Accepted Paper:

Living with Sellafield: situating everyday nuclearities  


Karen Bickerstaff (University of Exeter)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the nuclearity of place drawing on a UK case study. It reflects on the contingency in people’s relations to an all-pervasive nuclear presence, and how nuclearity challenges extant ideas about the geographical relations between proximate communities and their nuclear neighbours.

Paper long abstract:

The often-cited intense public dislike of things nuclear is an issue that has vexed politicians and intrigued social scientists for decades. Whilst there is a considerable body of research that addresses the experience of living with nuclear facilities, this work predominantly sits within a risk perception paradigm, explicitly tying experience and meaning to the technically defined hazardous qualities of nuclear materials. Such research is, of course, varied and offers important insights into how nuclear hazards are interpreted, repressed or located. However, there remains a central presumption that risk - the potential for harmful consequences - is a (or the) foundational interpretive concept for those proximate to nuclear facilities. This paper argues that risk offers too narrow a reading of how 'nuclear communities' relate to such complex techno-political infrastructure as part of everyday life. Rather, drawing on Hecht's (2012) concept of nuclearity, but in ways that emphasise the socio-material processes and relations of place, this paper seeks to make explicit the contingency and multiplicity in people's relations to an all-pervasive nuclear presence. To develop this account, I draw on qualitative fieldwork in Seascale (UK), adjacent to the Sellafield works, at a time when deep geological disposal was a salient political issue. I focus my discussion of the nuclearity of place on people's talk and practices in relation to specific spaces and sites. I reflect on how nuclearlity forces a different set of questions (and, by implication, answers) about the geographical relations between proximate communities and their nuclear neighbours.

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