This paper was prepared for the Eleventh Annual Symposium of the Uranium Institute in London, September 2-4, 1986.
PUBLIC OPIONION AND NUCLEAR ENERGY:
Sweden after Chernobyl
Hans L Zetterberg
The Spirits of Chernobog
Mount Triglav near Kiev is known as the Bare Mountain. Here all the evil spirits were thought to gather every year on June 24th, St John's Eve. The so-called Black God, Chernobog, presided over the satanic proceedings.
This piece of folklore caught the fancy of the Russian composer Mussorgorsky and in the year 1867 he composed Night on the Bare Mountain. He introduced his scores with the following brief explanation:
Subterranean sounds of unearthly voices. Appearance of the spirits of darkness, followed by the god Chernobog. Glorification of Chernobog and celebration of the Black Mass. Witches' Sabbath. Orgies, at the height of which the distant bell of a little church is heard. Dispersal of the spirits of Darkness. Daybreak.
The original symphonic version of the Night on the Bare Mountain is exceedingly wild and complex, almost unplayable. The composer's friend and colleague Rimsky-Korsakov wrote a simplified version. He conducted it himself at the first public performance in St Petersburg. In 1940 Walt Disney made the work well known in all corners of the world by including it in his celebrated film Fantasia. He and his conductor Leopold Stokowski celebrated the taming of Chernobog's evil spirits by tuning in Schubert's Ave Maria at the end!
The message is clear: the evil spirits emerged, had their day (or, rather their night), and were tamed and locked up -for another year until next St John's Eve.
In this paper I will first sketch the effect of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in April 1986 on a local area around the Swedish nuclear plant of Forsmark. Second, I will do the same for Sweden as a whole. In the end I will try to draw some conclusions and speculate on the future of nuclear energy in public opinion.
Forsmark, Monday, April 28, 1986
Let us look at a chronology of events when the Chernobyl disaster was discovered in the West.
The "diary" presented here is based on a compilation by Ulf Andersson at the State Water Power Commission and by Lennart Fransson, information chief at Forsmark. It is reported in Erik Sjöquist and Thomas Eckered, Världen efter Tjernobyl, Timbro, Stockholm 1986, pp 41-46.
An alarm was sent from Reactor 1, where a routine check revealed that the soles of the shoes worn by a radiological safety engineer were radioactive.
All the three reactor blocks had proved "clean," and the grounds were being checked for radioactivity.
The high level of radioactivity was reported at a regular internal production meeting attended by the plant management. The gates to the plant area were ordered shut.
The regular meeting broke up and the emergency command room was manned in a shelter inside the mountain near the administration building, which housed communication equipment. The procedure had been practiced many times.
In the large room in the shelter were two desks. At one desk sat the plant manager, who was in direct contact with the control room in the block where an accident was assumed to have occurred. He was joined by the director of operations and other key management and the information chief. The other desk was manned by surveillance heads, fire and police department personnel, and telephone operators.
The county alarm central and the relevant public authorities were informed of the emergency.
The plant was closed off to all non-essential traffic. The wheels of outgoing vehicles were checked for radioactivity. Measurement personnel were assembled and transportation resources were organized.
Technical analysis commenced to find the cause of leakage from one of the three Forsmark reactors. At the same time the first news of a suspected leakage in one of the Forsmark blocks was sent over the local radio. The local radio station, Radio Uppland, is designated in Forsmark's emergency plans as the main channel for communicating with the public. The station personnel have been drilled for emergencies.
Reinforcements for Forsmark's public information department were called in.
An alarm was sent through the plant's loudspeaker system ordering evacuation of the plant by all personnel except for necessary operational forces and those engaged in contingency plans. Cars with loudspeakers spread the news to plant workers who were housed in barracks and charged with the disposal of low-level nuclear waste 50 meters below the ocean surface.
The evacuated personnel were directed to the decontamination station in the village of Norrskedika but were stopped temporarily at the plant exit when it was learned that the station facilities were not yet able to receive them.
About 700 people got through the traffic jams that resulted from the roadblocks and arrived at Norrskedika. They lined up outside the sports hall where the Forsmark plant had pre-installed apparatus to measure radioactivity. They followed procedures from earlier emergency training sessions. The radiation action limit for employees at Swedish plants is set at 50 millisievert per year.
The local radio station broadcast an interview with the director of plant operations.
The information chief contacted the press department at the State Water Power Commission to prepare for a press conference to beheld in Forsmark's information offices at 14.00.
At the same time preparations were made for a possible shut-down of the Forsmark blocks; two hour's notice was set for the shut-down of Reactor Block 3. The electricity produced by Block 3 would be compensated by the power produced by oil-fueled plants at Stenungssund and Karlshamn, which had a start-up time of three hours.
Beginning at 14 hours power sales to Norway were to be cut by 500 megawatts and notice was given of additional reductions of 500 megawatts beginning at 15 hours.
Stenungsund's Block 3 received start orders and was to be in a state of readiness within three hours.
All other nuclear power plants in the Nordic countries were asked to carry out measurements.
It was announced that only Reactor Block 3 at Forsmark would be involved in a shut-down with two hour's notice, and the cutbacks in electricity sales to Norway were rescinded.
The General Director of the State Water Power Commission and the government's Minister of Energy agreed to hold a press conference at 16 hours.
The stand-by to shut down the Forsmark block and the start order to Stenungsund and Karlshamn were rescinded.
Radioactive coating on the ground that did not originate in Forsmark was found in Oskarshamn, Barsebäck, and Ringhals - nuclear plants distant from the Forsmark area - and the finding reported to the command center at Forsmark.
The evacuees were allowed to leave Norrskedika. None had come in the remote neighborhood of an action limit for radioactivity, but some had to leave their shoes behind and journey home with plastic coverings on their feet. By this time about 300 persons had been checked for radioactivity. Forsmark now returned to a state of normalcy.
Analysis initiated by the Forsmark command station disclosed that a reactor was involved in the fallout and not a nuclear weapons test. New measurements were carried out over larger areas.
Forsmark's information chief was interviewed by representatives of foreign media. The spotlight of the world was on Forsmark. From Chernobyl itself there were no news.
Lars Wahlström, radiology supervisor at Forsmark, has given this summary of the
"Something indicated that radioactivity had leaked out from one of the blocks at Forsmark. Rumors about the activity circulated between noon and 14hours and people said 'Now let's leave here.' At the same time news arrived that radioactivity had been detected in Finland. I said, I want evidence. Among other things I called Studsviks Energiteknik AB, where management was sitting in a crisis meeting and where they said 'We think it's coming from one of our laboratories.' But that wasn't so. Soon I also began to have doubts that there was anything wrong in any of the Forsmark reactors, which I told the National Institute of Radiation Protection. We had even been inside the chimney and checked. Then the Institute said the fallout had come from somewhere in the east, and by around 13.30 it was determined that the fallout definitely did not come from Forsmark." Ibid. p. 46.
The purpose of reciting this is not to retell a news story, but to emphasize and document that in the Forsmark area there were preparations for living with accidents in a nuclear world. The power station, the authorities, the media were prepared. The same, as we shall see, was the case for the general public in the area.
The Local Public Reaction
Sifo, the Swedish Institute of Opinion Research, had been conducting a survey among households in the Forsmark area that had started four days just prior to the news of the Chernobyl accident. New questions were added to the questionnaire and the interviewing continued for six days immediately after the accident became known
The research was commissioned by the State Water Power Commission, the Forsmark Works. During the period April 24-28- that is, the days just before the Chernobyl accident became known- 215 telephone interviews were completed, and during the period April 29 - May 5 an addition a l399 telephone interviews were carried out with persons between the ages of 18 and 70 who resided in areas neighboring or close to Forsmark. Nine out of ten of those interviewed reside permanently in the Forsmark area and every tenth respondent has a vacation home there.
The sample consisted of households with telephones in Tierp - Söderfors (area code 0293), Öregrund - Östhammar (0173), Karlsholms bruk - Skärplinge (0294),Örbyhus - Dannemora (0293), Hallstavik - Rimbo (0175), and Alunda(0174).
How The News Spread.
The news that higher levels of radioactivity had been measured spread quickly in the Forsmark area. By lunchtime on Monday 42 percent of the residents in the area had heard about it; 66 percent were certain that they had heard about it before Monday evening. However, 25 percent of those who lived within 30 kilometers of the power plant did not learn of the accident in the course of that Monday or were unable to tell Sifo's interviewers when they got the news.
In the beginning most thought that the radioactivity issued from the Forsmark plant.
"When you learned that there was radiation in the air, did you think it came from Forsmark or not?"
|Thought it came from Forsmark||53%|
|Did not think it came from Forsmark||34|
|Uncertain, don't remember||13|
Those who knew somebody who worked at the Forsmark plant - and 46 percent of all interviewed did know such a person - learned of the radiation levels more quickly than others; by lunchtime on Monday 50 percent of those who knew someone at the plant had heard of the accident - and assumed in the beginning that the radiation came from Forsmark.
Not quite half of the people who lived around Forsmark (44%) learned in the course of that Monday that the radiation came from the Soviet Union.
News about the radiation spread primarily via the radio. Every other person learned about it via the national network and every third person learned about it via the local radio station. Every sixth person got the news by word of mouth.
"How did you learn about the radioactivity - via the national network, via radio Uppland, through loudspeakers, or by word of mouth?"
|National radio network||50%|
|Radio Uppland (local radio)||32|
|Word of mouth||16|
|Do not recall||10|
Swedish television does not broadcast in the morning and early afternoon and did not play a significant role in disseminating the news.
Apprehension and Dangers.
Every other person felt worried when they learned that there was radiation in the atmosphere - 17 percent were very worried, 20 percent felt pretty worried, and 13 percent did not feel particularly worried.
"Did you feel worried or not when you learned there was radiation in the air?"
Those who said they were worried were then asked -
"How deeply troubled did you feel?"
|Felt troubled, but
not especially deeply
Most of the people living in the area around Forsmark are not afraid of the power plant. This had been established through many surveys and was confirmed by our interviews in the days immediately preceding the accident. The level of apprehension rose somewhat after the accident. Before the accident 35 percent said they were very or somewhat afraid of the Forsmark plant. Following the Chernobyl accident 42 percent said they were afraid.
"Are you very afraid, somewhat afraid, pretty unafraid, or completely unafraid of the nuclear power plant in Forsmark?"
|Before Chernobyl||After Chernobyl|
|Uncertain, don't know||3||2|
Apprehension is nourished by the rather firm and widespread belief that all the problems connected with the production of nuclear energy have not yet been entirely solved. This view was confirmed by the accident, and the answers before and after Chernobyl are fairly similar.
"Do you think the safety problems connected with operating a nuclear power plant have been solved or not?"
|Before Chernobyl||After Chernobyl|
|Uncertain, don't know||15||16|
Most of those interviewed are fairly knowledgeable about nuclear energy and can describe the dangers connected with it.
Sifo asked: "What do you think are the dangers connected with nuclear energy? "The interviewed person was asked to name the dangers without the aid of a list of answers to choose from. The responses have been classified as follows. (The percentages total more than 100 since many gave more than one answer.)
|Radioactivity leaks out, resulting in sickness and/or genetic defects||51%|
|Waste disposal, the waste must be guarded for a long time||24|
|Can explode like an atomic bomb||6|
|Hot cooling water disturbs sea life||5|
|Makes it easier to make atom bombs||2|
|Dangers in transportation of nuclear material||1|
The only response that increased significantly after the accident was the danger of meltdown - from 13 to 23 per cent.
Local opinion formation.
The Chernobyl accident naturally led to many discussions and a heightened interest in nuclear energy. Following the accident 92 percent of those interviewed in the Forsmark area stated that they had talked about nuclear energy in the course of the past week, compared with 22 percent who said this had been a subject of conversation during the days preceding the accident.
Before Chernobyl 63 percent of those interviewed had said they were very or fairly interested in the subject of nuclear energy; after Chernobyl 76 percent expressed such interest.
Our research reveals that the intensive discussions about nuclear energy that took place in the Forsmark area following Chernobyl have influenced opinions about nuclear energy and its usage. In these discussions the subject of nuclear energy as such became more controversial but confidence in Sweden's way of handling nuclear energy and informing the public about it increased. Let us look at some questions and answers.
Investing in Nuclear Energy.
People living around Forsmark consider nuclear energy to be useful for the most part, but after the accident the proportion who viewed nuclear energy as primarily damaging increased from 14 to 26 percent.
"Do you think nuclear energy is mostly beneficial or mostly damaging?"
|Before Chernobyl||After Chernobyl|
|Uncertain, don't know||13||18|
The nationwide measurement is included in Sifo's "Weekly omnibus" of nationwide in-home interviews with the age groups 16-74 year olds. One sample of 524 persons were interviewed April 16-24 and an equivalent sample of 514 persons were interviewed May 7-16 (Sifo archive Nos. 86017 and 86020).
A significant change in public opinion attributable to Chernobyl occurred in the number who consider it advantageous for the country to have invested in nuclear energy. It declined sharply. The decline in the Forsmark area is 13 percentage points, from 50 to 37 percent. The corresponding decline in the nation as a whole is 20 percentage points, from 56 to 36percent
Prior to the Soviet accident the number who thought the country's investments in nuclear energy were good was greater than those who thought they were bad investments. Following the accident the reverse is true.
"With the experience we now have, do you think it was good or bad for the country to invest in nuclear energy?"
All of Sweden
Most of those residing in the Forsmark area, however, think that Sweden will continue to have nuclear energy in the future. After Chernobyl, however, the number of those who believe Sweden's plants will be phased out has risen slightly. Prior to the accident 27 percent believed that the nation would abandon nuclear energy; after Chernobyl that figure rose to 37 percent.
The high percentage in the Forsmark area who think nuclear power is in Sweden to stay contrasts sharply with official assurances that nuclear power will be phased out in Sweden by the year 2010 at the latest.
Confidence in Nuclear Energy.
The Forsmark area residents lost some but not much confidence in nuclear energy after Chernobyl. Before the accident 19 percent said their confidence in nuclear energy had diminished during the past few years. After the accident this figure was 33 percent. Yet both before and after Chernobyl about every other person says that their confidence in nuclear energy has not changed with the years.
"Have you got more or less confidence in nuclear energy during recent years?"
|Before Chernobyl||After Chernobyl|
|Uncertain, don't know||5||4|
Those interviewed were asked to explain in their own words why their confidence had grown or declined. Chernobyl was naturally mentioned by those who had stated that their confidence had become shaken:
But others gave explanations other than Chernobyl for their diminished confidence.
Those who say their confidence has grown give these reasons -
Some mentioned problems connected with other sources of energy as a reason for increased confidence in nuclear power.
An essential fact of public opinion research into nuclear energy is that confidence in nuclear energy is not only a confidence in the technical system but also confidence in the social system in which nuclear power is embedded: work ethics, labor relations, professional responsibility, information, rule systems.
In the Forsmark area, confidence in regulatory authorities and in the nuclear energy industry increased after the accident. Confidence in the way politicians handle the question of nuclear energy scarcely changed; nor did confidence in the media's way of describing nuclear energy. Sifo asked:
"How much confidence do you have in.... - a great deal, neither much nor little, or little confidence?"
The percentages who answered "a great deal of confidence" were
|Before Chernobyl||After Chernobyl|
|The way the nuclear energy industry handles nuclear power||38%||47%|
supervise nuclear energy
|How the politicians in
Östhammar (the larger
Forsmark area) handle the question of nuclear energy
|How politicians on a national level handle the question of nuclear energy||
|The media's reports on nuclear energy||
Confidence in the way nuclear energy is handled in Sweden also increased after the Chernobyl accident. Even prior to this event 58 percent of those residing in the Forsmark area were of the opinion that Sweden is better at handling nuclear energy than other countries. The corresponding figure subsequent to the accident was 76 percent. Not one of those interviewed believed that Sweden was worse than other countries at handling of nuclear energy.
"What do you think of the way we handle nuclear energy in Sweden compared with other countries that have nuclear energy - do you think we are better at handling it, worse at handling it, or about the same as other countries?"
|Before Chernobyl||After Chernobyl|
|About the same||37||18|
|Uncertain, don't know||5||6|
By en large the public felt it could rely on the information it received from Forsmark.
"If you consider all the information issued from Forsmark - how reliable do you think it has been? Do you think it has been very reliable, fairly reliable, not very reliable, or not at all reliable?"
|Before Chernobyl||After Chernobyl|
|Not very reliable||14||15|
|Not at all reliable||7||4|
|Uncertain, don't know||20||27|
This table does not indicate any statistical evidence of a tendency toward greater distrust of information subsequent to the accident. In its neighboring area, the Forsmark Works had for many years built public trust by a policy of open information. This became a most valuable investment at the time of a crisis.
A specific question was also asked after April 28 about information concerning the accident.
"Under the circumstances, do you think the information was sufficient or insufficient?"
|Uncertain, don't know||15|
Most people thought information about the accident was sufficient. Three out of ten were critical and found the information insufficient. We can but speculate on how the residents around Chernobyl would have responded to this question.
There remains nonetheless a considerable desire for information, and 31percent answer in the affirmative when asked if they think there are unanswered questions about nuclear energy that Forsmark ought to inform the public about. Among the over 100 suggestions received were the following.
To sum up this point, ever since the Forsmark Works were in the planning stage information to the local population has been provided with ample and frank disclosure about nuclear energy, and safety measures have been practiced. As a result, the alarm that went out on April 28 did not lead to panic or to uncontrollable fear. The Chernobyl accident has motivated the population around Forsmark to seek and demand even more information on nuclear plant operations and breakdowns. Chernobyl became a realistic lesson for Forsmark, a more effective one that any trial practice runs could have provided. There were, of course questions, but the basic support in the community for nuclear power generation remained high.
Now let us look at a somewhat different story in which support for nuclear energy falters.
The National Level
The Authorities and the Media.
In Forsmark, prepared routines were used to meet the fallout from the Chernobyl accident. On the national level there were fewer routines and less preparation. A Social Democratic editor, Berndt Ahlqvist, wrote:
The catastrophe at Chernobyl created a situation that had not been foreseen. No one - least of all the official expertise - had ever informed us that the effects of a core meltdown could be so extensive and spread over such a vast area as had now proved to be the case.
Not one of the cozy propaganda brochures that the nuclear power lobby produces and distributes has contained the faintest suggestion of the kind of effects caused by the Chernobyl accident. The emergency plans laid down by (Swedish) authorities had never taken into account the possibility that an accident occurring at a nuclear power plant thousands of kilometers away could necessitate hard decisions and extensive countermeasures in Sweden.
If Chernobyl has taught us one lesson it is that official experts, nuclear power enthusiasts or authorities had not the remotest idea that anything of the kind could happen. And if they did have an inkling of what could happen, they succeeded well in keeping their knowledge from the general public. Östra Småland, June 9, 1986.
This is probably a rather representative statement from an opinion leader. While there certainly might have been some experts who had anticipated some kind of Sellafield 1957 or Chernobyl 1986, their views were not matched by official routines. The closest is a Swedish Energy Commission that reported in 1977 of the consequences of a reactor failure in Sweden with radioactive clouds drifting as far as the Ukraine! But no one had tried the reverse scenario with a Ukraine accident with consequences for Sweden.
Without much advanced planning available, the authorities had to improvise. Airplanes used for the Geological Survey- including the once successful search for uranium ore -had also been equipped and used to measure background radiation. They could now be activated to measure Chernobyl radiation. As a result, maps could be produced - and reproduced in newspapers and on TV - showing the radiation levels area by area. See Figure 1. The Swedish Foreign Office, as a contribution to the UN nuclear disarmament effort, sponsors a monitoring program for nuclear bomb testing. This program run by The National Defense Research Institute (FOA) had measurement stations that could be enlisted to supplement the normal monitoring of radioactivity by the National Institute of Radiation Protection.
From Svenska Dagbladet, June 31, 1986.
The National Institute of Radiation Protection (SSI) decided from the first day after the discovery of the Chernobyl accident on a policy of complete openness toward the media and the public. This resulted in a great deal of news coverage, much of it good but some painfully inaccurate. In retrospect it seems to have been a wise decision. A policy of openness about a problem works best if journalists are knowledgeable and well read up on the topic. Very few journalists had a firm grasp of millisieverts per year, curie, bequerels per kilogram, cesium, and different kinds of radiation. But they knew enough to make the policy of openness a working policy.
Confusion entered, however, when other authorities, local and national, also tried to interpret the situation and to issue recommendations. The Prime Minister, Mr. Ingvar Carlsson, then appeared on TV and asked the public to trust the National Institute of Radiation Protection. He did not use his authority to muzzle the others - all officials had their democratic rights, he said - but he himself trusted the National Institute of Radiation Protection.
The most far-reaching decision that the government and the National Institute of Radiation Protection took was an action limit of 1.0 millisievert per year. (This topic is further discussed below.) This low limit meant that authorities had to act in a wide variety of fields:
A telephone survey made by the Institute of Market Research (IMU) asked a question that reveals some details about the perceived dangers
"At the time of the strongest radiation (from Chernobyl) which of the following do you think were dangerous in the most exposed areas of Sweden?"
|Drinking accumulations of rainwater||91%|
|Eating parsley, nettles, etc||72|
|For small children to play in sand-boxes||57|
|Drinking dairy milk||37|
|For infants to drink mother's milk||32|
|Gathering and burning leaves||28|
|Drinking tap water||17|
|Wearing clothes dried outdoors||17|
IMU survey based on 864 telephone interviews between June 9-26, 1986 with persons aged 15-74. This survey was sponsored by the National Institute for Radiation Protection.
In addition to warnings by authorities, the media carried their own advice. For example, parents in some areas were told not to let children play in sand-boxes. The largest morning newspaper in Sweden, Dagens Nyheter, gave prominent space to a well-known environmentalist, Björn Gillberg, who advised everyone to sleep in their basements! News stories about foreign tourists' canceling trips to Sweden seemed to some to indicate that the authorities downplayed the dangers. Later the media focused on the plight of the Lapps.
Scandinavia's northern tundra, forests, and rivers have for centuries been the home of the Lapps, Europe's last nomadic people. Their economy is based on hunting, fishing, and on the products yielded by their reindeer herds. An invisible enemy had invaded the Lapps' ancestral territory in the form of radioactive rain borne by a southeasterly wind. The lichen that the reindeer subsist on in the tundra is a kind of white moss. Since it has no roots the radioactivity accumulates more in lichen than in other plants. Samples taken from the reindeer in July revealed in several instances unacceptably high concentrations of active cesium. The same was true for the salmon trout that are a favorite food of the Lapps. Also, the exquisitely tasty cloud berries of Lappland summoned only one half their usual price at market. One Lapp expressed the irony of the disaster that has befallen his people in an interview in Dagens Nyheter:
"It isn't fair that fallout from the outside world should descend on us, we who live on what nature gives us. But now filth comes from nuclear plants and poisons the land which is our home."
The Lapps are politically powerless. But statements like this one move public opinion and discredit nuclear energy.
The Reaction of the National Public.
The unpreparedness of the authorities was matched by a sense of helplessness among the general public. One felt that the nation was insufficiently prepared. This feeling did not disappear with time but grew more pronounced, as is evident from two Sifo telephone polls in May
This survey in Sifo's "Daily Omnibus" comprised 1.012 interviews May 1-5 and 990 interviews May 20-26 a nationwide sample of the population 16 years and older. It has no. 86084 in the Sifo archive. It was done for Sifo's newsletter Indikator.
"Do you think our preparedness to meet the threat of radioactive pollution is sufficient or insufficient?"
|May 1-5||May 20-26|
Also, on an individual level, a sense of a severe lack of preparation was felt, and did not dissipate as the weeks passed.
"If radiation were to increase where you live, how well would you know how to protect yourself?"
|May 1-5||May 20-26|
|Not at all and
The unevenness of the fallout caused consternation. The rain on April 27-28 had been scattered and eventually the wind shifted, blowing the radioactivity back over parts of Sweden and back toward the Soviet Union. Radiation levels reported area by area showed widely different values. No nationwide recommendation to the public could be issued, and only the most gullible would believe that radiation followed county borders as reported.
Contrary to the tenor of the findings in the Forsmark area the nationwide telephone polls indicated that the general public's confidence in the authorities declined during the weeks after the accident.
"During the last few days, have you at any time suspected that the authorities have withheld information about radioactivity to which the public is entitled?"
|May 1-5||May 20-26|
|Very strong suspicion||4||10|
|Rather strong suspicion||10||15|
|Rather weak suspicion||6||7|
|Very weak suspicion||1||1|
|Cannot say how strong||1||1|
The minister of environment and energy, Mrs. Birgitta Dahl, assumed a role of everybody's mother and was successful in this; nevertheless the public's faith in her also suffered a little dent.
"How much confidence do you have in Birgitta Dahl?"
|May 1-5||May 20-26|
|Neither great nor little||32||35|
The public support for nuclear power declined significantly, and the already fragile national consensus on nuclear energy broke down, at least temporarily.
In the Sifo archive the surveys in the table have Nos. 81044/047/051,83038/045 and 86084. The latter is a telephone poll for TV1conducted May 2-4 with 606 interviews with persons aged 16and above.
"With the experiences we now have had, would you vote for or against nuclear power in a new referendum?"
On the national level the general public did not cope with the Chernobyl fallout with the high level of confidence we found in Forsmark.
Discussion and Conclusion
Grouping Environmental Dangers.
Dangers to the environment are classified by Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavski into four groups according to the amount of knowledge we have about them and the extent of our consensus in our views of the dangers
Level of knowledge
Source: Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavski, Risc and Culture. An Essay on the Selection of Technological and Environmental Dangers, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1983, p5.
In Square I both knowledge and consensus are present. We know how to measure the risk, how to reduce it, and we are in agreement on the limits we are willing to accept. Scientists and legislators try to place as many dangers as possible in this square, and they have succeeded in many cases. If all dangers could be included in this square there would be politically acceptable technical solutions to all environmental problems. The dangers in this square are the province of technical administrators and government regulatory agencies.
There is consensus about the dangers in Square II but insufficient knowledge about how to measure or reduce them. AIDS is an example of such a danger, which research is endeavoring to move to Square I. The dangers in this Square are the province of scientists. At onetime nuclear energy belonged in this Square, but now we maintain that its problems are not primarily ones of knowledge but ones of having knowledge implemented, spread and accepted. It is ironic that the Chernobyl accident was caused by an experiment in the spirit of this Square. In most countries outside of the Soviet Union nuclear reactors are used for the routine production of energy, and are banned from scientific or technical experiments.
We have sufficient knowledge about the dangers in Square III but disagree on what to do about them. In most countries the issue of nuclear energy is found in this Square. We have the technical know-how and we know that the dangers attendant upon an accident are enormous, but accidents are infrequent. There is rarely consensus about the evaluation of such risks. One solution to the dilemma presented in Square III would be an intensive dialogue to arrive at a consensus and thus transfer the problem to Square I. The nuclear industry, however, has in years past been notoriously poor in engaging in a dialogue with the public. The case of Forsmark and some other plant sites are an exception. Another solution to the dilemma of Square III might be found in some legitimating decision-making mechanism such as a referendum or a majority vote in parliament that puts constraints on the minority so that it accepts a decision with which it actually disagrees.
The dangers in Square IV are "raw"; we know little about them and there is no consensus about them. These are the dangers that create deep fear, despair, riots, panic. They are the most difficult for a society to handle. Solutions usually emerge in the religious realm.(The folklore of Chernobog's black mass is a case in point.) Traditionally these dangers fall within the province of a priesthood. But the priesthood is poorly developed in our secular world. Preaching is nowadays often the province of journalists and columnists. Normally they have the task of ensuring that the powers that be do not conceal dangers from us. Theirs is an important task, and it is most pertinent to the dangers presented in Squares I, II, and III. When the media seize upon one of the risks in Square IV their role can become very unclear and destructive. They can use these dangers to alternately alarm, alternately soothe their readers, listeners, and viewers - and increase their subscribers and ratings in the process.
Let us now discuss Chernobyl and Sweden's position in Square I and Square III.
Two action levels for radiation were well established in Sweden prior to Chernobyl. They had backing in law and in of technical administrators.
50 millisievert per year for occupational hazards with x-ray and similar equipment in medical work and industry, including nuclear power plants.
50 millisievert per year for older houses with radon radiation from the ground or building material (in new construction this may be 70 millisievert per year).
No action limit had been set in Sweden for radiation drifting over the countryside from an accident in a nuclear power reactor. The responsible politician at the time of the Chernobyl accident was the minister of energy and environment, Mrs. Birgitta Dahl. She had to act on short notice and with little time for consultation with scientists and with colleagues in other countries. She set the action limit at1.0 millisievert per year, 1/50th of the medical and industrial action limit and the limit for radon houses.
A lower level would have been meaningless since most of the measuring equipment available could not accurately measure smaller doses. A higher level would have been justified even by the Swedish tradition of strict policies for workmen's protection and housing and construction regulations. But Mrs. Dahl apparently did not want to be accused of setting a higher and riskier limit for the Swedes than other countries had set for their citizens. Hence one millisievert per year became the danger line. It was translated to be equivalent to 300 bequerel per kilogram in the contents of foodstuff.
There was no consensus on radiation action limits in Europe in May of 1986. Some German Länder set even lower limits and many countries in Europe set higher. Later in the summer the protective action limits for foodstuff in different countries came somewhat more in line. Here is a summary for July, 1984 prepared for the US Department of Energy on the action limit of cesium 137 in food
The numbers are bequerel per kilogram for adults:
|German Federal Republic||600 (370 in milk products)|
M Goldman et al., "Assessment of the Dosimetric and Health Implications of the Chernobyl Reactor Accident", prepared for the Office of Health and Environmental Research, US Department of Energy, August 4, 1986.
The Swedish action limit of 1.0 millisievert per year did not by itself cause the agonizing about the grazing of cows, contaminated foodstuffs, children in the sandbox, the Lapp way of life, the fewer overseas tourists, et cetera. But it caused the authorities to act, the media to publish, and the public to react. A future historian accustomed to worse nuclear accidents may conclude that this was much ado about nothing. However, an action limit of 1.0 millisievert per year was a response in keeping with a paternalistic welfare state.
Sweden achieved its consensus on nuclear energy in a referendum in 1980 which approved of the nuclear investment in 12 reactor blocks, and in a parliamentary decision later the same year that nuclear power should be phased out by the year 2010. Sweden is the only country in the world with a formal decision to eventually abandon nuclear power. There is even a law prohibiting anyone from making plans for future investments in nuclear energy.
The decision to abandon nuclear power by 2010 has not been taken very seriously in all quarters of government and industry. It has often been said that a future parliament may reverse the decision when reviewing the track record of nuclear power. The environmentalists fear that the talk of phasing it all out by 2010 is a ritual that is designed to protect the heavy investment already taken.
The Chernobyl fallout had the effect that the ritualistic talk of phasing out by 2010 became more of a hard policy. Strong voices now argue for an immediate close to Barsebäck, a nuclear plant close to Malmoe and Copenhagen. In the spring of 1987 the Swedish Parliament will be given the opportunity to vote whether Barsebäck shall close within a few years or not. If this plant actually is closed the long-term destiny for all Swedish nuclear energy is probably sealed. Both industry and the investment community would then be wise to count on significantly higher electricity rates in the next century.
While people in the Forsmark area were reasonably well prepared for the contingencies of living in a nuclear age, the same is not true for Sweden as a whole. Sweden stands to loose its nuclear energy in the process, while its neighbors to the east and to the south continue with nuclear power. The Soviet Union sowed radioactivity over neighboring Sweden and may in due course harvest a less vital and more slow-growing economy there.