From the familiar to the extraordinary: Local residents' perceptions of risk when living with nuclear power in the UK

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JournalTransactions of the institute of british geographers
DateE-pub ahead of print - 16 Oct 2009
DatePublished (current) - Jan 2010
Issue number1
Volume35
Number of pages20
Pages (from-to)39-58
Early online date16/10/09
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Nearly two decades since the last nuclear power station was built and began operating in the UK, nuclear energy is firmly back on the political agenda domestically and elsewhere in the world. Yet since the 1980s, little research has investigated perceptions of nuclear power in the UK, particularly those of communities living in very close proximity to such facilities. Using biographical narrative interviews (n = 61), we explore how local residents living close to two nuclear power stations in the UK (Bradwell, Essex and Oldbury, South Gloucestershire) have come to view their local facility. We reveal how the power station is constructed through processes of familiarisation and/or the normalisation/normification of risk as part of everyday life; how this ordinariness is juxtaposed with moments of extraordinariness in which, due to direct and mediated events, the power station is reframed as a risk issue; and how risk awareness is associated with moments of anxiety which ebb and flow through our interviewees' lives. We conclude that biographical experiences dynamically unfolding through space and time can be interrupted by risk events (mediated and direct, real and symbolic, nuclear and non-nuclear) to disrupt the usually taken-for-granted ordinariness of a power station's presence in a particular locality. Our findings suggest that those involved in debate about new nuclear build must be sensitive to the heterogeneity of the extraordinary in nuclear affairs and the importance of socio-cultural histories of place.

    Research areas

  • Everyday risk perceptions, Local communities, Narrative method, Nuclear power, Risk biography

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