Radioactive Waste: Politics and Technology

By Frans Berkhout | Go to book overview

Chapter seven

The construction of consent

7.1 Introduction

In this chapter will be discussed the problems of setting, meeting and legitimating goals of environmental regulation. In Chapter 6 it was argued that the way in which the state pursues industrial-strategic goals in the nuclear-fuel cycle has set the deeper institutional conditions within which radioactive wastes have been controlled, practically and notionally. The balancing of these goals sets the ground rules for how decisions on boundaries of control were made. Clearly this only describes the problem from one side. Goals may be fickle things: they may change or fail to be met; and, as we have stressed, they are the result of political settlements which are made in the real world. The real world is composed not only of industrial interests, but also of broader societal interests.

Radwaste management has given rise to a new area of social dispute, difficult to locate within the standard units of social conflict—class, gender, race and nationality—but deep enough to create severe social tensions. Essentially these tensions arise out of the contested position of the state as the regulator of the interaction between industrial activity and the natural environment. To account for this struggle a second layer of analysis is necessary, which details how evolving settlements of the conflict between industrial and environmental goals are legitimated. This social negotiation is framed by an institutional and legal system with a unique history and culture in each place. In answering the question of how it is that different policies are acceptable, technically or politically, we must look to these specific features of national character.

In Section 7.2 the general problem of legitimating radwaste policies will be discussed. A more theoretical argument will be set out in Section 7.3 which attempts to recast the question of public acceptability/tolerability of nuclear-fuel cycle facilities in terms of legitimation deficits rather than the ignorance of non-experts. Section 7.4 discusses questions arising out of the legitimation of the boundary of control in Sweden, West Germany, and the UK. The chapter ends with some concluding comments.

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