Medical Radiology and Radiation Safety. 2013. Vol. 58. No. 4. P. 5-16


E.M. Melikhova, E.M. Byrkina, Y.A. Pershina

On the Issue of Certain Mechanisms of Social Amplification of Risk in Media Coverage of the Fukushima NPP Nuclear Accident

Nuclear Safety Institute of the RAS, Moscow, Russia, e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Purpose: To analyze the public perception of radiation risk and reveal mechanisms of social amplification of risk in Fukushima accident media coverage in Russia.

Material and methods: 1. An all-Russian public opinion poll about radiological consequences of Fukushima and Chernobyl nuclear accidents. The poll was conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation within the framework of weekly survey FOMnibus in October 2012.The questions were designed by IBRAE RAS specialists. 2. A content analysis of articles concerning the Fukushima NPP nuclear accident in two national newspapers: “Izvestiya” and “Komsomolskaya Pravda” from 11.03.2011 to 11.05.2011.

Results: More than 50 % of respondents believed that radiation from Fukushima resulted in a lot of deaths (thousands, hundreds of thousands, more than a million). Distribution of answers considering the death toll due to Fukushima’s radiation was similar to distribution of answers for the same question about Chernobyl. This distribution virtually doesn’t correlate with respondent’s age, education, income, residence or occupation.

Media coverage of the nuclear accident at the Fukushima NPP in Russian national newspapers was as extensive as the coverage of the natural disaster in Japan which killed more than 15 thousand people. Every third article about Fukushima also mentioned Chernobyl. Some other mechanisms of risk amplification were noticed as well: using of frightening words in article’s headlines, intentional and unintentional projecting of consequences of the natural disaster on the radiation accident, presence of unclear and contradictory comments on radiation hazard for Japan. The last mechanism was mainly due to the immanent problem of radiation safety standards in low dose range.

Conclusion: Development of Fukushima accident image as a global scale disaster was quite a natural phenomenon. Public prejudice against nuclear technology motivated increased media attention towards the accident. During two first weeks there was no clear and coordinated signal on international level stating that radiological consequences for Japan would be insignificant. This provided ample breeding ground for agitation on the issue in mass media. As a result, negative transfer of Chernobyl image on Fukushima has occurred. Until the key problems of timely and consistent public information on international level are not solved, we are unlikely to expect a different sequence of such accidents in future.

Key words: media content analysis, public opinion poll, Fukushima nuclear accident, risk perception, mechanisms of social amplification of risk, informing on radiation risk