In summary, the PG&E likely did not believe that the general public strongly perceived risk to their physiological safety from DCPP until the Fukushima nuclear disaster. After this event, it is possible that PG&E overestimated the increase in risk perception, but it is difficult to determine given our sample of third-party news sources from 2011. PG&E provided statistics about contributions to local economic stability as implicit justification for the plant’s continued operation, but now that the Joint Proposal threatens many Californians’ jobs, education, and county budgets, the public has raised their voices in opposition to DCPP’s closure, indicating a stronger risk perception of economic loss. This is likely because the effects of economic loss are more personal and more immediately felt than risk of injury or death due to a nuclear disaster, and thus the former is taken more seriously (Lindell and Perry 2012). While environmental responsibility is also valued by all actors involved, its risk perception is much lower and less-discussed; this may also be due to the lack of immediacy of the risk.
This research sets the groundwork on contextualizing the varying narratives that stakeholders have towards nuclear energy. Our study examines the social values related to risk perceptions surrounding nuclear power as they are expressed and responded to by various media. Situating this research by focusing on pre- and post-Fukushima rhetoric leading up to the creation of the Joint Proposal provides examples of how stakeholders react to hazards and how their impressions of risk change accordingly.
The conversation around nuclear energy as an emerging, cleaner energy source has been prominent as nations look to reduce their emissions. As organizations, individuals, and companies become more interested in learning about and investing in nuclear energy, questions of risks and assets are rising to the surface. Various factors such as status, profession, political ideology, and religion can contribute to the development of stakeholders’ different beliefs regarding the safety of nuclear energy (Rothman and Lichter 1987). In the case of DCPP, risk perceptions vary among the different stakeholders but they all seem to be derived primarily from their respective valuations of public welfare, economy, and environmental action. Through our methods of looking at various press releases from PG&E and third-party news media revealing the risk perceptions of the above stakeholders, we can offer an informed and situated perspective of how public discourses regarding nuclear energy reflect risk perception of stakeholders in terms of physiological safety, economic stability, and environmental responsibility, with economic stability taking prevalence. While our results are limited to published risk perceptions and assumptions about other parties’ attitudes toward risk, they provide insight on how some stakeholders discuss nuclear energy informing a broader scope of study regarding the risk perceptions and social values of stakeholders.
Our research will be of interest to individuals that are studying, working, or interested in the development of nuclear energy at a local and global level. By looking at the narratives of nuclear energy in California we can reflect on the impact that it has on individuals and communities that are stakeholders in energy source production. Zooming out of our situated context of Diablo Canyon, we can reflect on how nuclear energy is being seen as an energy source globally. This study provided varying risk attributes (ie. physiological safety, economic stability, and environmental responsibility) that may be taken into account, specifically within the context of nuclear phase-out. Examining how the content and rhetoric of these discourses change over time can also provide knowledge of how risk perceptions form and change through the lens of predominant risk-based attributes.