Perceptions of risk in siting nuclear waste facilities: A localized perspective
The issue of nuclear waste continues to reappear among the general public in America as a salient issue. Hazardous and toxic waste disposal is of increased concern to many citizens due to a continued need for disposal facilities as well as safety issues associated with long-term disposal facilities. The new trend toward environmental concern in recent years has led to a shift in values, which emphasize a balance between economic development and environmental preservation. Because of this shift, there has been increased public involvement in environmental issues, especially in the nuclear waste disposal policymaking process. Public support is crucial in developing a policy to site high level nuclear waste repositories since they typically must be placed near at least a few communities. This dissertation seeks to model the construct of how citizens in local communities perceive the risks when faced with the placement of a potential nuclear hazard. Using survey data from Amarillo, Texas (the Pantex Nuclear Facility) and Tricities area, Washington (Hanford Nuclear Reservation), the hypothesis that communities with similar historical associations with nuclear facilities in their area tend to build local cultures around those associated risks and are likely to view a proposed new facility differently, with less fear, than areas without the nuclear context. This view is an important element of nuclear waste siting policy since the Department of Energy tends to favor placing new nuclear waste repositories in areas with existing facilities, since they feel there is less resistance. However, this practice can not continue as the areas with such facilities is limited. But, by understanding how individuals in those areas ultimately formulate their attitudes toward the risks, steps can be taken to better handle local oppositional behavior, or NIMBY (not in my backyard), as it occurs in facility siting. The research findings in this dissertation indicate that the level of trust individual have in their local leaders is the most important indicator of how they will perceive the risk associated with a nuclear waste facility. In particular, the more they trust local leaders, the lower their risk perception.