Risk Communication after Nuclear Accidents: Learning from the Chernobyl Case

The 2015 Conference on Communication and Environment in Boulder “Bridging Divides: Spaces of Scholarship and Practice in Environmental Communication”, June 11-14, 2015, University of Colorado, USA, hosts the presentation “Risk Communication after Nuclear Accidents: Learning from the Chernobyl Case”.

Alexander Belyakov shares his research on risk communication. By the 30th anniversary of Chernobyl disaster, there are still many undiscovered issues awaiting attention of researchers. Chernobyl consequences remain on the political and media agenda. However, agenda-setting and framing of Chernobyl issues have been changing. Some reasons behind these changes include: a serious accident during the tsunami at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant; a tight connection with the security issues after September 11 and in the recent military conflict in Ukraine. This paper integrates emergency management and risk communications perspectives. Misinformation and incomplete information can bias decision-making and political actions. When risk communication is inadequate, the public reacts with fear, mistrust, panic and stress. The measures taken by the USSR lacked consistency and clarity. The government also demonstrated a lack of attention to social justice in its dealings with people who moved back to the contaminated area, ignoring government policy that they should stay out. The evacuation of affected people aimed at reducing exposure to radiation and did not consider psychological and physical health impacts of moving. Another prerequisite of effective risk communication policies after nuclear disasters is availability of short-term, quick response plan and longer-term monitoring programs, as well as access to research data for scientists, public health experts, and other decision makers. In both the Chernobyl and Fukushima cases, access to research data was limited. These limitations created distrust that will impede future research, given the lingering mistrust between citizens and governments. The paper’s findings may benefit experts looking to address risk communication issues, as well as emergency managers and top-level executives who must focus on the broader picture of policy analysis and evaluation of the effectiveness of emergency responses. This research may also influence academicians analyzing emergency management practices after the Fukushima disaster.

The Prezi Presentation is available here: Chernobyl