Perceived Risk, Trust, and the Politics of Nuclear Waste

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Science  13 Dec 1991:
Vol. 254, Issue 5038, pp. 1603-1607
DOI: 10.1126/science.254.5038.1603


The Department of Energy's program for disposing of high-level radioactive wastes has been impeded by overwhelming political opposition fueled by public perceptions of risk. Analysis of these perceptions shows them to be deeply rooted in images of fear and dread that have been present since the discovery of radioactivity. The development and use of nuclear weapons linked these images to reality and the mishandling of radioactive wastes from the nation's military weapons facilities has contributed toward creating a profound state of distrust that cannot be erased quickly or easily. Postponing the permanent repository and employing dry-cask storage of wastes on site would provide the time necessary for difficult social and political issues to be resolved.