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Perceived Risks from Radiation and Nuclear Testing Near Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan: A Comparison Between Physicians, Scientists, and the Public

Authors

  • Kathleen L. Purvis-Roberts,

    Corresponding author
      *Address correspondence to Kathleenn L. Purvis-Roberts, The Claremont Colleges, Joint Science Department, Claremont, CA, USA; kpurvis@jsd.claremont.edu.
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      Claremont Mckenna, Pitzer, and Scripps Colleges, Joint Science Department, Claremont, CA, USA.
  • Cynthia A. Werner,

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      Texas A&M University, Department of Anthropology, College Station, TX, USA.
  • Irene Frank

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      Claremont Mckenna, Pitzer, and Scripps Colleges, Joint Science Department, Claremont, CA, USA.

*Address correspondence to Kathleenn L. Purvis-Roberts, The Claremont Colleges, Joint Science Department, Claremont, CA, USA; kpurvis@jsd.claremont.edu.

Abstract

Determining the difference in perception of risk between experts, or more educated professionals, and laypeople is important so that a potential hazard can be effectively communicated to the public. Many surveys have been conducted to better understand the difference between expert and public opinions, and often laypeople exhibit higher perceptions of risk to hazards in comparison to experts. This is especially true when health risk is due to radiation, nuclear power, and nuclear waste. This article focuses on one section of a risk perception survey given to two groups of individuals with a more specialized education (scientists and physicians) and laypeople (villagers) in the Semipalatinsk region of Kazakhstan. All of these groups live near the former Soviet nuclear test site. Originally, it was expected that the scientists and physicians would have similar perceptions of radiation risk, while the public perceptions would be higher, but this was not always the case. For example, when perceptions of risk pertain to the health impacts of nuclear testing or the dose-response nature of radiation exposure, the physicians tend to agree with the laypeople, not the scientists. The villagers are always the most risk-averse group, followed by the physicians and then the scientists. These differences are likely due to different frames of reference for each of the populations.

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