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Who do you trust? University of Saskatchewan survey looks at nuclear perceptions

SASKATOON – Saskatchewan people consider themselves to be poorly or moderately informed on nuclear issues and trust scientists as credible sources on nuclear topics, according to new research by the Nuclear Policy Research Initiative (NPRI) at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S).

“Nuclear technologies such as in energy production and medicine, or related issues such as mining and waste, are often controversial or even contentious topics in public debate,” said Loleen Berdahl, an associate professor in the Department of Political Studies and NPRI member. “We wanted to shed light on the values that underlie people’s positions, and who they see as credible sources of information.”

NPRI surveyed more than 1,350 Saskatchewan residents last fall, asking a range of questions on nuclear-related topics.

“When we undertook this research, we asked ‘what is missing in the public discussion around nuclear?’” said Maureen Bourassa, an assistant professor of marketing in the Edwards School of Business. “It’s a topic area that often polarizes debate, and we hope the knowledge from our work will help inform public discussion for anyone interested in these issues.”

The NPRI team consists of Berdahl and Bourassa, along with Scott Bell, a Professor of Geography, and Jana Fried, a post-doctoral fellow at the U of S Social Sciences Research Laboratory (SSRL).

The study results are being presented as four policy briefs. The findings released today are part of the briefs covering values, knowledge and the nuclear sector; and trust, policy making and the nuclear sector. The first two research briefs, released May 12, deal with attitudes related to the nuclear energy sector, and a summary of attitudes related to nuclear medicine, uranium mining and nuclear waste management.

Some highlights include:

  • Trust: 74 per cent of respondents reported a high level of trust in university scientists with regard to nuclear information, followed by government nuclear regulators (39 per cent), environmental groups (34 per cent), industry representatives (17 per cent) and elected officials (12 per cent).
  • Who decides?: 45 per cent of respondents indicated the public should have a lot of influence in decisions on nuclear issues, and nearly 30 per cent held similar sentiments with regard to the influence of First Nations.
  • Values: Respondents had a mix of concerns regarding nuclear power development, with more than half expressing some (30 per cent) or high levels (37 per cent) of ethical concerns.
  • Emotion: Respondents were more likely to describe themselves as excited (52 per cent) by nuclear power generation in Saskatchewan rather than frightened (40 per cent) or angry (25 per cent).
  • Nuclear knowledge: Most respondents considered themselves moderately or poorly informed on nuclear issues, with only 22 per cent rating their knowledge level as good or very good.

The Saskatchewan Nuclear Attitudes Study was one of the first projects funded by the Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation in January, 2013. The survey on which it is based was conducted by the Survey and Group Analysis Laboratory (SGAL), located within the SSRL, between September 27 and October 11, 2013. The survey consisted of a 15 minute telephone survey of randomly-selected 1,355 Saskatchewan residents over the age of 18 from across the province. The results are considered to represent the population of Saskatchewan, with results being accurate plus or minus 2.66 percent, 19 times out of 20. In some cases results were tabulated according to Saskatchewan’s census districts, providing insight into how attitudes vary across the province.

Download the research briefs from the NPRI website (external link, scroll down to "Projects").

Read more about the survey results about the nuclear energy sector.