Spring 2021 Shires Graduate Seminar Series

Date(s) - Fri 04/23/21
1:30 pm - 2:20 pm

Zoom ID to be provided by email


Nuclear Crisis Communication in the era of Fake News and Media Overload

Punam Thakur
Technical Director, Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center


Over the past several decades, the nuclear industry has worked diligently to improve the security and safety aspects of their technology, but it has failed to meet the challenge of the public’s negative perception. Studies have shown that nuclear energy and nuclear waste evoke fear among the general populace because people see risks as immediate, unknown, uncontrollable, and potentially catastrophic. To some extent, negative public perception challenges for the nuclear industry are primarily a consequence of its own inability to communicate the benefits of nuclear science effectively with the lay public. While effective and trustworthy communication cannot guarantee success, it helps shape public opinion, and for a routinely misperceived project like a nuclear facility, that is paramount.

Fukushima was the first nuclear accident to occur in the world where citizens have access to 24/7 news channels and the ability to respond in a real-time manner through social media outlets. Following the Fukushima accident, social media sites were filled with information regarding nuclear energy that were based more on mass rumor and even paranoia than facts. More locally, we have seen this trend following what was a minor external radiation release event at the WIPP in February 14, 2014. Many online news sources were flooded with anti-nuke stories aimed at pushing a fear of radiation, such as inferring an increase in cancer rates among the public from this minor incident; which was exactly the opposite of what was true. Public reactions following these nuclear events reinforced the value of effective communication in maintaining the high level of transparency necessary for long-term, local acceptance and support for nuclear facilities. A lack of trustworthy communication leaves a vacuum that can be quickly filled by rumors and fake information.

When dealing with a nuclear crisis, failure to recognize the rapidly changing and contrasting media framing, or believing fake news could have very real and catastrophic consequences. Trusted organizations must swiftly take charge and guide the way in which the crisis is framed to keep the public adequately and accurately informed.


Punam is a Technical Director and a lead Investigator for the Radiochemistry Program at the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring & Research Center (CEMRC). CEMRC is an independent academic radiochemistry facility for the environmental monitoring of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), a deep geologic nuclear repository in the United States for the disposal of transuranic nuclear wastes. The primary goal of CEMRC is to develop and implement an independent health and environmental monitoring program in the vicinity of WIPP and make the results easily accessible to all interested parties. Punam has a Master degree in Inorganic Chemsitry and  and Ph.D degree in Radiochemsitry. Prior to joining CEMRC, I worked with Prof. Greg Choppin as a research Fellow at Florida State University.