Perceptions, attitudes and knowledge of the public opinion in Greece about radiation: national survey results

We present the main findings of a nationwide public opinion survey about perceptions, attitudes and knowledge on radiation-related topics, such as the use of ionizing radiation in medicine, natural radiation, electromagnetic fields, nuclear energy, management of radioactive waste and management of radiation emergencies. The survey was conducted as part of the institutional project entitled "Assessment of the national system for protection against ionizing and non-ionizing radiation – awareness-raising actions” (code name “AVRA”). The project is funded by the European Regional Development Fund under the "Strategic Development Action of Research and Technological Organizations" of the program "Entrepreneurship and Innovation Competitiveness". The strategic action is coordinated by the General Secretariat for Research and Technology of the Ministry of Education, Research and Religious Affairs. 

Up to now, at national level there were no available data from public opinion surveys about radiation-related topics; the main source of this type of data was only the Eurobarometer.

This is the first time that EEAE uses the tool of public opinion survey in order to identify perceptions, attitudes and knowledge in the fields of its competences. The survey, contracted to Palmos Analysis following a tender, was conducted during the period June-July 2018 in a sample of 1.811 persons with the use of telephone interviews on a structured questionnaire. 

The survey is seen as a strategic tool for developing information and training actions. We summarize below the main findings of the survey: 

  • For the vast majority of respondents (85%) their exposure to radiation is a matter of concern. The concern is related with the fear of possible health consequences (79%), as well as with the fear of possible environmental consequences (14%).
  • Radioactive waste, radon, solarium tanning beds and mobile phone antennas are considered as radiation sources of high risk. 
Medical use of radiation
  • The overwhelming majority of respondents (90%) say that they have undergone medical examinations or treatments using some form of radiation. The chest X-ray is the most common exanination (90%).
  • 89% of the respondents say that they have never demanded a referral for medical examination using radiation.
  • About half of the respondents say that they are "extremely concerned" or "moderately concerned" about their medical exposure to radiation
Natural radiation 
  • Nearly all respondents (97%) consider that we are exposed to radiation in the natural environment we live. The sun (55%) and the mobile phone antennas (39%) are the main unprompted answers given by the respondents when asked to mention some natural sources of radiation.
  • About 40% of the respondents say they have heard about the natural radioactive gas radon. The mass media are being referred to as the key source of information related to radon.
Electromagnetic radiation
  • Mobile phone antennas (59%) and mobile phones (57%) are the two electromagnetic radiation sources that the public is concerned about the most.
  • 7 out of 10 say they would react actively (by filing a complaint, protesting, taking legal actions etc.) in case that a mobile phone antenna was installed near their residence. 
  • 4% of the general population over 17 years old have used artificial tanning services (solarium). The UV radiation (used in tanning beds) is acknowledged as cancer factor (95%). 
Nuclear energy - nuclear accidents
  • The public opinion opposes to the use of nuclear energy for the purpose of electricity production: the 74% is against, the 18% is in favor.
  • 83% of the respondents say they are afraid of a possible accident at a nuclear power plant in a neighboring country that will put Greece at risk.
  • 8 out of 10 respondents say they are "extremely concerned" or "moderately concerned" about the possibility of a nuclear accident in the vicinity of Greece with radiological consequences in our country.
  • Lack of information about the existing emergency response plans in case of a radiological/nuclear emergency is recorded: about 76% says that they are "not at all informed" or "little informed" about this subject, while the 13% consider themselves "very well informed" or "well informed".
Radioactive waste
  • 8 out of 10 respondents say they are "not at all informed" (54%) or "little informed" (25%) about the radioactive waste management. The 78% believes that there are radioactive waste in Greece.
  • 7 out of 10 say they are "extremely concerned" or "moderately concerned" about the radioactive waste management in Greece.
  • The overwhelming majority (84%) of the respondents say they would oppose to the operation of an interim radioactive waste storage facility in the vicinity of their residence, while only 12% would accept it. Acceptance is higher among younger respondents: 20% within the age group 17 - 24 and 17% within the age group 25 - 34.
  • The two main concerns of the public opinion regarding the radioactive waste management are the impact on future generations due to the long life of radioactive waste (37%) and the possibility of an accident in the process of radioactive waste management (33%).
Information - trust - competent authority
  • Lack of public trust towards the public authorities responsible for radiation protection and nuclear safety is recorded: the 40% does not trust them "at all", the 25% trusts them "little", while the 14% shows "a lot" of trust and the 20% is neutral. Considering the general lack of public trust (more than 90% in our country) towards public authorities, enjoying 14% of trust and 20% of neutrality may be considered as a good starting point. 
  • The 64% thinks that there is lack of transparency in the way that public authorities deal with radiation protection and nuclear safety. 
  • The 96% says that they do not know which is the regulatory authority for the radiation safety in Greece.
  • 3 out of 4 (73%) believe that the information provided about radiation-related topics is not adequate or sufficient.  

In parallel with the quantitative public opinion survey, a qualitative survey using in-depth interviews with interested parties was conducted, in order to investigate safety culture aspects.  Generally, interviewees recognized the need for regulatory control of radiation protection. Safety comes up as a self-evident prerequisite and as a well-established parameter in the workplace. As far as the EEAE role is concerned, trust but also feelings of dependence were recorded. 

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