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(Carnegie Mellon)

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan have forced an international spotlight on nuclear energy and its risks to society. Conflicting reports and leadership responses about what exactly is going on with Japan's nuclear reactors have cast a cloud of uncertainty over the situation. Baruch Fischhoff, a world-renowned risk communication expert at Carnegie Mellon University, has worked on nuclear power issues intermittently since the 1970s. "I have met many dedicated, talented, hard-working individuals in the nuclear energy industry," he said. "However, as an entity, the industry does a terrible job of communicating with the general public -- both in hearing its concerns and conveying credible responses." To some extent, he says, it reflects a feeling that the industry can proceed without public consent -- or the belief that the public is too irrational to sustain a dialogue. "These beliefs are not supported by the evidence," he said. Back in February 2009, Fischhoff wrote a column encouraging the industry's leaders to overcome their intuitive psychological theories about the public. He urged them to engage in a disciplined communication strategy supported by behavioral science. "Doing so will increase its chance of getting a fair hearing in the court of public opinion," he said, "and of ...
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