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The Philadelphia Enegry Solutions (PES) Refinery Complex is located in South Philadelphia. (Photo by Doc Searls | CC BY-SA 2.0)

A recent study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at Penn suggests that people are not aware when they live near nuclear reactors, refineries, and fracking wells. 

The study, published in the Risk Analysis journal, utilized a national survey and showed that only 54% of respondents living within 25 miles of a nuclear site reported that they did so. A smaller percentage answered correctly about living near fracking wells and refineries. 

Led by a team of researchers at the APPC, the study looked into factors that would help people make accurate perceptions of their proximity to energy sites. 

According to the study, people that believed these sites were risky or dangerous were less likely to report they lived near one, and those that believed these sites were safe were more likely to report that they lived near them. 

Researchers found that respondents who reported having friends or family that worked in these sites were aware of their own proximity to one, whereas someone's prior science knowledge and consumption of news had no consistent effect on people's perceptions.

Benjamin Lyons, a postdoctoral fellow at the APPC, said the results showed people who perceived risks from these energy sites were not more aware of their distance to one. 

“We propose that there is a kind of dissonance reduction process at work,” Lyons told the APPC. “People who see these sites as risky think, ‘I can’t possibly live near them,’ or they avoid the information that might be dissonant. It could be an unconscious or conscious process.”

The study used previously unpublished survey data from the Pew Research Center's American Trends Panel, according to the study. The research was partially supported by the Science of Science Communication program of the APPC at Penn.