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How a Nuclear Power Plant Accident Influences Acceptance of Nuclear Power: Results of a Longitudinal Study Before and After the Fukushima Disaster


Vivianne Visschers, ETH Zurich, Institute for Environmental Decisions, Consumer Behavior, Universitaetsstrasse 22 CHN J75.2, CH-8092 Zurich, Switzerland; tel: +41 44 6326149; fax: +41 44 6321029;


Major nuclear accidents, such as the recent accident in Fukushima, Japan, have been shown to decrease the public's acceptance of nuclear power. However, little is known about how a serious accident affects people's acceptance of nuclear power and the determinants of acceptance. We conducted a longitudinal study (N= 790) in Switzerland: one survey was done five months before and one directly after the accident in Fukushima. We assessed acceptance, perceived risks, perceived benefits, and trust related to nuclear power stations. In our model, we assumed that both benefit and risk perceptions determine acceptance of nuclear power. We further hypothesized that trust influences benefit and risk perceptions and that trust before a disaster relates to trust after a disaster. Results showed that the acceptance and perceptions of nuclear power as well as its trust were more negative after the accident. In our model, perceived benefits and risks determined the acceptance of nuclear power stations both before and after Fukushima. Trust had strong effects on perceived benefits and risks, at both times. People's trust before Fukushima strongly influenced their trust after the accident. In addition, perceived benefits before Fukushima correlated with perceived benefits after the accident. Thus, the nuclear accident did not seem to have changed the relations between the determinants of acceptance. Even after a severe accident, the public may still consider the benefits as relevant, and trust remains important for determining their risk and benefit perceptions. A discussion of the benefits of nuclear power seems most likely to affect the public's acceptance of nuclear power, even after a nuclear accident.