Media and public opinion on nuclear power in South Africa prior to and after the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011
The nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan has evoked a massive discourse on nuclear issues in South Africa and elsewhere. This study analyses media framing of the nuclear debates in the South African media before and after the accident. Over 156 articles published in the Mail and Guardian, The Sunday Times, Witness and the City Press newspapers were examined. Taken collectively, these articles represent a good snapshot of the print media coverage on nuclear debates in South Africa for the period 11 March 2010 to 11 March 2012. That is a year prior to the nuclear accident and a year after the accident. The Fukushima Daiichi accident has forced the two opposing camps to redefine their discourse in response to challenges and questions brought about by the accident. The statement of the problem that the research work intends to address is derived from the following background. There is limited factual information about nuclear technology that the public can freely access in order to make informed decisions. The public relies mainly on media to gain nuclear knowledge. In turn, the media use framing to influence and shape perspectives, public awareness and understanding, as well as to channel discussions on topical nuclear issues. As a result, information on nuclear technology has been distorted and frequently misrepresented, resulting in a shift in public perception, opinion, attitude and acceptance towards this technology. The extent of such a paradigm shift is investigated in this research work, through the following research questions: RQ1: To what extent has the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident altered narratives about nuclear power technology in South Africa? RQ2: Does the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident serve as a benchmark to report on nuclear power technology in South Africa? RQ3: Which types of sources or frames are being promoted or portrayed in the media? RQ4: Are there any differences in media coverage between conservative and liberal media outlets with regard to nuclear policy change in South Africa? The aim of this study is therefore to critically explore the language or frames through which nuclear discourse is reported in the following South African print media and to interrogate the ideologies underlying the philosophies of these newspapers. A qualitative method was used to analyse the information published in the four above named newspapers. Before the accident, most of the articles espoused pro-nuclear themes, highlighting the inherent importance of nuclear energy to South African economic growth, security of energy supply and superior competence of the technology. After the accident, the study shows a paradigm shift on the part of the pro-nuclear activists towards a neutral but conservative position, balancing advocacy of nuclear progress with consideration of important lessons to be learned for future nuclear expansion programmes. The voice of the anti-nuclear movement received more traction after the accident, focusing mainly on the controversial issues, such as lack of infrastructure to deal with the high level of radioactive nuclear waste, huge discrepancies in estimating the cost of nuclear development and so on. However, the voice of anti-nuclear activists has attracted less attention in comparison to the pro-nuclear voice, led, interestingly, by governmental officials.