Perceived Risk and Benefit of Nuclear Waste Repositories: Four Opinion Clusters


Address correspondence to Roman Seidl, ETH Zurich, Institute for Environmental Decisions (IED), Universitaetstrasse 22, CHN J74.1, CH-8092 Zurich, Switzerland; tel: +41 44 632 93 19;


Local public resistance can block the site-selection process, construction, and operation of nuclear waste repositories. Social science has established that the perception of risks and benefits, trust in authorities, and opinion on nuclear energy play important roles in acceptance. In particular, risk and benefit evaluations seem critical for opinion formation. However, risks and benefits have rarely been studied independently and, most often, the focus has been on the two most salient groups of proponents and opponents. The aim of this exploratory study is to examine the often-neglected majority of people holding ambivalent or indifferent opinions. We used cluster analysis to examine the sample (N = 500, mailed survey in German-speaking Switzerland) in terms of patterns of risk and benefit perception. We reveal four significantly different and plausible clusters: one cluster with high-benefit ratings in favor of a repository and one cluster with high-risk ratings opposing it; a third cluster shows ambivalence, with high ratings on both risk and benefit scales and moderate opposition, whereas a fourth cluster seems indifferent, rating risks and benefits only moderately compared to the ambivalent cluster. We conclude that a closer look at the often neglected but considerable number of people with ambivalent or indifferent opinions is necessary. Although the extreme factions of the public will most probably not change their opinion, we do not yet know how the opinion of the ambivalent and indifferent clusters might develop over time.