Articulating Ecological Injustices of Nuclear Energy
Smith, Christiane Maria
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Harms produced by nuclear energy include the accident risks of population displacement, deaths, cancers, genetic, teratogenetic (affecting embryo and foetus) and psycho-social effects; increased radiation exposure to workers, locals and future generations from nuclear plants, uranium mines and waste storage facilities; thermal and toxic tailings pollution from nuclear plants and uranium mines; and other unknown long-term effects of increasing levels of background radiation. Historically, most greens have opposed nuclear energy alongside nuclear weapons. Recently, however, significant green spokespeople have combined with industry and governments in emphasising the need for nuclear energy in response to climate change. Based upon my experiences in the struggle against the Hinkley C nuclear power plant in Somerset, UK, this thesis contests the dominant framings of the debate. I suggest that arguments for nuclear energy are made possible by reductive understandings of the issue making it difficult to apprehend the significance of harms reinforced by nuclear energy. Taking an ecological approach I show how dominant discourses presuppose a hierarchical separation of science/politics, reinforced by and reinforcing the separation of nature/culture. These hierarchical separations depoliticise and naturalise harms produced by both nuclear energy and dominant forms of social organisation. As a result, these harms are difficult to communicate and contest as relevant to the discussion of our common futures. In this thesis I argue that we might more effectively convey the significance of these harms if we articulate them as injustices. Building upon the theory and practice of justice and liberation struggles I develop a heuristic framework for articulating injustices based around three intersecting images of politics as distribution, recognition and representation. I suggest articulating injustices of nuclear energy as i) the deprivation of basic necessities due to unequal distributions of burdens as well as goods; ii) the disrespect for ecological integrity due to desire for control of inevitable unpredictability in interaction; and iii) the denial of multiple authorities through monopolisation of rational speech and action and disengaged forms of knowledge production. Expressing harms of nuclear energy by way of this three-fold articulation of injustices politicises nuclear energy, climate change, and the dominant forms of social organisation, opening these up to political contestation to more effectively take ‘all affected’ into account before we reconsider how we might live together.
PhD in Politics