Living with Nuclear Power: A Q-Method Study of Local Community Perceptions


*Address correspondence to Nick Pidgeon, School of Psychology, Tower Building, Cardiff University, CF10 3AT, UK; tel: +44(0)2920-874000; fax: +44(0)2920 874858;


The issue of new nuclear power is once again high up on the public policy agenda in many countries, and candidate sites for new civilian stations are likely to include those that have existing nuclear facilities. A common assumption is that existing nuclear communities will be more accepting of new build because of the direct economic and other benefits nuclear power already makes to a local area. Surprisingly, there is a dearth of contemporary data on perceptions of the risks, benefits, and values associated with nuclear power within such communities. This study uses Q-methodology to investigate the perspectives on living with nuclear risk among people (n = 84) drawn from communities near to two nuclear power stations in the United Kingdom. Both stations, at Bradwell-on-Sea and Oldbury-on-Severn, had been in operation for over 40 years. The Q-analysis identified four main perspectives, or points of view, accounting for 53% of total variance. These were interpreted as: Beneficial and Safe; Threat and Distrust; Reluctant Acceptance; and There's No Point Worrying. We conclude that the “landscape of beliefs” about nuclear power in such communities is both subtle and complex, avoiding simplistic bipolar dichotomies such as “for” or “against,” and that there is a need for extensive and meaningful dialogue with such communities over any new build plans. The usefulness of Q-methodology for investigating the ways in which people live with risk is highlighted, as are the implications of the results for theories of risk and trust.