Contextual variation in crisis-induced changes in public opinion and nuclear policies: the case of the Fukushima accident

Latré Edwin


Thijssen Peter, (UA),

SCK•CEN Mentor

Perko Tanja
+32 14 33 28 51

Expert group

Society and Policy Support

PhD started


Short project description

Public policy scholars often accentuate the key role of crises in explaining policy change. After the Fukushima nuclear accident, we are confronted with changes in the nuclear policy in many European countries. The radiological consequences of the accident in Fukushima for Europe were rather limited. However, this event had important effects on public opinion and/or public policy in some European countries, while in other countries it had no effects. In sometimes cases the effect was felt only on public opinion, and not on the nuclear policies, in other cases the opposite was noticed. In this context, media attention and media frames play an influential role in shaping public opinion about nuclear energy. When mass media intensively report about a certain topic, the public considers this topic as important. Opposite to this, a stream of research has tackled the agenda-setting power of the mass indicating that the influence of media coverage on the political agenda is contigent: sometimes politicians ignore the media, in other cases they are influenced by it. Moreover, there is even more uncertainty in what regards media effects on public policies, in particular nuclear policy.

Literature studies also show that the excess of the media coverage related to a nuclear accidents cannot be explained by the nature of an event, neither by the risk probabilities or geographical distance from the accident.

Accordingly, empirical work is needed to explain the contextual variations in crisis-induced changes in public opinion and nuclear policy outcomes.

As a backbone of the research two theoretical frameworks will be used:

i) Agenda setting theory: agenda-setting power of the mass media and

ii) Advocacy Coalition Framework.

The first theory, the agenda-setting power of the mass media has been devoted to scrutinizing the effect of mass media coverage on the effects of media coverage on the issue priorities of the public and the effects of media coverage on the political. The media agenda related to a nuclear accidents will be linked to a public policy by using the he second theory, the Advocacy Coalition Framework. This is a theoretical framework dealing with the changes in public policy due to an (external) event or shock. This theory states that nuclear emergencies can have (but do not inevitably) an influence on public policy, in our case nuclear energy program in the particular countries.

The methodology applied will be quantitative (and qualitative): media content analysis, media framing analysis, comparative analysis and public opinion research. At least four types of countries will be selected as case studies. The decision for the selection of the countries will be based on the status of the public opinion and public policy related to nuclear energy before and after the Fukushima nuclear accident in the particular countries. The countries selected will be European countries, on which the accident in Fukushima had the same radiological impact, but the public opinion and nuclear policy changed (or not) in a different way after the accident. The ininnovative aspects of this study are two fold. Firstly, from a theoretical point of view, it will explain the dynamics of policy change after the same event in different countries. Secondly, it will link public opinion and policy changes in the nuclear context.



The main goals of the proposed Ph.D. thesis are:

 i) to extend the existing theory by contextualizing the influence of media attention and media frames for a nuclear accident on public opinion and nuclear policy

 ii) to identify the influencing factors for change vs. absence of a change

iii) to carry out a comparative study in order to develop a model for crisis-induced changes.

In addition, we aim at postulating the importance of mediated information on a nuclear accident for political elites and the way that political elites (ab)use this information to formulate nuclear policies.