Reversing Nuclear Opposition: Evolving Public Acceptance of a Permanent Nuclear Waste Disposal Facility

Jenkins-Smith, Hank C., Carol L. Silva, Carol L., Matthew C. Nowlin, and Grant deLozier. 2011. “Reversing Nuclear Opposition: Evolving Public Acceptance of a Permanent Nuclear Waste Disposal Facility.” Risk Analysis, 31(4): 629–644, doi:


Nuclear facilities have long been seen as the top of the list of locally unwanted land uses (LULUs), with nuclear waste repositories generating the greatest opposition. Focusing on the case of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southern New Mexico, we test competing hypotheses concerning the sources of opposition and support for siting the facility, including demographics, proximity, political ideology, and partisanship, and the unfolding policy process over time. This study tracks the changes of risk perception and acceptance of WIPP over a decade, using measures taken from 35 statewide surveys of New Mexico citizens spanning an 11-year period from fall 1990 to summer 2001. This time span includes periods before and after WIPP became operational. We find that acceptance of WIPP is greater among those whose residences are closest to the WIPP facility. Surprisingly, and contrary to expectations drawn from the broader literature, acceptance is also greater among those who live closest to the nuclear waste transportation route. We also find that ideology, partisanship, government approval, and broader environmental concerns influence support for WIPP acceptance. Finally, the sequence of procedural steps taken toward formal approval of WIPP by government agencies proved to be important to gaining public acceptance, the most significant being the opening of the WIPP facility itself.

Matthew C. Nowlin
Associate Professor of Political Science