptance of nuclear power has been difficult for the nuclear industry to gain, and incidences in the past have not made the fight any easier. On March 28, 1979, an accident at Three Mile Island (TMI) caused public confidence in nuclear power to decrease rapidly in the United States (Uranium Institute, 1999). Secondary cooling pumps in the reactor stopped operating, and employee response to the incident was incorrect. What should have been a minor glitch reported in the log book became a major catastrophe for the nuclear industry (Uranium Institute, 1999). The media exaggerated the possible consequences on the accident and failed to recognize that the safety systems in the plant operated correctly (Uranium Institute, 1999). The containment building properly retained the fission products, keeping the amount of radiation effects on the employees undetectable (Action Plan, 1998). Studies determined that the outcome of the TMI incident was a 30 percent chance of one additional cancer in the following 70 years (Action Plan, 1998).

Another crisis that dampened the public opinion of nuclear power was Chernobyl. On April 26, 1986 a major meltdown of the core of the reactor caused a massive radiation leak in Russia. (Brown and Brutoco, 1997). However, what the media failed to recognize was the fact that the safety systems on the plant would have worked properly if the operator on duty had not overrode them (Action Plan, 1998).

The major challenges facing the nuclear industry when attempting to gain public acceptance are great. One is the fear that a major accident will cause residents to receive a large radiation dose, and Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl are frequently cited as reasons. The fears are often associated with the notion that under worst case conditions, a nuclear reactor will explode like a nuclear bomb (Action Plan, 1998). Another challenge facing the nuclear industry is the fear that highly toxic waste from nuclear power plants cannot be safely contained and will seriously harm people and the environment. Fundamental apprehension of radioactivity and lack of knowledge about radioactive waste management are two reasons why this fear rises (Action Plan, 1998).

The lack of communication between the media, the public and the nuclear industry has also contributed to the fears people have about nuclear power (Lichter, Rothman, Rycroft & Lichter, 1986). The importance of nuclear power is not stressed in the media and often times this results in negative messages being sent (Lichter, Rothman, Rycroft & Lichter, 1986). Better communication techniques and opportunities need to be addressed by the nuclear industry to gain the public's trust and acceptance (Lichter, Rothman, Rycroft & Lichter, 1986).