Adolescents' Attitudes to Nuclear Power and Radioactive Wastes1


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    This work was supported by the National Board for Spent Nuclear Fuel (Statens Kärnbrän-slenämnd), Stockholm, Sweden. The paper was revised during 1990–1991, when the authors were visiting the European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management (EIASM) in Brussels, Belgium.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Britt-Marie Drottz-Sjöberg, Center for Risk Research, Stockholm School of Economics, Box 6501, 113 83 Stockholm.


High school students (N= 380) reported their attitude to nuclear power and rated various risks: nuclear and non-nuclear, personal and societal. The focus of the study concerned risks related to handling and disposal of radioactive waste. It was found that conventional personal risks obtained lower risk ratings than risks to society and risks related to accidents in the handling and disposal of radioactive waste. In general, items which made reference to radiation were rated higher than items which did not mention this aspect. Female students most often rated risk higher than did male students. Persons worried about nuclear power emphasized risks of accidents and waste disposal as problems, whereas those who did not worry trusted those in charge and saw nuclear power as quite safe, stressing its basis in advanced technological knowledge and skill. Students specializing in economics or technology were the least concerned about nuclear power risks and had the most positive attitudes to nuclear power. The results of the study are discussed in relation to risk perception discrepancies of experts and the public. We suggest that future experts will be recruited from groups that have, already in adolescence, established beliefs about nuclear technology risks that are lower than those of other groups. Compared to a national sample dominated by adults, the adolescents, especially boys, held more positive attitudes to nuclear power and rated risks of nuclear technology lower than adults.