From Inquiry to Consultation: Contested Spaces of Public Engagement with Nuclear Power
Johnstone, Philip Calum Jamil
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
potentially sensitive material regarding certain corporate and governmental stakeholders
This doctoral thesis examines the political and democratic implications of transformations in nuclear power policy, with a focus on the formalised spaces of public engagement situated in three ‘eras’ of nuclear power development. The research is particularly focussed upon the Planning Act 2008, designed to speed up the planning process around large-scale infrastructure including nuclear power. To date the political consequences of the Act have received little academic attention. Building upon key debates in Geography and Planning situated around notions of ‘post-politics’ as well as other conceptualisations of ‘contentious’ political and democratic interventions including STS and state-theoretical perspectives, this thesis examines the consequences for political contestation around nuclear power, in relation to spaces of consultation. These new forms of public engagement are based around a ‘rescaled and segmented’ policy framework created by the Planning Act. A central argument of this is thesis is that the Planning Act cannot be viewed in isolation however. Rather it should be understood in relation to tensions regarding the spatial politics and political opportunities present in previous forms of public engagement around nuclear power, as well as the contradictions created between particular ideological underpinnings of government, and simultaneous commitments to certain ‘objects of governance’, in this instance, nuclear power. Three eras of nuclear power development form the foci of the research. Firstly, an examination of the ‘forgotten inquiry’ between 1988-1989 into the construction of Hinkley C nuclear power station, which was never built due to the collapse of the economic case for nuclear due to privatisation. Through archival research and interviews, this chapter traces empirically how ‘political opportunities’ were enacted and created by campaign groups within the inquiry setting, and how various spatial strategies were utilised to politicise the inquiry. The second empirical chapter addresses the participatory era of New Labour, where new collaborative experiments were developed to negotiate nuclear issues. Through analysis of policy documents and interview data, the ways in which the enthusiasm towards participatory governance was problematised through the return of new nuclear power onto the policy agenda is explored, with particular attention to ‘object-focussed’ state theory. Thirdly, the effects of the ‘rescaled’ consultative framework of the Planning Act are explored through interviews, policy documents, and ethnographic research. Situated within the context of the second attempt to construct Hinkley C, this chapter provides fertile ground for comparative analysis with the 1980’s Inquiry. I argue that the Act attempts to solve some of the key tensions of previous policy, attempting to speed up the planning process whilst maintaining commitments to collaborative forms of public engagement through consensus-based decision-making. The spatial framing of the Act is seen as key to processes of post-politicisation however, where substantial concerns regarding the profound uncertainties of the UK nuclear revival are displaced to other forms of engagement beyond planning. This attempt to ‘solve political dissensus through space’ has ‘unintended consequences’ however which are explored in the conclusion. This thesis brings empirical attention to the’ where’ of politics in different policy settings. Theoretical discussions regarding the relationship between spatial politics, and more nuanced understandings of post-politics and the political are developed through this thesis.
PhD in Geography