Learning Lab Denmark - INCUBEus

I. Nuclear Industry

In a psychometric study conducted by Slovic et al. (1978/2000) the perceived risk in relation to nuclear industry was four times higher than the perceived benefit of the technology.

Participants in the study were asked to consider the perceived benefits and risks of 30 different technologies, taking into account psychological factors such as voluntariness and familiarity. Nuclear power was perceived remarkably more dreaded and catastrophic than other similar technologies.

The explanation for this is in the perceived consequences and the complexity of the technology. The study distinguishes between high and low technology: high technology representing newness, involuntariness and little public knowledge of the technology. Furthermore, it distinguishes between delayed consequences in case of an accident and immediate, deadly consequences. Nuclear industry was perceived to be both fatal in case of an accident and beyond public control and understanding.

Charles Perrow (1984/1999) claims that nuclear accidents are just waiting to happen. The only reason we haven't seen that many yet, is that the industry is still very young. It is difficult to protect the community against these accidents, as the tight coupling of the technology is very high. He points to the fact that not two nuclear accidents have been alike. His argument underlines the perception of the participants in Slovic's psychometric study: that the nuclear industry is fatal and very complex.

Further reading:
Perrow, C. (1984/1999). Normal Accidents. Living with High-Risk Technologies, pp. 3-100, Princeton University Press.

Slovic, P. (2000). The Perception of Risk, pp. 80-103, Earthscan Publications.

Mould, R.F. (2000). Chernobyl Record. The Definite History of the Chernobyl Catastrophe, Institute of Physics Publishing, Bristol and Philadelphia.

Sagan, S.D. (1993). The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons.

Comment this page

Nine Technologies

A. Air Transport
B. Buildings
C. Land Transport
D. Marine Transport
E. Bridges and Dams
F. Oil Tankers
G. Chemical Industry
H. Medical Industry
I. Nuclear Industry

Nine Theories

Quantitative Risk Assessment
Decision Analysis
Cost-benefit Analysis
Normal Accident Theory
High Reliability Organisations
Risk communication
Arena Theory
Cultural Theory

Five Categories

Hazard (0-1000)
Range (km2)
Fear Factor (0-10)
Media Effect (0-100)