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Stability of energy imageries and affect following shocks to the global energy system: the case of Fukushima

Roh Pin Lee

Journal of Risk Research, 2015, vol. 18, issue 7, 965-988

Abstract: Energy debates in the public sphere are often loaded with emotions. This is especially so following energy catastrophes which call for a more thorough understanding of affective rationality in the energy context. This research contributes to this effort by carrying out an in-depth effort to capture qualitative imageries and quantitative imagery-specific affect associated with nuclear, coal, natural gas, solar, and wind energy sources. Additionally, a detailed analysis of changes to energy imageries and imagery-specific affect in the aftermath of an energy catastrophe (i.e., Fukushima nuclear accident) is carried out. Two hundred and seventy-five German young adults took part in the study between December 2010 and January 2011 (before the Fukushima incident) while 452 young adults participated in the second round of the study between May and August 2011 (after the Fukushima incident). Word associations are used to elicit mental imageries and affect toward multiple energy sources. Content-analysis of imageries and quantitative analysis of the affective evaluation of such imageries revealed several interesting findings. Results provide insights into aspects of each energy source eliciting high levels of concern/support (as indicated by imageries associated with strong negative/positive affect). The robust association of each energy source with particular imageries is found to remain persistent after the Fukushima nuclear accident. While no change in affect toward nuclear and wind imageries are observed, some changes in affect toward imageries associated with coal, natural gas and solar are found. Nevertheless, the observed stability in the majority of qualitative imageries and quantitative imagery-specific affect after the Fukushima incident suggests that affective energy imageries are deeply anchored in people's minds and point to a potential lock-in of affective mental associations in the energy context. Implications for future research, policy, and managerial decision-makers are discussed.

Date: 2015
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