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The psychological makeup of the human mind in respect to issues like risk is vast and this has caused researchers, individuals and scientists to inquire into the ideology of risk and risk perception. They have being able to carry out this exercise by critically studying the risk perception of individuals residing in areas prone to both natural and manmade disaster. Denney, (2005) describes risk as a situation where an individual encounters a typical physical agent with a known adverse effect, for example, radiation. Amidst the widespread speculations of the negativity associated with nuclear power, we need it for efficient power generation that is why Abu-Khader, (2008) stated that we won't arrive at our desired destination on power generation with nuclear power alone but we won't get where we need to be without it. This implies that nuclear power is reliable and efficient in spite of its arguable reputation, (Whitman, 2007).
The risk perception of individuals who reside in close proximity to nuclear power plants will differ depending on their level of understanding of the risk considering the fact that living in such locations have their beneficial and adverse effects. Ortwin, (2008) argues that different disciplines, stakeholders, civil society, and general public responds to risk according to their own construct and images where these images otherwise called 'perception' are usually affect by so many factors. Some Researchers agree with this view while others have a contrary opinion.
An overview of risk and risk perception would be the best way to begin this essay before discussing the different perceptions of risk by various scholars, and then a brief insight into one of the possible causes of a likely nuclear disaster would be discussed. Afterwards an insight to the risk exposure of these people would be discussed considering their individual and collective perception of the risk involved with such locations. Literature materials from academic journals, social science and humanities would be used to gather information.
Risk perception is the usually based on subjective judgment that people make about the severity of a risk and its likely outcomes. The topic risk perception has been in study spot light for decades and now draws the attention of politicians and policy makers concerning safety issues with the aim to manage and assess risk (Sjoberg et al, 2004). However, it would be ideal to understand the concept of risk before comparing different risk perspective views of people.
The uncertainties of life possess great risks as we engage in our daily human activities. Risk taking has become an integral part of our systems therefore proper perception about it would enable people manage it effectively. Purdy, (2010) defined risk as;
"Effect of uncertainty on objectives".
That is to say risk is the consequence of an organization (or individual) setting and pursuing set goals against an uncertain environment. This implies that risk is constantly in the environment and waits to be encountered therefore knowledge of it should be used as a measuring tool for achieving set objectives. On his own part, Stanley, (2012) described risk as a politically and historically important knowledge, a judgment of securitization, and a category of understanding that makes insecurity profitable. These schools of thoughts tend to inquire about ways to comprehend what individuals and organizations term risk as it pertains to their everyday lives.
Scott, (1994) came to a conclusion that the concept of reflexive modernization is directly bound to the concept of risk and this risk may be defined as
"A systematic way of dealing with hazards and insecurities induced and introduced by modernization itself".
This definition illustrates that risk is a potent tool to checkmate the overwhelming effects of modernization which could be characterized by rural-urban migration, technological advancements, population growth and many others that are experienced globally. Similarly, risk management techniques, which are ways to show that the risks are being tackled ahead of time, must be employed at all times. Hutter (2005) agrees with this view and believes that risk can be managed and reduced by using a risk management model.
In relating risk to health and safety, Hughes and Ferret, (2009) described risk as the likelihood of a process, activity, or substance to cause harm. They further related the level of risk to the severity of its consequences and this tends to establish the fact that the level of risk encountered is a product of the likelihood or probability of that risk occurring and the severity of its occurrence. That is to say, the risk of an event would be tagged to have either a high probability (likely to occur) or a low probability (not likely to occur). A typical example is travelling by air and living in close proximity to a nuclear power station. It would be typical of people to draw conclusions that the latter is more risky (high risk) that the former (low risk). Similarly, definitions of risk in the engineering community are said to be based on probabilities but Aven, (2010) argues that this probability component in the risk concept should be replaced by uncertainty because important aspects could easily be overlooked. In all of these it boils down to the risk perception of the individual exposed to the risk and how it would be managed.
Over the years, perception of risk has been of great concern to scholars, experts and policy makers especially in cases of development and disaster management. According to Krewski et al. (2006), scholastic research has demonstrated that perception of risks not only relates to actual level of risk, but also to the features of the hazard including demographic features such as gender, age, and educational level of the individual exposed to the risk. Similarly, Royal Society's landmark 1992 report on risk described risk perceptions as involving people's beliefs, attitudes, judgments and feelings, as well as the wider cultural and social dispositions they adopt towards hazards and their benefits (Pidgeon et al., 1992). This implies that risk perception is individualistic and circumstance based what one would perceive to be risky would not be seen as such by another.
However, Bontempo et al. (1997) tried to relate risk perception to economic trade in which they said that a risk-return model is the basis for risk perception in trade. This simply means that prior to entering any trade (transaction), the reward of taking such risk would be considered and this may differ as a function of the decision background of the individual or group. In trade some people are truly risk seeking and they choose riskier options over less riskier ones because they have a positive attitude towards risk and also believe it would be more profiting to them (Weber & Milliman, 1997).
The way a lay man would perceive risk is totally different from an expert's point of view. Sjoberg (1999) believes that a high level of knowledge does not necessarily demonstrate a causal influence on risk perception. He believes that knowledge the experts have do not influence their risk perception completely. On the contrary, expert see risk through the eyes of statistics and objectivity for example, through investigational studies, likelihood risk analyses or epidemiological surveys while the lay man perceives it subjectively, that is why research has been conducted to bridge the gap between expert and lay perception of risk (Bickerstaff, 2004). Parkins & Haluza-Delay, (2011) made advances to say that lay people based their perception on how affected the things they valued were by the risk( for instance if waste from the nuclear power station can harm them) while experts base their perception on the probability of harm. Therefore you will agree that the layman's view is based on cultural traditions, individual's personal encounter and way of thinking, thus a layman often view risk in terms of how his everyday activity is affected by it and the perception of risk lies within the possible consequences of such risk (Ortwin, 2008).
Another strong determining factor of risk perception is gender difference. Males have been observed to take more risk than their female counterpart; after all they are seen as the stronger sex. The females on their part are mindful of taking risk and this may be as a result of their social function in the family or society. In a survey conducted to determine the health risk perception among Saudis in Al-Baha Region, the females demonstrated a higher perception of health risk as compared to males in general and are more likely to rank environmental health issues as high risk than males do. It was also discovered that respondents with higher education were more likely to rate more health risks as "high risk" than other respondents who were less educated and this was as a result of their informed notion about the health risk involved (Zabin, 2011).
We live in a Jet age where information is the driving tool for mass enlightenment and development. Generally, an informed mind about an inherent risk could be said to be the bedrock for preformed perception about that risk, and this would play a major role in the acceptance of the risk by an individual since we human spend greater part of our time communicating risk (Wahlberg & Sjoberg, 2000). The media houses, which are the rocketing platforms for every form of information (risky or not), plays a vital role in risk communication. In the case of living close to a nuclear power plant, it is believed that they help sharpen the perception of both residents and non-residents of this vicinity by either propagating the gospel of security (control) in case of any disaster or the dangers associated with living in such vicinities. It is believed that the irregularity in risk-benefit perception is one of the main reasons why people are concerned about the hidden risk associated with living close to these nuclear power plant and these information about the hidden risk must be communicated properly to the people in order for them to build a stable perception about the risk they are exposed to (Ortwin &Banighaus, 2012). In brief, Ortwin (2008) took a stance by saying that risk communication seeks to provide the most exact picture of realistic knowledge of a particular risk-based scenario bearing in mind the treatment of remaining uncertainties and assumptions. At this point a little oversight of a nuclear power station would be discussed.
An incinerator is a modern technological device that stems up controversy in the mental (risk) faculty of resident around where it is situated just like in the case of nuclear power plant. This lead Baum et al.(1983) to say that the risk perception associated with introduction of technology is high and causes much unease than natural ones since exposure details are harder to obtain(new risks, invisible, delayed effects). Furthermore, a research conducted on the risk perception of people living close to an incinerator revealed that those living closer to the incinerator were greatly unhappy than their counterparts living away from it. That is to say they showed less favorable attitudes and higher levels of risk perception. These types of responses have been described as 'not in my backyard'(NIMBY) effect, where residents were not happy about the location of such facility in their neighborhood. Hence, it was assumed that the mental faculty of residents in this vicinity is greatly impacted by their risk perception (Lima, 2004).
Most importantly, technological risk perception has been described as the processing of substantial information and signals about an impact that is potentially harmful when technology is used and the development of a verdict about importance, probability, and tolerability of the respective technology (Ortwin & Banighaus, 2012).
Power generation is a driving force for any economy. Developing countries strive to generate power to pilot the activities that maintain the economy, while their counterparts in the developed countries are concern about generating power in the best sustainable way that is friendly to man and the environment. Garrick (2004) described a nuclear power plant (NPP) as an industrial electric power generating plant which utilizes a nuclear reactor as its primary source of power. These NPP provide a large chunk of the electricity needs in some developed countries considering the fact that there are depletion in the supply of fossil fuels(mainly natural gas and petroleum products) due to the rapid consumption rate of these resources(Darwish, 2010). The World Nuclear Association (2012) agrees with this view because they acknowledged that despite relatively high capital costs of nuclear energy, it is in many ways competitive with fossil fuels and it has being observed that NPP reduces greenhouse gas emissions to the environment compared to fossil fuels (Davis, 2012). From the view of nuclear experts, it is assumed that a cascade of failed events would likely lead to the outbreak of a nuclear disaster hence there is need for a probabilistic risk assessment and a fault tree analysis could be employed to achieve this aim.
LOSS OF COOLANT ACCIDENT (LOCA)
BREAKING IN PIPING SYSTEM
BEAM TUBE FAILURE/RUPTURE
HIGH PRESSURE COOLANT FOR WRONG PIPE DIAMETER
RUPTURE BY FALLING HEAVY MATERIALS
RUPTURE BY SHUTTING DOWN
CONCRETE WALL FAILURE OF REACTOR POOL
Figure 1: Fault tree analysis ( Ha & Garland, 2006)
The rising concerns of greenhouse gas emissions and constant electricity supply has established the presence of nuclear power on the international energy policy agenda (Venables et al. 2012). Nuclear power, being a controversial method of power generation, has become a global innovative initiate to surpass the use of fossil fuel thereby minimizing the release of greenhouse gases(GHG) into the environment and tackling climate change tendencies. Similarly, this form of power generation could be quite expensive to set up and maintain but the benefits derived when it is in full operation outweighs these cost. It follows that nuclear power is a welcome development that propagates the doctrine of environmental sustainability which the world needs at this point in time.
Yim & Vaganov (2003) reminded us that the public minds (perception) were fed with apparent fact that the first nuclear technology was linked to a potent bomb used during a war. These highlighted the effects radioactive substances, had on the environment and populace. Nuclear weaponry has planted a seed of discomfort in the subconscious of the human mind thereby causing people to dread nuclear power because they see it as an extension of nuclear weapons (Kasperson & Stallen, 1991). All the same, individual and collective perception about the likelihood of a nuclear power disaster play a role in fashioning their perception about living close to these plants, hence, the issue of public acceptability is a major milestone that needs to be considered when citing a nuclear power plant. In doing so, it should also be noted that a high level of perceived risk attracts a high demand for risk mitigation and control (Sjoberg, 2000).
The fear of most people living close to nuclear power plant is that their children may develop cancer. Nikiforov (2006) carried out studies on the Chernobyl nuclear accident and showed that increased incidence of thyroid cancer in children were the most documented chronic effect of radioactive contamination. The risk of this contamination, which is radiation-dose dependent, reveals that environmental exposure to the radioactive substance during childhood caused an increased risk of thyroid cancer. An increase in cancer development at a particular stage in the life of people living close to a nuclear power plant has being shown by several epidemiological researches. One of such research carried out by Ramana (2009), revealed high leukemia rates among residents living close to nuclear plant in France, Germany, Japan, Spain, Canada and United Kingdom. This study drew criticism from other scholars who had valid arguments about the variables used to arrive at these result.
Residents living around a nuclear power plant could suffer great victimization by others who leave outside this region. A typical example is a situation where companies with business opportunity abstain from coming to this vicinity to invest but would rather invest in another location despite the fact that residents around the NPP have the requirements to host the business. This act of victimization could lead to a halo effect where the risk perception of the residents is heightened by the negative risk perception of those nonresidents that tend to victimize them. On the contrary, the perception of these residents would adapt to their source of livelihood over time irrespective of the victimization, besides, a decrease in perception could be seen as a function of distance and time (Dauphine 2001). But I believe individuals living here would have to stay in this location if they derive their livelihood from here.
It could be said that some of the residents around the NPP have a risk perception based on 'Gambler's fallacy' (likelihood of occurrence). Nathan (2010) in this scenario stated that it is a situation where an assumption is made that if a disaster occurs this year the likelihood of it occurring next year is greatly lower. An example is the time interval recorded of past nuclear disasters like the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster in 1979, Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, and Fukushima power station in 2011. This fallacy creates a mind-set that the next nuclear disaster would not occur now judging from the time interval of past occurrence and this puts the hearts of the residents at peace and limits their perception about the risk of living close to the NPP.
The risk perception of people living close these nuclear plants could be improved if they have so much trust in the government and operators of the plant. Residents are usually not informed about the plant until it is completed. If residents are involved from the conception and design stages of developing these plants it would boost their level of accepting the risk associated with living in such locations. Goodfellow et al (2011) argue that a new nuclear-build policy that promotes a broader approach to design should be enacted. This would incorporate a wider range of stakeholder inputs, including that of the lay public and this would provide a means for reducing the perceived risk of a nuclear plant. As a matter of fact, nuclear plant companies and government should give more benefits to residents residing close to the nuclear plant in exchange for their tolerance of the nuclear plant and a concerns about how the wider society gullibly perceive them for living there(Wynne et al., 2007) and this could greatly boost their acceptance of the risk perception.
Risk is an integrated universal constant that people face in their daily lives. It can be viewed as not only the objective feature of technological objects, but also as a social construct that is shaped in the influence of various social, cultural and institutional factors (Balzekiene, 2007). People have different views about what and where is risky and this tends to affect their perception and livelihood patterns. Risk perception internally generates awareness in the subconscious of individuals and prepares them for the risk involved about their location or livelihood and these perceptions are greatly affected by a wide range of factors.
Risk perception of people living in close proximity to a nuclear power plant could be influenced by demographics, social, cultural and political factors. Also, stigmatization, communication and trust in policies are factors that shape perception, hence people should be adequately be informed with relevant information to equip them in making decisions about accepting a risk or sourcing for alternative forms of livelihood.