Nuclear Power and the Public

A Comparative Study of Risk Perception in France and the United States
  • Paul Slovic
  • James Flynn
  • C. K. Mertz
  • Marc Poumadère
  • Claire Mays
Part of the Technology, Risk, and Society book series (RISKGOSO, volume 13)


This study is an attempt to understand attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors with respect to nuclear power and several other technological risk sources. A unique feature of the study is a comparison between public views in the United States, where nuclear energy is resisted, and France, where nuclear energy appears to be embraced (France obtains about 80% of its electricity from nuclear power).

Although the experiences of France and the U.S. with regard to nuclear energy overlap during the post World War II decades, there are a number of significant differences in timing, motivation toward adopting nuclear power, the economic context, the cultural and political milieu, regulation, and financing of the industry. We would expect these conditions to be associated with significant differences between French and American attitudes and opinions about nuclear power and related issues.

We have used the same survey, between public views in the United States and public views in France. We found, to our surprise, that concerns about nuclear power and nuclear waste as measured by the survey were high in France and were at least as great there as in the U.S. Thus, even though perception of risk is a strong predictor of attitudes toward nuclear power within both the U.S. and France, it cannot account for the different level of reliance on nuclear energy in the two countries. Further analysis of the survey data uncovered a number of differences that might be central in explaining the difference between France and the U.S. Specifically, the French:
  • saw greater need for nuclear power and greater economic benefit from it;

  • had greater trust in scientists, industry, and government officials who design, build, operate, and regulate nuclear power plants;

  • were more likely to believe that decision-making authority should reside with the experts and government authorities, rather than with the people.

These findings point to some important differences between the workings of democracy in the U.S. and France and the effects of different “democratic models” on acceptance of risks from technology.


Nuclear Power Plant Risk Perception Nuclear Waste Motor Vehicle Accident Ozone Depletion 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Slovic
    • 1
  • James Flynn
    • 1
  • C. K. Mertz
    • 1
  • Marc Poumadère
    • 2
  • Claire Mays
    • 3
  1. 1.Decision ResearchEugeneUSA
  2. 2.Ecole Normale SupérieureCachanFrance
  3. 3.Institut SymlogCachanFrance

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