Public opinion-building in mass media: a media analysis of Estonia's nuclear energy debate in 2011



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Tartu Ülikool


The partial meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima power plant in 2011 has spread more than radiation: It caused a wave of dispute in many countries about the use of nuclear energy and forced those countries to re-evaluate their national energy independence given the risks posed by a plant. The small state of Estonia finds itself in such a position, having plans to construct a nuclear power plant, which are decided upon by 2013. The subject of this research is the debate in Estonian print media surrounding these plans. From viewing 12 months of data (October 2010 –September 2011) through both a quantitative content analysis and a qualitative discourse analysis, the debate appears to be a battle of individual opinions pulling public opinion to either an understanding of a threatened energy security without the plant, or a comprehension of the commitment in risks, if the plant is built. Intertwined with these results is first and foremost Ulrich Beck’s idea of a reflexive modernization: The Estonian debate is situated in the middle of the modernization process, still weighting the nationalist value of economic independence high, but beginning to integrate social rationality into the discussions – a phenomenon enhanced by the real-life event Fukushima, which caused public opinion to shift away from domination of professionals defending scientific rationality, towards a more evenly-balanced debate in terms of participation as well as represented attitudes.