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Public opinion and nuclear power : a West Cumbrian case study

This work investigates the factors which might influence public opinion regarding the nuclear power industry, and the accuracy of existing theories about that opinion. West Cumbrian opinion is of particular interest, because the area has the highest concentration of the nuclear power industry in the UK, and might thereby represent a potentially 'nuclear-friendly' area which would contrast with the increasing scepticism reported in the rest of the country, and indeed across much of the industrialised world. The factors which may influence public opinion are analyzed in three ways. Firstly, historical factors are presented in an account of the development of the nuclear power industry. Next, the socio-economic situation and traditions of West Cumbria are examined, in order to assess particular local influences on public opinion. Thirdly, the public relations methods of important local and national groups are examined in the light of public relations theories, in order to assess the ability of such groups to influence public opinion (a new avenue of research related to nuclear power). In order to discover the state of West Cumbrian opinion in 1994, and to assess the impact of the above factors upon that opinion, a survey was conducted using a representative sample of the population of Cockermouth, chosen as a typical Cumbrian town. The scope of questions employed in previous studies was broadened to analyze attitudes towards antinuclear groups as well as towards the industry. Great attention was paid to the methodology of the new survey, the findings of which were analyzed in the light of a comparative analysis of existing research and theories related to West Cumbrian opinion. Local opinion was contrasted with that of a national 'public' consisting of political, environmental and energy orientated organizations. This study confirmed some previously held ideas about public opinion, but also found several differences which suggest flaws in the methodology of previous research. One very important finding was that it is important not to overstate the existence of controversy surrounding the nuclear industry in West Cumbria. Overall, the West Cumbrian population appeared to be relatively nuclear friendly, but not as strongly pro-nuclear as might have been thought. A surprisingly large number of people displayed a lack of knowledge about the subject, and many showed feelings of apathy and alienation. Nuclear power and coal were found to be controversial choices of fuel supply. Wind power received more support and less opposition. Environmental groups were seen to perform a watchdog role, for which they were welcomed in West Cumbria by more people than supported the presence of either BNFL or NIREX. Levels of pOlitical activity amongst local people were low. The particular socio-economic situation in West Cumbria appeared to have had an impact upon local opinion. Support extended to the local industry, and to BNFL in particular, far more than it did to the nuclear industry in general. The insular aspect of West Cumbrian culture has affected attitudes towards those groups perceived as 'outsiders', including the national media and environmental groups. It has also affected attitudes to the industry where public relations campaigns have been targeted at a national rather than a specifically West Cumbrian audience.
Date January 1995
CreatorsWainwright, Paul Francis
PublisherUniversity of Liverpool
Source SetsEthos UK
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeElectronic Thesis or Dissertation

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