Accepted Paper:

Politics of visibility and invisibility on cancer around nuclear facilities  


Laura Barbier (Paris Descartes University)

Paper short abstract:

This talk shows how epidemiological research configurations and political orientations taken to manage controversies on health effects of radioactive discharges from nuclear installations on residents have contributed to create and maintain uncertainty, preventing the constitution of conclusive evidence.

Paper long abstract:

The health effects of activities of nuclear installations on resident populations have been the subject of persistent controversies since the building of the first nuclear reactors in the 1960-70's in the United States. Numerous epidemiological studies have been carried out, but very little knowledge has been obtained about the toxicity of chronic exposure to industrial radioactive discharges. Clusters of childhood leukemia have been observed around various installations, including the sites of Sellafield, UK, and La Hague, France, both nuclear reprocessing plants, but the causes remain unknown. The study of these long-term controversies questions the ways in which they have been managed and the methodological and conceptual framings that restrain what we know. I will demonstrate how the scientific research choices on cancer around nuclear installations, and the evidence framework into which epidemiological studies are caught, have contributed to the creation and upholding of uncertainty, maintaining controversies and creating invisibilities.

My work fits into the topic of the track "Studying the atom." It is based on two case studies of entangled controversies implicating two nuclear installations caught into distinct geographies, histories and social contexts and which display distinct and common ways of producing knowledge on the health impacts of radioactive emissions. It takes place within the field of the sociology of knowledge and ignorance and aims to highlight which are the mechanisms at work and how they operate. It is based on an international corpus of expert reports, epidemiological and risk assessment studies, and on interviews with French and British scientists.

Panel T093
Infrastructures of nuclearity: Exploring entangled histories, spaces and futures