|It has become clear from the lessons identified and, unfortunately,
not well learnt from past nuclear and radiological events,
communication is one of the most important challenges of emergency
management [1-3]. The nuclear accident in Fukushima (Japan) in 2011
has once more emphasized the need to better understand how riskrelated
messages are processed and how the public receives and accepts
messages, related to protective actions in nuclear emergencies [4,5]. For
instance, it is well known that one possible protective measure in case
of a nuclear emergency is to take stable iodine tablets. What happened
in Japan was that quite some people actually swallowed gargling agents
containing povidone-iodine as a substitute for stable iodide tablets, an
action which can actually be quite detrimental to someone’s health .
|Efficient communication about nuclear risks requires thorough
insight into the factors that influence people’s attentiveness and recall
of information and, more generally speaking, the process of opinion
formation related to possible recommendations. Furthermore, it is of
great importance to comprehend the principles of media reporting
about the nuclear emergency, since most information related to nuclear
risks is not directly experienced, but rather learned through the mass
|In general, communication research in the nuclear field, and
especially opinion formation, has been approached either by social
scientists or by nuclear experts. In academic research, only a limited
number of such studies can be found. These mainly address risk
communication and opinion formation in general, with the nuclear
field being taken only as a case-study, thus without taking into account
any of its specificity. On the other hand, researchers coming from
the nuclear field who study communication don’t tend to apply the
strict scientific standards that they are used to in their natural science
experiments. Their research on communication is therefore lacking in
scientific protocols and methodology, as they are not familiar with the
field of social sciences. In other words, the limitations of the existing
knowledge may be explained by a lack of integration of different
|Yet, the research in this field should be inherently interdisciplinary,
as it embodies several research domains: mass media, risk
communication, risk perception, emergency management, radiation
protection, and finally, opinion formation. An integrative approach
is needed in order to understand radiation risks, how people acquire
information from mass media and form an opinion about these risks,
how they make decisions about them and how the media translate the
information provided by experts and/or risk managers.
|Therefore, the research of mass media and journalism has to use an
interdisciplinary approach and it has to adapt and synthesize concepts
and theoretical models stemming from a number of fields: 1) lessons
learned from the field of radiation protection and nuclear emergency
management [6,7]; 2) systematic and heuristic-based information
processing models [8-10], 3) the theory of risk research, [11-13], and
4) research on media content [14-16]. The first provides the specific
context of nuclear emergency management, the second helps to
understand how people acquire information from elites and the mass media and convert it into preferences, the third is useful in determining
the factors which may ultimately affect an individual’s risk-related
opinion and the last explores the mass media as the main source of
information related to nuclear emergency events.
|This editorial encourages the researchers to focus on risk
communication in nuclear emergency management and in particular
on three different aspects: firstly, the reception and acceptance of
information provided by mass communication. Secondly, it encourages
the researchers to explore the influence of people’s prior knowledge on
the acceptance of communicated messages and the perception of the
communicated risks. Lastly, the media coverage of nuclear emergency
events needs to be investigated and analyzed by strict scientific roles of
media content and discourse analysis.
|It is important to note that nuclear emergency management is
structured in three phases: preparedness, response and recovery. Thus,
different types of communications are applied, with different levels
of media attention-depending on the specific phase. Different case
studies can be used to analyze preparedness communication, crisis
communication and long-term communication for recovery. The main
objective is an attempt to bring different information processing models and different disciplines together
in order to get insight into the perception of radiation risks and the
information processing of nuclear emergency communication in
|Risk communication in the nuclear field may have several aims: 1)
to warn people in case of a nuclear emergency , 2) to inform about
radiation risks [6,18], 3) to prevent panic and outrage , 4) to support
the stakeholders to make informed decisions related to radiation risks
, and 5) to establish two-way communication and joint problem
solving. Since human behaviour is primarily driven by perception
and not by facts , risk perception is a concept of great importance
when developing sound and successful risk communication. In general,
communication in the nuclear field is transferred mainly by mass
|The results from previous studies on mass media and nuclear
emergencies support the conclusion that the magnitude and the
probability of a nuclear event seem to play only a minor role in the
media coverage of nuclear emergencies [21,22]. The media are not mere transmitters of the nuclear event, but they report also on the nuclear
emergency management and other issues that are of concern for the
society, for instance the future of nuclear energy in the country . It
seems that media construct the reality of a nuclear event. In general, the
media coverage of nuclear emergences reflects the organizational rules,
the external expectations - for instance public opinion and the memory
of the past nuclear experiences (including accidents). The political
salience of the issue dominates the transformation process related
to nuclear emergency management and influences media reporting.
The degree of social (political) conflict related to the nuclear energy
program correlates strongly with media coverage. The media content
related to nuclear events (either minor event or nuclear accident) is a
mix of original messages describing the event and re-coded messages
(e.g. the health effects of the event as estimated by different experts).
Thus, media leave it to the final receiver (affected population or general
population) to understand what is the original information and what
is the broader framework hinted at by various (other) transmitters
reported in the media. These other transmitters were revealed to be
politicians, pressure groups, independent researchers or independent
experts . Signals relating to conflicts, disagreements and
contradicting information between the different sources of information
are intensified in media reporting about nuclear events .
|To conclude. What lessons can be drawn from investigating the
information provided to the public by the mass media in a case of a
nuclear emergency? The research in mass media reporting on a nuclear
event can be beneficial for nuclear emergency management in two major
aspects. On the one hand, such an analysis shows how to deliver risk
messages effectively through the mass media and, on the other hand, it
brings insight into the information that has to be communicated to the
mass media in order to prevent a public health in a case of an nuclear
emergency, like for instance Fukushima nuclear accident.
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