Low dose radiation risk perception and communication: Brookhaven National Lab (project report)
Webler, T. 2002. Radiation risk perception and communication: A case study of the tritium controversy at Brookhaven National Laboratory. SERI Report 02-002. Greenfield, MA: Social and Environmental Research Institute.

Publication Abstract

      This manuscript reports on how individuals in and around Brookhaven National Lab came to their perceptions of a low-dose radiation risk from tritiated water that contaminated the aquifer directly beneath the Lab. The focus is upon the role that risk communication messages played in forming individuals’ perceptions. Based on the presumption that people interpret and deliver such messages via interactive processes with others, this research inquired into: (1) the ways that different social networks distributed and processed information about the risk, (2) the role radiation stigma and regulatory standards played in influencing risk perceptions, and (3) the communicative and social factors that helped shape individuals’ involvement in such networks. The report finds that, in this case study, people who decided to become engaged in the risk controversy relied on the resources of social networks to acquire and evaluate information. These findings suggest that theories of risk perception need to develop a sociological dimension to capture the relevance social networks play. The findings also suggest that the practice of risk communication needs to recognize that risk messages are interpreted socially. Conceptualizing a risk discourse among all interested parties seems to be a promising way to think about risk communication.     

Publication File