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Environment Magazine September/October 2008


November-December 2011

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Nuclear Power After Japan: The Social Dimensions

Caption: Smoke at Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Caption: Smoke at Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Following the declaration of a nuclear emergency in Japan, questions surrounding the use of nuclear power have been brought back to the forefront of public debate. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake and following tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011, had devastating consequences for many people. The subsequent problems encountered at Japan's nuclear power plants, and particularly at Fukushima Daiichi, have raised questions about the future of nuclear energy worldwide.

Caption: Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. North is to the right. Reactors 4, 3, 2 and 1, reading left to right, appear at the left (South). Reactor 5 and the construction site for reactor 6 appear to the right of center of the image.

Caption: Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. North is to the right. Reactors 4, 3, 2 and 1, reading left to right, appear at the left (South). Reactor 5 and the construction site for reactor 6 appear to the right of center of the image.

In response to the earthquake, the nuclear reactors at the Fukushima site were all safely shut down, but subsequent power outages caused by the tsunami resulted in a failure of the cooling systems, eventually leading to a release of radioactive material across four units.1 While the full extent of radiation leakage is yet to be determined, at the time of writing, lethal levels of radiation had been detected at the site, raising concerns about the scale of the impacts, particularly for workers.2 The accident had been rated as a level 7 “major accident” on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES), having been revised from a level 5 event to the most serious level on INES, used to describe an event involving a “major release of radioactive material with widespread health and environmental effects requiring implementation of planned and extended countermeasures.”3 Approximately 170,000 people were evacuated from a 20-km radius around Fukushima following the events, and further evacuations are now being undertaken within a 30-km zone.

These events come at a time of projected global resurgence in nuclear energy facility development, with an estimated 360 gigawatts of additional nuclear generating capacity projected to be developed worldwide by 2035, on top of the 390 gigawatts already in use.4 This renewed interest in nuclear is, in part, due to its potential as a low carbon energy source, but also because of concerns about energy security as energy demand and competition for hydrocarbon fuels increase worldwide. In the context of this so-called “nuclear renaissance” the technology has, however, remained contentious, provoking vociferous public debate and, in the U.K. case at least, even legal battles.5 The full extent of what the events in Japan might mean for nuclear power in this contemporary context of renewed political and market interest are yet to be seen. While the debate is likely, in the first instance at least, to be dominated by technical and safety considerations, it seems timely to reexamine existing social science research on nuclear energy and think through some of the key sociopolitical dimensions in light of this accident.

It will not, of course, be possible to address all of the social science questions pertinent to this issue. We aim to cover key aspects, structuring our discussion around four sections themed according to major areas of research that have addressed nuclear energy as a substantive issue. The themes are divided as follows: policy, political acceptability, and economics; public opinion and attitudes; safety, justice, and ethics; and framing and the media. Through these interlinked sections we aim to provide an overview of some of the central issues and findings in social science research on nuclear energy and (re)contextualize key ideas with reference to the still unfolding disaster in Japan.

Caption: Fukushima I nuclear power plant before the 2011 explosion.

Caption: Fukushima I nuclear power plant before the 2011 explosion.

Policy, Political Acceptability, and Economics

Efforts to decarbonize electricity and energy security concerns reopened a policy window to develop new nuclear power stations in countries around the world. Even for countries, such as Germany, with no plans to pursue new nuclear power, life extensions to existing plants were seen as an essential “bridging technology” for transitioning to low-carbon energy systems.6 While the full implications of the events at Fukushima are still rippling through global energy policy discourses, even at this relatively early stage two pathways are emerging: (1) amplification of risk and withdrawal of policy support, and (2) safety review, then attenuation of risk, followed by continued support.7

Prominent examples of the first are taking place in Japan, Germany, and Italy. It is perhaps unsurprising that Japan has subsequently withdrawn support due to a reconceptualization of the scale of the risks involved, with former Prime Minister Naoto Kan specifically giving the example of the evacuation zone as an impetus.8 Potentially more startling is the reaction of the German government, which, due to the “residual risks” of nuclear power, has rescinded support for operating-life extensions and instead aims to completely phase out nuclear power plants by 2022.9 In contrast, the United Kingdom and United States have situated the events at Fukushima as part of “learning from experience.” This has allowed for continued adherence to the “principle of continuous improvement,” meaning further new nuclear power occurring concomitantly with the development of more safety measures, procedures, and knowledge.10 In this, the United Kingdom has taken a lead, solidifying its support for eight new nuclear plants through the recent parliamentary approval of its Energy National Policy Statements.11 This suggests that Fukushima has ratcheted up current policy trends and logics in some countries, rather than stimulating a wholesale political reversal.

In terms of economics, the events in Japan serve to refocus attention on questions concerning the evolving relationship between private financing of nuclear energy, sociopolitical acceptability, and nuclear accidents. In the United Kingdom, development of new nuclear generating facilities is agreed on the basis that development is privately financed without government subsidy,12 while the U.S. administration has taken the route of offering conditional loan guarantees.13 The assertions governments around the world have made regarding the role of public investment in nuclear are, however, complicated by the clear implications of the accident for government spending in Japan. The expenditure for compensation alone is estimated to be US$124 billion (£75 billion), the costs of which will be covered in the first instance by special government-issued bonds that the private owners of the Fukushima power station (Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco) will be expected to repay over an as yet unspecified number of years.14 Negotiations over this repayment policy occur at the same time as Tepco's share price plummets, resulting in concerns that the costs will be passed on to customers, leading to a double burden for the wider public (i.e., in paying through both taxes and bills). In this context, notions of a completely privately financed nuclear sector are problematic, as in the event of an accident of any magnitude the role of government subsidies and loans/financial guarantees becomes significantly complicated.

The global trends in private financing and nuclear energy have been the subject of scrutiny both prior to and after the accident at Fukushima. Even before Fukushima, investor decisions had been affected by “reputational” risks associated with nuclear energy—for example, with the withdrawal of Deutsche Bank and HypoVeriensbank from the financing of the Belene nuclear power station (Bulgaria) following protests by an internationally networked civic group.15 After the accident, such reputational risks are heightened further and combined with closely linked financial risks to raise questions about nuclear investment. This has led to speculation regarding whether these events might lead to greater investment in renewable forms of energy or surges of investment in hydrocarbons. In their “Lower-Nuclear” Scenario, the International Energy Agency (IEA) envisions that in the event of lower than anticipated nuclear development, increased investment in hydrocarbons would lead to a 30% higher growth in emissions than in their “New Policies” scenarios.16 Such scenarios can, however, be critiqued for being overly optimistic in their projections of global increases in nuclear generating capacity as well as lifetime extensions, thus overestimating the contribution to global emissions reductions that nuclear would make.17 The potential for reduced investment in nuclear energy has resulted in further concerns about the possibilities for increased competition over hydrocarbons and the accompanying issues this may cause for energy security, particularly in those countries where indigenous resources are limited and where policies to phase out nuclear power have been adopted. For the time being, it remains unclear how far investment in nuclear energy will be affected by the Fukushima accident and, indeed, what the implications of this will be for the global energy market, carbon emissions, or energy security. The extent to which nuclear energy development would have ever reached the levels some were projecting had Fukushima not happened will of course always remain open to question.

Caption: President Jimmy Carter leaving Three Mile Island for Middletown, Pennsylvania, April 1, 1979.

Caption: President Jimmy Carter leaving Three Mile Island for Middletown, Pennsylvania, April 1, 1979.

Public Opinion and Attitudes

Nuclear power has, beyond its beginnings where “glamorous reactors” were anticipated with “a great sense of excitement,” had a tumultuous relationship with the public.18 It has been characterized as a “uniquely dreaded” technology due to its long-standing association with atomic weaponry, invisible and long-lasting effects of radiation, and concerns about waste disposal.19 In the 1980s after the nuclear incident at Three Mile Island (1979) and the disaster at Chernobyl (1986), public opposition to nuclear power was at an all-time high in many countries. Indeed, data from the United States even before Chernobyl suggested that public opposition to nuclear new build rose from around 20% in the 1970s to more than 60% in the early 1980s.20 Other research has identified public distrust of regulators, government, and the nuclear industry to manage risks responsibly and provide truthful information to the public as a key reason for erosion of support.21

Over the past 10 years opinion polling has indicated a reduction in opposition. For example, a global poll by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the Nuclear Energy Agency showed in 2010 that support for nuclear energy had increased in countries such as the United States, Japan, Sweden, Finland, and the United Kingdom.22 Looking specifically at the United Kingdom, polling of the British public conducted in early 2010 found a very balanced picture, with 46% of those questioned favoring replacement or expansion of the existing nuclear capacity in Britain as compared to 47% who wanted it closed or phased out at the end of the existing program.23 However, a closer look at the national polling data shows a more complex picture, with a large proportion of recent national support remaining fragile—a conditional or “reluctant acceptance” at best.24

From such research we can posit that during the short to medium term following Fukushima, many “reluctant acceptors” may withdraw their support for nuclear power and in particular for nuclear new build. Thus opposition during this time would correspondingly increase. Early polling research suggests this is exactly the case, with many countries seeing a rise in opposition that outweighs support even by the thinnest margins; the United States is a notable exception where support for nuclear power is marginally higher than opposition (see Figure 1).25 In the case of Japan, more than half of those who indicated they now oppose nuclear energy to produce electricity do so due to the events in Japan; significant proportions of the public in other countries also state this is the case (see Figure 1). On the basis of such findings, we might expect that those communities who are proposed as hosts for a new reactor may now oppose such developments.

For communities with no experience with a nuclear facility, it is likely that within the short to medium term, potential public contestation surrounding nuclear power may indeed prove to be a stumbling block.26 However, this is not necessarily true of all proposed reactor sites. For example, in the United Kingdom proposed sites are either on or adjacent to an existing nuclear power station. Previous research tells us that the response of people in such communities does not always mirror that obtained from national samples. While reluctant acceptance may be a feature of discourse in such communities and Fukushima may prompt the “extraordinariness” of living close to a nuclear facility to cause momentary reframings of nuclear power as a risk and threat issue, there are some important qualitative nuances to public perceptions that may lead to differing medium- to long-trends following Fukushima.27 Examples include the importance of social familiarity, which through social networks connected to the power station (i.e., either being or knowing a power station worker) or through imaginary positioning (being able to imagine how workers think, feel, and follow working practices) demystifies the power station as a distant institutional organization.28 As such, trust in power station workers is engendered. Although hidden anxieties may come to the surface in light of Fukushima, these could also be moderated by the distancing of the events as irrelevant to localized contexts and working practices, serving to reify the perceived safety of local plants (and trust in plant operators) rather than undermining it.29

Caption: Figure 1: [Nuclear Energy Opinion Poll] Respondents were asked to indicate whether they strongly supported, somewhat supported, somewhat opposed, or strongly opposed each way of producing electricity. Poll conducted between April 6–21, 2011. Sample sizes are weighted to 500 for each country.25

Caption: Figure 1: [Nuclear Energy Opinion Poll] Respondents were asked to indicate whether they strongly supported, somewhat supported, somewhat opposed, or strongly opposed each way of producing electricity. Poll conducted between April 6–21, 2011. Sample sizes are weighted to 500 for each country.25

Caption: Figure 2: [Nuclear Energy Opinion Poll continued] Respondents were asked: You indicated that you oppose nuclear energy to produce electricity. Have you held this view previously or have you decided recently to oppose it because of events in Japan? Poll conducted between April 6–21, 2011. Sample sizes are weighted to 500 for each country.25

Caption: Figure 2: [Nuclear Energy Opinion Poll continued] Respondents were asked: You indicated that you oppose nuclear energy to produce electricity. Have you held this view previously or have you decided recently to oppose it because of events in Japan? Poll conducted between April 6–21, 2011. Sample sizes are weighted to 500 for each country.25

Safety, Justice, and Ethics

The accident at Fukushima brings the justice and ethical issues surrounding the safety of nuclear power and the consequences when something goes wrong (e.g., contamination, environmental degradation, displacement, and health) to the forefront of debate. Fukushima has led many governments to review nuclear energy risk governance and safety procedures. U.S. inspections, which examined the capacity of the 104 operating U.S. plants to deal with power losses or damage to large areas of a reactor site following extreme events, concluded that “all the reactors would be kept safe even in the event their regular safety systems were affected by these events, although a few plants have to do a better job maintaining the necessary resources and procedures.”30 Similarly, the U.K. interim report from the Office for Nuclear Regulation, focusing primarily on the safety of the existing gas-cooled reactor fleet in the United Kingdom (which it argues are inherently more resilient than light water reactors to loss of power and other external shocks), concluded: “In considering the direct causes of the Fukushima accident we see no reason for curtailing the operation of nuclear power plants or other nuclear facilities in the UK.”31

These conclusions stand in stark contrast to the German Ethics Commission for a Safe Energy Supply report, in which the commission states: “The withdrawal from nuclear energy is necessary and is recommended to rule out future risks that arise from nuclear in Germany. It is possible because there are less risky alternatives.” The German report adopts a wider framing than the U.K. analysis, arguing (a) that if such a technologically advanced nation as Japan could suffer this catastrophe, this undermines the assumption made in Germany that a major nuclear accident could not happen there, and (b) that the considerable remaining uncertainties surrounding the temporal, financial, and geographical scope of the accident also undermine the belief that a nuclear accident can be sufficiently contained in heavily populated countries such as Germany or Japan. In the context of the German government's decision, justice and ethical issues associated with nuclear energy have in some cases been posed as a trade-off with those that arise as a consequence of climate change and energy security (e.g., fuel poverty, differential access to energy services). In this sense, nuclear energy is positioned as an antidote to the current and future justice and ethical issues related to climate change and energy security, and the injustices associated with nuclear energy are to be endured as the cost for the solution. However, in the German case, the withdrawal from nuclear energy is premised on the notion that there are less risky alternatives through which these issues can be addressed.32 In this respect, the necessity of nuclear energy for meeting climate change targets and delivering a secure energy system has been the subject of vociferous debate.33 Although, as discussed earlier, there are scenarios that envision that global emissions and energy insecurity may increase significantly as a consequence of decisions not to pursue nuclear, these projections have been heavily critiqued.34

Climate and energy justice are complex areas in their own right and refer not only to issues associated with the impacts of climate change (e.g., droughts, floods, displacement, and so forth) and energy security, but also to the burdens and responsibilities associated with mitigation and adaptation efforts and energy systems more widely.35 In this sense, ethical and justice issues posed by climate change and energy are far more complex and wider ranging than a simple question of reducing emissions and securing supplies versus consequences of impacts. The characterization of the justice issues as simply a trade-off between climate change and energy security, on the one hand, and nuclear energy risks on the other can thus be seen as problematic—both because it fails to engage properly with the climate and energy justice issues (and what the range of solutions to those might be), and because it serves to redirect attention away from the multiple questions and issues to be addressed regarding the justice and ethical concerns that nuclear energy itself raises.36

Such issues range from the displacement of communities and loss of livelihoods, to the exposure of workers to high levels of risk.37 This latter concern is particularly salient for the Japanese case, as the specification of legal levels of radiation was raised early in the crisis from 100 mSv a year to 250 mSv a year to allow workers to spend more time at the plant where nuclear fuel in three reactors suffered meltdowns.38 The malleability of such levels, questions about accurate measurement, and the implications of exposure for workers and their families are undoubtedly an area that should be the subject of further scrutiny in building understanding of nuclear accidents. In her analysis of post-Chernobyl Ukraine, Petryna explores the way that citizenship came to encompass rights to the acknowledgment and compensation of biological injury. In this sense, it is interesting to reflect on the unfolding compensation debate in Japan, which has been commanded as much by financing concerns as by the citizenship rights of those affected by the accident. Initial discussions involved proposals for the capping of compensation so as to ensure Tepco would not be made bankrupt by compensation claims, but these plans were subsequently supplanted by moves that the Japanese government made to underwrite compensation providing Tepco did not cap compensation payouts. In this context, important questions around the extent to which financial compensation is ever an effective or viable ethical response to biological injury caused by exposure to technological risks have been left largely unanswered.39

Caption: Technician with geiger counter inspecting debris on the water edge.

Caption: Technician with geiger counter inspecting debris on the water edge.

Caption: Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

Caption: Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

Framing and Media

The role of news media as a purveyor of interpretive packages is of high significance in the case of policy issues, particularly controversial ones like nuclear energy. It plays a significant part in the relationships between government and public(s) and in developing and crystallizing the cultural meanings that circulate. The interpretive packages that news media provide “have the task of constructing meaning over time, incorporating new events into their interpretive frame.”40 In the nuclear case, the ability of interpretive packages to incorporate events like Fukushima is paramount to the plausibility and consistency of those frames. There are a number of existing interpretative frames or packages for nuclear energy that have been identified in previous research.41 First is the progress frame; this entails the identification of nuclear fission as holding immense potential, either for good (power generation and production) or for bad (weaponry and destruction). Second is the energy independence discourse, initially identified as emerging in media rhetoric during the 1970s oil crisis but also strongly represented in contemporary debates.42 Third, and counter to these, are three further frames, all of which correspond with an antinuclear narrative: soft paths, public accountability, and not cost-effective. The soft paths interpretative package entails a critique of nuclear power based on the kind of path it places our societies on, i.e., one that entails a culture wasteful of energy, involving highly centralized technologies and insensitive to the ecological consequences. The public accountability narrative is one that emphasizes an anti-corporate message, and the not cost-effective frame takes up the economic questions around nuclear energy. Fourth, the runaway narrative is identified, which while retaining an antinuclear flavor is more resigned than opposed, more of a “grin and bear it” narrative than a “no nukes” message.43 Finally, a devil's bargain discourse is evident, which is a combination of the pro-nuclear interpretive packages (progress and energy independence) and the runaway frame. In the more recent discursive context we might view the framing of nuclear as a low-carbon energy source in the context of climate change as part of this devil's bargain narrative.44

The Fukushima accident can be seen as having provoked a “critical discourse moment,” wherein the culture, frames, and interpretative packages of an issue become visible.45 The unfolding media reporting and wider public discourse surrounding the events in Japan reveal tendencies toward the positioning of discussion across the broad interpretative frames discussed earlier. In this sense, rather than raising new debates and issues, the accident has acted as a “peg” for preexisting interpretive packages. This is unsurprising, given that as events unfold, cultural frames must offer an interpretation that is consistent with the storyline. In the Japan case we find numerous examples where existing interpretative packages have adapted to the events (see Table 1). These broad frames circulate through media and wider public discourse, reemerging as events unfold to provide interpretations that fit with wider cultural ideas. Their importance is then in part found in what they reveal about the way different cultures relate to nuclear energy. A more extensive examination of media content following the accident at Fukushima could reveal further emergent interpretative frames. Moreover, study of the levels at which different interpretative packages received representation in the media following Fukushima could also be of significant interest.

The media serve to reflect, create, and crystallize cultural meanings; this communicating role is particularly salient in the context of controversial science and technological issues, with nuclear power being a paradigm case. Several core lessons have emerged from what has been termed “risk communication” research on which we can draw to reflect on the media and wider public discourse surrounding the Fukushima accident. These include reference to the importance of dialogue rather than one-way communication: enabling trust, exploring divergent values of varied public(s), meeting concerns about governance arrangements, and not treating publics as irrational but rather recognizing that their responses to risk may be rooted in different concerns.46 Many of the public and media statements about nuclear risk following Fukushima appear to have failed to take account of these research insights.47 In political and public acceptability terms, the conflicts that exist between the media as key in the construction of meaning around nuclear issues, and its incompatibility with the requirements of complex risk issues in delivery of messages, may serve to heighten difficulties in establishing meaningful debate in an already charged and difficult area.

Illustrative Examples Of Interpretive Packages In Post-Fukushima News Media Coverage

Interpretive Packages/Frames

Example Extracts From News Media Coverage


“Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power … A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.”55

Energy Independence

“The recent disaster in Fukushima has set public confidence in nuclear power back to levels not seen since the aftermath of the Chernobyl or Three Mile Island disasters. This really is a shame, because I believe that nuclear power, if the proper precautions are taken, could greatly lessen the current dependency for fossil fuels, something which is direly needed.”56

“The Germans topped that by switching off several nuclear power stations unnecessarily and importing millions more tonnes of coal (the biggest killer of all energy sources by some margin) from the United States to keep the lights on.”57

Soft Paths

“100% renewables (and geothermal) is where we need to get to eventually—so why not seek to get there just as soon as possible without yet another disastrous foray into today's nuclear cul-de-sac?”58

Public Accountability

“Investigators may take months or years to decide to what extent safety problems or weak regulation contributed to the disaster at Daiichi, the worst of its kind since Chernobyl. But as troubles at the plant and fears over radiation continue to rattle the nation, the Japanese are increasingly raising the possibility that a culture of complicity made the plant especially vulnerable to the natural disaster that struck the country on March 11. … The mild punishment meted out for past safety infractionshas reinforced the belief that nuclear power's main players are more interested in protecting their interests than increasing safety.”59

Not Cost-Effective

“Fukushima shows us the real cost of nuclear power…The economics of nuclear power don't add up—which is even more reason to invest in renewable energy.”60


“The twin natural disasters have also turned the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant into Frankenstein's monster, a man-made object threatening man.”61

Devil's Bargain

“There is no doubt that the explosions and radioactive releases at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant represent the worst nuclear disaster since the explosion at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine in 1986. However … if we abandon nuclear, prepare for a future of catastrophic global warming, imperilling the survival of civilisation and much of the earth's biosphere.”62

Conclusions: Reflections on Nuclear Power After Japan

In concluding, we want to draw together some of the interlinkages and key arguments that have emerged through the analysis. The role of the media in framing, (re)circulating, and solidifying cultural meanings has clear interconnections with the development of public opinion. Analysis of media can offer some insight into the cultural meanings that circulate with regard to nuclear and help to build a picture of the themes flowing through wider public discourse. In turn, research into public attitudes and opinions provides insight into, at a more general level, the sway of public feeling on an issue and, more specifically, informs us about cultural frames that do not appear in media discourse (e.g., familiarity frames).48 Both media representation and public opinion are also interwoven in multiple ways with political acceptability and economic issues. Political actors can been seen both as “sponsors,” with roles in narrating particular storylines or developing interpretative packages, and as end users of media for the insights this can offer into the cultural frames that are circulating in wider public discourse. In addition, media representations play a significant role in consideration around economic investment and financial risk, particularly when we consider the role of reputational risks in financing decisions.49 It seems fair to argue that while justice issues are generally regarded as important, they do not take a front seat in decisions or in general debate around nuclear energy. This can have strong implications for decisions in this area; as Stirling points out, were intergenerational equity as one of a number of criteria (e.g., the irreversibility of the technology, the imposed nature of risks) weighted heavily in decision making, this would overturn the advantage that nuclear power has over other energy options. How we draw boundaries and what is weighted most heavily in debates can drastically affect decisions and outcomes. In the face of this, Stirling concludes that the importance of procedural justice in making energy policy decisions may be heightened: “Ultimately, the only satisfactory way to address issues of divergent value judgements is through political discourse and democratic accountability.”50 This suggests, then, that if the aim is for a more “just” energy system, procedures that open up discourse (e.g., beyond a limited number of interpretive frames, and with a wider boundary that encompasses other aspects of the energy system beyond nuclear) will be important for taking forward decision making. This argument will have been significant before Fukushima, but what the accident serves to do is provide a window for opening up debate about these issues and more. Though the accident itself may not yet have provoked new cultural discourses around nuclear power, instead acting as a catalyst for the reemergence of existing frames and debate, the potential for reflection and emergent themes is now present.

The accident brings into focus at one time both the fragility of nuclear energy and its clear durability. These events make apparent the strong capacity of the sector to withstand significant opposition and maintain political favour in such a context. While discourses of progress, energy independence, and now climate change may increasingly have to compete with multiple critical framings, they represent strong recurring themes that hint at the fundamental staying power of nuclear. However, Fukushima also provides an indication of the fragility of nuclear power in terms of the potential that such an accident can have for eroding trust in the safety of nuclear and in those institutions responsible for such issues, with serious implications for investment, political acceptability, and future development. Such aspects of fragility have the potential at this time to become intensified if, for example, any hint of a “coverup” emerges or even a lack of transparency is perceived. Implications of this kind are already emerging, as three officials in Japan were fired in an attempt to rebuild public trust in the relations between government and industry.51 We might see the dramatic change in Japan's energy policy and the “ramping up” of existing concerns and political positions in countries like Germany and Italy as indicative of fragility. However, we also begin to see evidence of the durability of nuclear power as these countries come under pressure to find ways of meeting their energy demand and address climate change targets.52 The wider implications of Fukushima might thus be found in what arises from the efforts in both Germany and Japan to decarbonise and ensure the security of their energy systems without the use of nuclear power. In many senses then, the outcomes of these countries' approaches to contemporary energy policy may have far greater implications for the future of nuclear energy than can be seen in the immediate sociopolitical reactions to the accident itself.

1. For a more detailed outline of incident see International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), International Fact Finding Expert Mission of the Nuclear Accident Following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, Tokyo, Fukushima Dai-ichi NPP, Fukushima Dai-ni NPP and Tokai NPP, Japan 24 May–1 June 2011: Preliminary Summary (IAEA, 2011). Available at (accessed 19 July 2011), p. 1.

2. S. Saoshiro, “Pockets of High Radiation Remind of Fukushima Plant Danger,” Reuters, August 2 (2011).

3. IAEA, Fukushima Nuclear Accident Update Log: IAEA Update on Fukushima Nuclear Accident, April 12, 2011, 4:45. Available at (accessed 12 April 2011); IAEA, The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale: Users Manual 2008 edition (Vienna: IAEA, 2009), p. 6.

4. International Energy Agency, IEA Annual Report: World Energy Outlook 2010 (IEA, 2010). Available (accessed 4 April 2011).

5. Greenpeace UK, “Governments Nuclear plans Declared Unlawful by High Court,” press release (February 15, 2007). Available at (accessed 19 July 2011)

6. Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi), Energy Concept (Berlin, Germany: 2010).

7. On the amplification of risk, see N. Pidgeon, R. Kasperson, and P. Slovic, eds., The Social Amplification and attentuation of Risk (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 13 – 46

8. Prime Minister Naota Kan, Press Conference by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, press conference, Japan, 13 July 2011 (provisional translation). Available at (accessed 20 July 2011).

9. Federal Ministry of for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, The Path to the Energy of the Future—Reliable, Affordable and Environmentally Sound. Available at (accessed 21 July 2011).

10. HM Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations, Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami: Implications for the UK Nuclear Industry Interim Report (London, UK: Office for Nuclear Regulation—An agency of the Health and Safety Executive, 2011). Available at (accessed 21 July 2011).

11. Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), National Policy Statement for Nuclear Power Generation Volume 1 (EN-6) (London: Crown Copyright, 2011).

12 Charles Hendry Speech to the NIA Conference, “The Road to Final Investment Decisions,” 6 July 2011. Available at (accessed 22 July 2011)

13. The White House, Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future (Washington, DC: 30 March 2011), p. 34.

14. J. McCurry “Japan cabinet approves Fukushima nuclear compensation” The Guardian, 14 June 2011. Available at (accessed 25 July 2011).

15. U. Beck, World at Risk (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009), p. 2.

16. IEA, note 4. Also: (accessed 22 July 2011).

17. M. Schneider, A. Froggatt, and S. Thomas, The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2010–2011, Nuclear Power in a Post-Fukushima World: 25 Years after the Chernobyl Accident (Washington, DC: World Watch Institute, April 2011), pp. 7–8. See also J. Jewell, “Ready for Nuclear Energy: An Assessment of capacities and Motivations for Launching New National Nuclear Power Programmes,” Energy Policy 39 (2011): 1041–1055

18. I. Welsh, Mobilising Modernity: The Nuclear Moment (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 1.

19. P. Slovic, “Perceptions of Risk,” Science 236 (1997): 280–285. Also see S. R. Weart, Nuclear Fear: A History of Images (London: Harvard University Press, 1988); J. Masco, The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006).

20. E. A. Rosa and W. R. Freudenburg, “The Historical Development of Public Relations to Nuclear Power: Implications for Nuclear Waste Policy,” in R. E. Dunlap, M. E. Kraft, and E. A. Rosa, eds., Public Reaction to Nuclear Waste: Citizens' Views of Repository Siting (Dunham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), pp. 32–63.

21. B. Wynne, “Misunderstood Misunderstandings: Social Identities and Public Uptake of Science,” Public Understandings of Science 1 (1992): 281–304; W. Poortinga and N. F. Pidgeon, “Exploring the Dimensionality of Trust in Risk Regulation,” Risk Analysis 23 (2003): 961–972.

22. OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, Public Attitudes to Nuclear Power, NEA No. 6859 (OECD, 2010), p. 39.

23. A. Spence, D. Venables, N. Pidgeon, W. Poortinga, and C. Demski, C., Public Perceptions of Climate Change and Energy Futures in Britain: Summary Findings of a Survey Conducted in January–March 2010 (Technical Report—Understanding Risk Working Paper 10-01, Cardiff: School of Psychology, Cardiff University, 2010). Available at (accessed 25 July 2011).

24. N. F. Pidgeon, I. Lorenzoni, and W. Poortinga, “Climate Change or Nuclear Power—No Thanks! A Quantitative Study of Public Perceptions and Risk Framing in Britain,” Global Environmental Change 18 (2008): 69–85; also see A. Corner D. Venables, A. Spence, W. Poortinga, C. Demski, and N. F. Pidgeon, “Nuclear Power, Climate Change and Energy Security: Exploring British Public Attitudes,” Energy Policy 39 (2011): 4823–4833.

25. Ipsos-Mori, Strong Global Opposition to Nuclear Power: Ipsos Global @dvisor Wave 20. Available at (accessed 25 July 2011).

26. C. Butler, K. Parkhill, and N. Pidgeon, “From the Material to the Imagined: Public Engagement With Low Carbon Technologies in a Nuclear Community,” Renewable Energy and The Public: From NIMBY to Participation (London: Earthscan, 2011), pp. 301–315

27. N. F. Pidgeon, K. L. Henwood, K. A. Parkhill, D. Venables, and P. Simmons, Living With Nuclear Power in Britain: A Mixed Methods Study (Cardiff, UK: School of Psychology Cardiff University, 2008). Available at (accessed 25 July 2011). K. A. Parkhill, N. F. Pidgeon, K. L. Henwood, P. Simmons, and D. Venables, “From the Familiar to the Extraordinary: Local Residents' Perceptions of Risk When Living With Nuclear Power in the UK,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35 (2010): 39–58.

28. Pidgeon et al., note 8, pp. 13–46.

29. F. Zonabend, The Nuclear Peninsula (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); K. A. Parkhill, K. L. Henwood, N. F. Pidgeon, and P. Simmons, “Laughing It Off? Humour, Affect and Emotion Work in Communities Living With Nuclear Risk,” British Journal of Sociology 62, no. 2 (2011), 324–346.

30. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “Inspections at U.S. Nuclear Plants Prompt Corrective Actions,” press release (Washington, DC: 13 May 2011), p. 1.

31. Office for Nuclear Regulation, Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami: Implications for the UK Nuclear Industry, Interim Report (Merseyside: HM Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations, 18 May 2011).

32. Ethics Commission for Safe Energy Supply, Germany's Energy Transition: A Collective Project for the Future (Berlin: 30 May 2011).

33. Ibid., p. 2

34. Schneider et al., note 18.

35. S. Klinsky and H. Dowlatabadi, “Conceptualisations of Justice in Climate Policy: Synthesis Article,” Climate Policy 9 (2009): 88–108.

36. For example, see A. Blowers, “Why Fukushima Is a Moral Issue: The Need for an Ethic of the Future in the Debate About the Future of Nuclear Energy,” Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences, 8, no. 2 (2011): 73–80; D. Okrent and N. Pidgeon, “Introduction: Dilemmas in Intergenerational Versus Intragenerational Equity and Risk Policy,” Risk Analysis, 20, no. 6 (2000): 759–762.

37. K. Shrader-Frechette, “Trading Jobs for Health: Ionizing Radiation, Occupational Ethics and the Welfare Argument,” Science and Engineering Ethics 8, no. 2 (2002): 139–154.

38. McCurry, note 14.

39. S. M. Hoffman, “Negotiating Eternity: Energy Policy, Environmental Justice, and the Politics of Nuclear Waste,” Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society 21, no. 6 (2001): 456–472.

40. A. W. Gamson and A. Modigliani, “Media Discourse and Public Opinion on Nuclear Power: A Constructionist Approach,” American Journal of Sociology 95, no. 1 (1989): 10.

41. Ibid.

42. A. Corner D. Venables, A. Spence, W. Poortinga, C. Demski, and N. F. Pidgeon, “Nuclear Power, Climate Change and Energy Security: Exploring British Public Attitudes,” Energy Policy 39 (2011): 4823–4833.

43. Gamson and Modigliani, note 41, p. 20.

44. J. Doyle, “Acclimatizing Nuclear? Climate Change, Nuclear Power and the Reframing of Risk in the UK News Media,” The International Communication Gazette 73 no. 1–2 (2011): 107–125. Also on “reluctant acceptance” see note 27.

45. P. Chilton, “Metaphor Euphemism and the Militarisation of Language,” Current Research on Peace and Violence 10 no. 7 (1987): 7–19, cited in A. W. Gamson and A. Modigliani, “Media Discourse and Public Opinion on Nuclear Power: A Constructionist Approach,” American Journal of Sociology 95, no. 1 (1989): 1–37.

46. B. Fischhoff, “Risk Perception and Communication Unplugged: 20 Years of Process,” Risk Analysis 15 (1995): 137–145.

47. W. L. Bennett, “An Introduction to Journalism Norms and Representations of Politics,” Political Communication 13 (1996): 373–384.

48. Parkhill et al., note 32.

49. For example, Beck, note 16, p. 2.

50. A. Stirling, “Limits to the Value of External Costs,” Energy Policy 25, no. 5 (1997): 535.

51. C. Mogi, “Energy Policy Chaos Threatens Japan's Economy,” Reuters (4 August 2011). Available at (accessed 5 August 2011).

52. S. Fujino, “Fukushima Crisis: Nuclear Only Part of Japan's Problems,” BBC Online (20 July 2011). Available at (accessed 5 August 2011); see also C. Mogi, “Japan's Nuclear Crisis Casts Doubt Over Carbon Goals,” Reuters (4 April 2011). Available at (accessed 5 August 2011).

53. Ipsos-Mori, see note 25.

54. Ipsos-Mori, see note 25.

55. M. Mombiot, “Why Fukushima Made Me Stop Worrying and Love Nuclear Power,” The Guardian Online (21 March 2011).

56. M. Boisvert, “Fukushima: Setting Energy Independence Back Again,” BardPolitikDaily, 17 April 2011.

57. M. Lynas, “Fukushima: Rationality Versus Emotion in Policy-Making,” Mark Lynas Website (19 May 2011). Available at (accessed 5 August 2011).

58. J. Porritt, “Why the UK Must Choose Renewables Over Nuclear,” The Guardian Online (26 July 2011).

59. O. Normimitsu and K. Belson, “Culture of Complicity Tied to Stricken Nuclear Plant,” The New York Times (26 April 2011). Available at (accessed 4 August 2011)

60. C. Bennett, “Fukushima Shows Us the Real Cost of Nuclear Power,” The Guardian Online (21 March 2011).

61. O. Rani, “It's Time Humans Heeded Nature Warning,” China Daily (4 August 2011). Available at (accessed 4 August 2011)

62. M. Lynas, “Fukushima's Lessons in Climate Change,” The New Statesman (17 March 2011).

Catherine Butler is a Research Fellow at Cardiff University. A sociologist by background her research interests are in socio-environmental risk governance with a particular focus on energy systems and climate change.

Karen A. Parkhill is a Research Fellow at Cardiff University. Her disciplinary home is in human geography. She has research interests in: risk perceptions, constructions of place, perceptions of low carbon energies, and how energy is consumed.

Nicholas F. Pidgeon is a Professor of Environmental Psychology at Cardiff University. His research looks at risk perception, risk communication and public engagement around environmental controversies such as nuclear power, climate change, geoengineering, and nanotechnology.

The authors would like to acknowledge the support of the Leverhulme Trust (F/00 407/AG), the UK Energy Research Centre (NE/G007748/1) and the Interdisciplinary Cluster on Energy Systems, Equity and Vulnerability (InCluESEV, EP/G040176/1).

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