Right Answers and Right-Wrong Answers
Start Year: 2013

Right Answers and Right-Wrong Answers: Sources of Information Influencing Knowledge of Nuclear-Related Information

Surveys in 2008 and 2009 asked almost 6000 United States residents to indicate their knowledge about the use of nuclear and other sources of energy, and the disposition of nuclear waste. Less than 10% of respondents knew where spent commercial nuclear fuel is stored. With regard to knowledge about fuel for electrical energy, respondents overestimated solar and wind use and underestimated coal use. These responses are consistent with mass media coverage of these issues. The mass media were the source of information for the vast majority of respondents. However, the likelihood of right answers to our questions increased as reliance on the mass media decreased, and it increased with use of books, magazines, personal contacts and the web. Educated affluent white males with strong preferences for nuclear energy disproportionately were knowledgeable. These observations demonstrate the daunting challenge of providing information about subjects that are largely distant and disconnected from the public’s lives. The Department of Energy, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, state and local health, environmental and energy agencies, and facility owners and operators have huge domestic political, national security and economic stakes in improving the factual grounding of public reactions to energy production and waste management choices.