PUBLIC RISK PERCEPTIONS TOWARD SOCIALLY CONTENTIOUS TECHNOLOGY: HOW CULTURAL VALUES AND BASIC KNOWLEDGE AFFECT NUCLEAR ENERGY RISK ASSESSMENTS
Koebel, Tyler J 1987-
We cannot know with certainty the risks we must face, but we must act as if we do. To that end, experts are well equipped and trained to formulate risk assessments consistent with scientific evidence. But in the case of nuclear energy, most Canadians view the technology as dangerous despite expert assurances of safety. Nuclear energy policy must therefore square a contradiction whereby nuclear technology is accepted by most experts as safe yet perceived by most Canadians as dangerous. This thesis explores the contradiction by asking why some members of the public refuse to accept the opinion of experts that nuclear technology is low-risk. One explanation asserts that, unlike experts, members of the public have poor science comprehension and are prone to perceiving risk in ways marred by cognitive bias. An alternative explanation contends that preexisting worldviews motivate members of the public to perceive risk in ways that do not necessarily align with the goal of accurate risk estimates. To understand why members of the public sometimes amplify nuclear energy risk, these two competing explanations were turned into testable hypotheses and empirically tested among 575 Canadians. The present study found evidence which suggests those who strongly agree with egalitarians values are likely to hold amplified nuclear energy risk perceptions, and those who have greater knowledge of basic facts about nuclear energy tend to have reduced risk perceptions towards nuclear energy. Such results affirm the idea that education is an effective policy tool for reducing nuclear energy fears. However, egalitarian values may interfere with educational efforts to transmit facts, which is why educational efforts can prove more effective if nuclear energy facts are framed in a way that appeals to egalitarian values.
DegreeMaster of Public Policy (M.P.P.)
DepartmentJohnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy
SupervisorAtkinson, Michael M
CommitteePhillips, Peter W.B.; Rayner, Jeremy; Bell, Scott
Copyright DateDecember 2016