Skip to content

Fukushima, Shame, and the “Accidental” Public

Jen Schneider
Colorado School of Mines
jen.schneider@mines.edu

Introduction

Thomas B. Farrell and Thomas Goodnight begin their classic 1981 essay on the Three Mile Island nuclear accident by arguing that “the inadequacies of accidental rhetoric at Three Mile Island point to a failure larger than the technical breakdown of 1979:  the failure of technical reason itself to offer communication practices capable of mastering the problems of our age” (Farrell and Goodnight, 1981, p. 271).  Technical reason, according to Farrell and Goodnight, asserts “visions of public competence and conduct” whose limits are exposed by the specter of nuclear disaster.  In this paper, I provide a preliminary analysis of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, from a communication studies perspective, in order to ask whether and how technical regimes defend their “competence and conduct” through new media outlets.  In particular, this study compares the rhetoric of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a non-profit organization whose aim is to serve as a nuclear “watchdog,” with the rhetoric of the Nuclear Engineering Institute (NEI), a nuclear industry-funded group.  This short paper focuses its analysis on each group’s extensive blog posting in the three weeks following the disaster.

I argue that both nuclear proponents at NEI and opponents or “watchdogs” at UCS frequently invoked shaming rhetoric in their public messages, via their blogs, albeit with different subjects.  Nuclear opponents in particular invoked what I call “institutional shaming,” a castigation of government and regulatory bodies that had failed—or which are projected to fail—in their duties to protect the public.  Nuclear proponents, on the other hand, use a form of “public shaming,” a disciplining of public fear and concern in order to redirect attention away from institutional and industry accountability, and toward the “natural” disaster and its unavoidable fatalities in Japan, and the capable management and safety of nuclear power in the United States.

Nuclear Power and Accidental Rhetoric

Farrell and Goodnight’s 1981 essay, “Accidental Rhetoric:  The Root Metaphors of Three Mile Island” argues that three root metaphors undergird the technical discourse that dominated that accident.  These metaphors are naturalized and normalized through such discourse.  The first root metaphor, “industry,” emerged as a result of industralization and later, Fordism.  It requires us to work on and with machines that can increase human output, especially within capitalist contexts.  These machines require the consumption of energy and the production of waste.  In this metaphor, the public is primarily interpellated as a “worker.”

The second root metaphor, which became dominant in the 1960s and 70s, is “ecology.”  It addresses the “ordinary ‘man on the street’” and calls attention to environmental externalities caused by industrialization.  However, “ecology” also created the rise of an expert class who could handle the apocalyptic environmental and public health threats posed by ecological disaster created by industry.  In the ecological metaphor, the public is identified primarily as “victim.”

The third root metaphor is “energy.”  Energy crises, such as the oil shocks that occurred in the 1970s, led to greater public awareness that energy consumption and production were problems.  But the complexity of energy systems, and their relationships to capitalist systems of production, led to general agreement that a dramatic reduction in energy consumption was neither possible nor desirable because it would lead to drop-offs in energy consumption.  Public discourse about energy, therefore, was primarily focused on technological saviors, which would allow us to continue to consume massive amounts of energy but with decreasing externalities and risk.  Farrell and Goodnight write that this focus on complex technical solutions has led to a public that is decreasingly able to “adjudicate” between energy options:  “And as the complexity of tradeoffs among industry, ecology, and energy grew, the public’s projected ability to attend to, let alone adjudicate this proliferation of technical communication declined” (Farrell and Goodnight, 1981, 277).

Farrell and Goodnight go on to analyze the “accidental rhetoric” of the Three Mile Island accident as an example of how the technical discursive constructions of the “public” are mired in these root metaphors.  Farrell and Goodnight contrast “an ideal conception of the public as a knowledgeable and responsible collection of citizens, making prudential judgments” (295) with a passive, “accidental” public that is treated as external and inferior to technical discourse.  Accidents such as Three Mile Island often exceed the limits and proficiencies of technical discourse, however, and make this construction of a passive public visible.  Farrell and Goodnight highlighted the differences between technical and social reasoning, and argued that the ascendancy of technical reasoning allows it to encompass “an increasing array of social questions” while “its very logic precludes its practitioners from full social responsibility” (296).  Technical reasoning, therefore, fails to inform public deliberation.  Scholars in environmental communication have since taken up this conflict between the imperatives of technical reasoning and the exigencies of public deliberation, particularly as they relate to nuclear technologies (e.g., Taylor et al., 2007; Kinsella, 2012).

The Union of Concerned Scientists and Institutional Shaming

The Union of Concerned Scientists, or UCS, was formed by students and faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1969, with the broad mission of moving applications of science, technology, and policy away from military applications and toward “pressing environmental and social problems.”  Setting itself against events such as the Vietnam War, UCS’ founding document asks scientists and engineers at MIT and “across the country” to take “action against dangers already unleashed and leadership toward a more responsible exploitation of scientific knowledge” (“Founding Document,” 1968).   Scholars have traced the organization’s history and identity formation, particularly as it evolved to respond to concerns over nuclear power and nuclear weapons (e.g., Downey, 1988) and its more recent move into environmental politics generally, particularly with regard to climate change (e.g., Moore, 2009).

Today, the organization describes itself in paradoxical terms.  On the one hand, it describes itself on its website as a nonprofit organization that serves as a “reliable source for independent scientific analysis” and as neither pro- nor anti-nuclear, but rather as a “watchdog.”  It counts among its successes that it has worked for federal reforms “to get politics out of science at federal agencies” and touts its commitment to “rigorous and objective research and analysis”.  On the other hand, the organization also counts among its achievements increased fuel economy standards and renewable portfolio standards, and describes its mission as combining “technical analysis and effective advocacy.”  The organization therefore publicly presents itself as both a source of objective, independent scientific analysis, and as an advocacy group that uses scientific research to advocate for particular policy solutions.  In this way, UCS involves itself in issue advocacy—when it is explicit about its political aims—and in stealth issue advocacy—when it uses the performance of “scientific objectivity” to narrow the field of policy options (Pielke, Jr., 2007).  This positioning is an important factor for understanding how UCS spokespeople responded to the Fukushima disaster.

UCS continues to be involved in nuclear politics today, and has an up-to-date web presence addressing both nuclear power- and nuclear weapons-related issues.  The tone of these webpages is largely informative, but also features links to political engagement tools, including fact sheets, sample letters to lawmakers, and links to the UCS Action Network, its advocacy arm.  UCS coverage of and involvement in the Fukushima crisis included frequent posting about the crisis on its All Things Nuclear blog, a Frequently Asked Questions page, and through media briefings with UCS nuclear experts.  An expanded version of this study examines blog posts within the contexts of these other media products.  All Things Nuclear posts dealing with the Fukushima disaster were identified for this study using the tag “Japan Nuclear.”

Beginning on March 11, 2011, All Things Nuclear (ATN) began near-daily postings about the Fukushima accident.  From March 11 through the end of March, the dates examined in this preliminary study, UCS senior scientists writing for ATN published dozens of blog entries.  Early posts on the blog were of a descriptive nature, describing terms such as “fission” and “reactor vessels,” using plain language and diagrams for the public in order to translate complex news stories and technical information.  Posts also occasionally feature complex calculations and resources for fellow technical experts.  In this sense, early posts are in keeping with UCS’ self-described neutral position on nuclear power, one as a disinterested watchdog whose role is to make science relevant and accessible to the public and decisionmakers.  There is little commentary on the cause or repercussions of the event, nor is blame for the accident assigned other than to the natural disaster, though there is an increasingly urgent tone to the posts as the first days pass, particularly as news of the leaking primary containment vessels breaks.  Such exploration and translation of technical “facts” or processes—what Andrew Binder calls “informative” messages—could be said to be “typical” of nuclear accident rhetoric in the technical sphere in the days immediately following an accident (Binder, 2012; see also Farrell and Goodnight, 1981, and Walker, 2004).

Within a week of the accident, however, UCS moves to more “interpretive” coverage of the crisis.  According to Binder, interpretive messages “explicitly attempt to explain 1) how things are and 2) how they came to be” (Binder, 2012, p. 270).  Beginning on March 15, ATN posts begin analyzing the weaknesses in Mark 1 reactor design, including Mark 1 reactors in the United States, “human errors” that may have led to uncovered fuel rods in the Daiichi reactors, and in particular parsings of what impact the Fukushima accident might have on US nuclear policy.  On March 17th, the blog announces the release of a UCS report analyzing the NRC’s performance in 2010, finding that “the NRC can be effective, but there are a variety of shortcomings, such as inadequate training, faulty maintenance, poor design, and failure to investigate problems thoroughly”.  Another post later that same day argues that a “station blackout” (SBO) such as that seen at Fukushima following the tsunami was more likely in the US than one might think, albeit due to different causes.  ATN follows this pattern of alternating informative messages regarding what was happening at the Daiichi plants with interpretive messages—primarily about impacts of the disaster on Americans and US nuclear policy—for the first two weeks following the accident.

Beginning on March 23, however, more policy-oriented posts begin to appear, first castigating the Japanese government for not expanding the evacuation zone, then a day later calling on the NRC to move to dry cask (rather than spent fuel pool) storage.  The policy-oriented rhetoric of these messages, which I call “institutional shaming” messages, are directed primarily at regulatory and government bodies, such as the NRC, the Japanese government, the IAEA, and TEPCO.  These messages invoke language that implies both urgency and failed accountability, for example in the case of the initial blog post noted above, which argues that the Japanese government was “squandering” the opportunity for orderly evacuations.  Later posts question TEPCO’s reluctance to openly share information, or their inability to share information that they otherwise pretended to have , and complain of the quality of radiation data coming out of the IAEA.

Such messages are hardly “neutral” or “objective,” in the common understanding of the term, but certainly square with the UCS’s advocacy identity.  These messages have a policy orientation that suggests UCS senior scientists are quite critical of the nuclear establishment, both globally and in the US, and they make specific policy recommendations, which belie a commitment to strict definitions of science arbitration (Pielke, Jr., 2007).  In this way, UCS does not function as an “honest broker,” because one cannot be a watchdog and an honest broker at the same time.  UCS manages these contradictions in its organizational identity through the back-and-forth of informational and interpretive functions.

In other words, UCS frequently uses informative messages in ways that ensure the predominance of technical communication in nuclear crises like Three Mile Island and Fukushima.  Science is taken for granted as an authoritative lens from which to view the accident.  Yet their advocacy function also leads UCS to interpretive and shaming communication as well, which I think marks a significant difference between the communication Farrell and Goodnight analyzed in the Three Mile Island case and what we saw with nuclear communication following Fukushima.  Because of their positioning as critical nuclear “watchdogs,” UCS senior scientists also paradoxically interrogate and critique technical hegemony, as it operates through nuclear institutions.  Though they don’t devalue technical knowledge or communication—far from it—UCS’s emphasis on their civic role, performed as holding institutions accountable for lapses in knowledge, regulation, public performance, and so on, perhaps fills one of the gaps in public governance that Farrell and Goodnight are so concerned with in their essay.  ATN blog posts are not exactly Habermas’s ideal public sphere, but could be said to be a third space that neither treats the public as “accidental” nor unquestioningly buttresses the nuclear technical elite.

In the next section, I examine a different form of shaming rhetoric, one employed by proponents of nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster, which confirms more closely Farrell and Goodnight’s thesis regarding the limits of technical communication.

The Nuclear Energy Institute

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) is a much newer organization than UCS—it was founded in 1994 as an umbrella industry front group and describes itself as “the policy organization of the nuclear energy and technologies industry” (“About NEI,” 2013).  NEI manages the interests of nuclear companies and utilities in the sense that it produces public communication on nuclear issues, provides a public face for the industry, interfaces with regulators, and lobbies Congress for nuclear-friendly legislation.  As is the case with many energy industry front groups, it presents itself as a source of informed, objective information about nuclear issues:  it provides on its website a number of fact sheets, policy briefs, and white papers.   But, like other groups of this sort, NEI has come under attack for greenwashing and corporate ventriloquism (Adler, 2004; Bsumek et al, forthcoming).  As is also the case for many of these groups, there is little scholarship on or understanding of exactly how the NEI works in terms of governance, accountability, and funding.

Examining the blog posts from NEI’s Nuclear Notes (NN) blog for the same period as the UCS blog analyzed above, a different pattern of communication emerges.  To begin with, there are significantly more posts—nearly three times as many, even though NN’s blogger Mark Flanagan restricted posting to a minimum in the first two days of the accident, preferring to redirect readers to the main NEI webpage.  The comments function was also turned off on the blog in the first week of posting following the disaster, presumably because of overwhelming volume, making it difficult to moderate comments.  Like UCS’s ATN, the Nuclear Notes blog frequently points to fact sheets and produces a great number of informative messages, though even in these early messages—if analyzed at a very granular level—there is a tendency to “select low,” featuring news stories that downplayed the severity of the accident to begin with (e.g., http://neinuclearnotes.blogspot.com/2011/03/tepco-says-radiation-level-going-down.html and http://neinuclearnotes.blogspot.com/2011/03/iaea-plants-reasonably-stable.html).

Compared with ATN posting, which maintained a more diffuse pattern of postings throughout the three week period, the evolution of communication on the NN site quickly gravitated toward a coherent set of talking points or communication patterns.   For example, on March 16, 2011, NEI released a video that was reposted on NN under the title, “NEI Offers Support to Japan.”  Marvin Fertel, CEO of NEI, offers the following message:

I would like to offer the condolences of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the entire community of nuclear folks in the United States to Japan and all the people there for the tragedy they are experiencing right now, particularly the people who are working at Fukushima…our support to you is never ending.  Ask for it, and we’ll be there.  To the people in America, I would like to say that we are in the process right now of reviewing our plants, to make sure all the things we should be doing to prevent an accident…we’re doing….  Again, our condolences and our support to all of you in Japan who are having this tremendous tragedy as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami.

This pattern of communication—condolences for the suffering of the people of Japan, followed by assurances that US plants were being reviewed to ensure their safety, followed by emphasizing that the disaster was due to natural events and not the nuclear industry itself, is emblematic of nuclear industry communication at the time, as evidenced by later posts on NN .

As time goes on, NN’s reassurances grow more forceful, and familiar talking points—the safe functioning of US nuclear power plants, their “environmental” performance (presumably on CO2 emissions)—become more pronounced.  Blog posts scolding mass media coverage for inaccurate or sensationalized reporting also begin to appear and Flanagan frequently comments at “taking heart” when US politicians issue public statements in support of nuclear power.  But there is also increasing emphasis as the days go by on seeing the Fukushima crisis primarily as a natural disaster.  It was, of course—nobody could have changed or stopped the earthquake and tsunami.  But rhetorically speaking, NN calls on readers to donate to relief organizations, ennobles the “Fukushima 50”—workers at the site—as heroes on par with firefighters, and issues reminders like this one:  “The Japanese are a beautiful people in a ravaged world.  I gave a little more money to relief because that’s about all I can do.  Stand and salute the Fukushima 50.  It’s the least you can do”.

In practice, and taken together with nuclear rhetoric coming from other experts, I argue that the NEI talking points and emphasis on heroic narratives and public/media misunderstandings serve to shame the public for their misinformed fear, over-reactions, and critical questioning.  This paper endeavors to understand not just whether technical reasoning dominated the discourse of two groups of nuclear experts during Fukushima—it is hard to imagine otherwise—but also aims to examine how invocations of shame framed that technical discourse.  In a short essay on the limits of risk analysis and risk communication following the Fukushima disaster, communication scholar William Kinsella makes the following observation:

Interacting with members of the nuclear energy community at that time, and observing media commentaries by nuclear professionals, I noticed significant frustration.  In the view of some of those professionals, the merits of their technology were being obscured by conflation with an extraordinary ‘natural disaster.’  […] to place these, admittedly serious, problems [with the reactors] at the center of attention while thousands had already perished due to the earthquake and tsunami seemed incongruous to many in the nuclear community (Kinsella, 2012, 252).

Kinsella is primarily concerned with how nuclear accidents still largely remain beyond the “limits of representation,” such that it has “exceeded its creators’ vision of control” (252-3).  Yet it is the observation above, which mirrors my own experience with nuclear professionals following the accident, that we see at play in industry communication following Fukushima.  This “public shaming”—castigating the public for misunderstanding radiation doses, for emphasizing nuclear fears rather than “condolences” to the Japanese, or ennobling nuclear workers as heroes, and thus making critique challenging or disloyal—serves to bolster technical communication and the expertise of those in the industry, and to manage or contain unruly, critical, or non-technical forms of public communication.

 References

“About NEI.”  (2013).  Nuclear Energy Institutehttp://www.nei.org/aboutnei.  Accessed 19 April 2013.

Adler, William M. (2004).  “Will Shill for Nukes.”  The Austin Chroniclehttp://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2004-04-16/206880/.  Accessed 19 April 2013.

Binder, Andrew L. (2012).  “Figuring Out #Fukushima:  An Initial Look at Functions and Content of US Twitter Commentary  About Nuclear Risk.”  Environmental Communication:  A Journal of Nature and Culture.  6:2; pp. 268-277

Bsumek, Peter K., Jen Schneider, Steven Schwarze, and Jen Peeples (forthcoming).  “Corporate Ventriloquism:  Corporate Advocacy, the Coal Industry, and the Appropriation of Voice.”  Voice and the Environment.  Eds. Steven Depoe and Jennifer Peeples.

Downey, Gary L.  (1988).  “Reproducing Cultural Identity in Negotiating Nuclear Power:  The Union of Concerned Scientists and Emergency Core Cooling.”  Social Studies of Science, May.  18:  231-164.

Farrell, Thomas B., and G. Thomas Goodnight.  (1981).  “Accidental Rhetoric:  The Root Metaphors of Three Mile Island.”  Communication Monographs.  48:  271-300.

“Founding Document:  1968 MIT Faculty Statement” (1968).  Union of Concerned Scientistshttp://www.ucsusa.org/about/founding-document-1968.html.  Accessed 10 April 2012.

Kinsella, William J. (2012).  “Environments, Risks, and the Limits of Representation:  Examples from Nuclear Energy and Some Implications of Fukushima.”  Environmental Communication:  A Journal of Nature and Culture.  6.2:  251-259.

Lochbaum, David.  (2011).  “Disasters Fail to Follow Scripts.”  The New York Times.  Originally published March 13; updated March 14.  http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/03/13/japans-nuclear-crisis-lessons-for-the-us/disasters-fail-to-follow-scripts.  Accessed 18 April 2013.

Moore, Mark P. (2009).  “The Union of Concerned Scientists on the Uncertainty of Climate Change:  A Study of Synecdochic Form.”  Environmental Communication:  A  Journal of Nature and Culture.  3.2:  191-205.

Pielke, Jr., Roger.  (2007).  The Honest Broker:  Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, Bryan C., William J. Kinsella, Stephen P. DePoe, and Maribeth S. Metzler (2007).  Nuclear Legacies:  Communication, Controversy, and the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex.  New York:  Lexington Books.

Walker, J. Samuel.  (2004).  Three Mile Island:  A Nuclear Crisis in Historical Perspective.  Berkeley:  University of California Press.

Jen Schneider is Associate Professor of Liberal Arts and International Studies at the Colorado School of Mines.  She writes about media studies, communication, and energy policy, and has also worked extensively on engineering and development, including in the book Engineering and Sustainable Community Development (2010, Morgan and Claypool).

Advertisements
16 Comments
  1. Nicolas Sternsdorff permalink

    I think this paper works quite nicely with some of the later papers on citizen movements and alternative narratives of the severity of the accident. Parts of the public may resist, or even dismiss, attempts by industry groups to frame the discussion as a technical question and to shame the public as you argue.

    The paper also complements with the first paper in this session (Made in Japan), which illustrates the apolitical stance that some of the reports about the disaster took. Your first case study shows the challenges of remaining neutral (however defined) at times when interpretations and commentary are particularly loaded.

  2. Scott Frickel permalink

    It may be useful to find ways to measure/analyze the amount and kind of information delivered through the two websites, as well as to conduct a before/after comparison of blog data. I’m wondering if the relative uniformity of blog posts from NEI are consonant with the kinds of information about nuclear energy/reactor safety? And whether that message changes substantively after 3.11? What are your plans for extending the analysis? Will you also examine audiences, as Nick’s comment suggests? Are these rhetorical strategies effective? How so?

  3. Daniel Aldrich permalink

    I liked the idea that both of the agencies seeking to distribute their perspectives on nuclear power did so using rhetoric that can be described as “shaming.” I wonder if it would be possible to expand the analysis to use qualitative tools such as content- or frame-analysis for tweets, posts, and so forth to generate more objective measures of the content. For example a word or cloud-map would drive home this point quite well.

  4. Monamie Bhadra permalink

    This essay provides a great counterpoint to the kinds of shaming rhetoric in India after Fukushima. There is no singular, authoritative watchdog group in India, although there is a lot of watching and criticizing. Once Fukushima happened, the existing small scale anti-nuclear mobilizations that were going on in response to reactor siting decisions, ramped up overnight, especially when the Chair of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board as well as the president of the Department of Atomic Energy immediately came out with statements denying that a nuclear accident had taken place in Japan. What happened was only a “chemical reaction and not a nuclear accident.”

    But while the Indian nuclear establishment initially sought to deny what had happened, and then used increasingly technical language to maintain that all nuclear reactors were safe because of the years of expertise, and then used “public shaming,” the institutional shaming was extremely diverse. India’s history of colonization came to surface with the coinage of words like “nucolonization”; the need to regain Indian sovereignty was set against the decision to import foreign reactors; there was moral shaming of uncaring bureaucrats who would spend staggering sums of money in an unproven technology rather than invest in people-centered development; the idea that women’s bodies were a playground for the atom was also apparent; there was public shaming of India’s middle class who were seen to be blind government supporters as long as they had their luxuries. Shame was flying around everywhere and at everyone, and that continues to be the case.

  5. Scott Knowles permalink

    Thanks for this paper and your innovative methodology Jen. I am fascinated by your observation that the NN blog was from the beginning more prolific, and more “on message.” To me this could be further analyzed and compared to other “message control” actors post-disaster–in government and in TEPCO particularly. Did NN’s messaging drive media coverage–was it in some measurable way more “effective” than the UCS or other more critical voices?

    Also, I’m fascinated by your point that UCS sees its authority rooted in claims to dispassionate scientific analysis–yet opinion and policy advice creep in as time goes on. This claim to authority and the odd position it places the organization in as it reaches beyond the technical is, to me, a common tension in technocratic deliberations more generally. However, I am struggling to see what the base of authority is for NEI–how do they conceive of their ability to “compete” for legitimacy as interpreters of the Fukushima disaster?

    • Re: the efficacy (meaning coherence) of NEI’s messaging, is it just that NEI moderates (aka filters) the public responses to their posts? Is this why they had to shut down the site for a while after the disaster? Or was the simple volume (intensity) of interest something they wanted to quell during this interval?

  6. Laura Beltz Imaoka permalink

    It’s interesting that neither organization are necessarily replacing traditional news sources as “reliable” places for new information on the incident; instead they are acting as “watchdogs,” applying subjective critique to the information that is already being circulated. You note how in particular, the ATN blog isn’t exactly Habermas’s ideal public sphere, but provides a sort of “third space,” which I would be interested in hearing more about. I was wondering how far ATN’s advocacy measures go. Often interactivity fostered by new media promotes a form of publicity without publics; a drive to advertise one’s own opinion but one that falls short of the political commitments of the public sphere. And the goal of such groups, or the weariness of them being savvy techno-subjects, is not so much to reshape media, but to take pleasure in identifying with insiders (ATN as being both science insiders and civic advocates). Framing it this way, I wonder the influence such tactics like “public shaming” really have against unruly, media communication, and whether it can be seen only as a way of managing their own community identities. Looking forward to the discussion!

    • I like this observation that UCS may be acting as much in ways that manage their own identities. Clearly the group described by Murillo (Tokyo Hacker Space) is doing the same thing, tho with differences as noted in the further comments below.

  7. Bill Kinsella permalink

    Thanks for this valuable paper, Jen–it’s good to see an analysis that’s so centrally grounded in communication theory.

    I think your analytical choice of UCS and NEI to represent two different positionalities in the post-Fukushima nuclear conversation is a good one. Their positionalities are complex, as your analysis begins to demonstrate. And these are just two of the entities one might choose to examine. So there’s a lot more that can be done to move forward along the path you’ve established. I’ve been following these two groups’ discourses (as well as others’) rather closely, and will make some comments based on my observations.

    Both groups do speak to a significant degree from within a technocratic discourse frame–as you point out, it would be difficult not to. But a bit paradoxically, I’d say that of the two, UCS speaks more technocratically in public forums. I say paradoxically, because it’s UCS that inhabits the role of public advocate, while NEI acts in the role of an industry advocate. But when one looks at the public statements from these organizations (as opposed the statements they make in insider discussions such as interactions with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where it’s pretty much technocratic all the way down), UCS is prone to rhetorical strategies such as pointing out technical flaws in nuclear operations, equipment, and regulation. For example, UCS has taken a major role in pressing for the installation of hardened containment vents in US reactors similar to those at Fukushima. They talk a lot about this kind of stuff in their public messages. NEI talks plenty about this stuff in insider forums, but their public messages are more about nuclear power as a solution to problems of climate change and energy supply. They make the nuclear case in broad, audience-friendly terms of that kind, while UCS tries to chip away at more specific, and more technical, issues. I’d say that’s because UCS dosn’t think they can just come right out and call for an abolition of nuclear power. That may be working in Germany, but wouldn’t fly in the US. So UCS finds themselves locked into a technocratic public argument frame, while NEI saves the technotalk for backstage discussions with regulators and policy makers.

    Why wouldn’t a call for nuclear abolition be viable in the US? I think one reason is that there’s another root metaphor at work in addition to the ones you cite from Farrell & Goodnight. Closely aligned with the “energy’ metaphor in the US is a “consumer” metaphor: we cannot not consume, and we always have to consume more and more, so we cannot not consume more and more energy. My experience looking at the German scene suggests that this is not as dominant a principle there.

    Responding to Scott’s question of where NEI gets its rhetorical authority, well, they are in part a public relations organization and they make use of all the tools of that trade, which are pretty highly developed. They know how to stay on message, they know how to frame issues, and so on. I’ve written elsewhere that the corporate nuclear entities (including NEI as a corporate umbrella group)
    have appropriated the technocratic authority of the engineering, economics, and policy communities with which they are affiliated. Their own identity is only partially technical, but they position themselves as speaking for (or even as) technical actors.

    As for UCS’s rhetorical authority, I view them as constructing an ethos of “public expertise” — they position themselves as experts in the service of the public. So ultimately, both organizations do rely heavily on technocratic authority–but it gets deployed in rather different ways (UCS more explicit, NEI more implicit).

    I’m intrigued by your suggestion that “one cannot be a watchdog and an honest broker at the same time.” I’m not sure i agree with that — maybe we can talk more about this at the workshop. See you there….

  8. Very interesting paper. One small clarification, please: Is is fair to say that both approaches presume the validity of current forms of assessing natural hazard risk? The issues seem to be largely centered on the technology of nuclear power itself.

  9. Jen Schneider permalink

    Thanks for all the excellent comments, everyone. You’ve given me great things to think about in terms of how to move forward; I don’t have any answers yet as this project is in its very early stages. Perhaps Bill’s comment might speak to your question, though, Phil: I think both organizations are quite focused on the technology itself, but insert themselves in public policy discussions in different ways. I’m interested in when and how more technocratic rhetoric shifts to policy/public rhetoric (though of course these boundaries are hard to draw). But it’s not obvious, how this all shakes out, and I need to do more research, and am intrigued by Bill’s excellent suggestions. Thanks, all–looking forward to meeting you in Berkeley!

  10. Kath Weston permalink

    Your focus on the shared rhetorical tactics/stances of erstwhile opponents is a very fruitful framing device that connects for me with the approach adopted by cultural studies scholars like Susan Buck-Morss in her Dreamworld and Catastrophe study of the utopian rhetoric enlisted by both sides during the Cold War. At the end of the paper you fold castigation into shaming. Is it worth making a distinction?

  11. Karena Kalmbach permalink

    Thank you for this paper! It might be interesting in your further research to divide the categories ‘institutional shaming’ and ‘public shaming’ into additional sub-categories, for instance, ‘national’ and ‘international’; that could show more clearly on what kind of ‘institution(s)’ and what kind of ‘public(s)’ the blame is actually put.

  12. Aya Okada permalink

    With my strong interest in framing, I really enjoyed reading this paper! I have three quick questions/comments. First, I’d be interested in learning more about the methodology you use to identify the two shaming frames. Second, echoing Karena, I think adding sub-categories to understand the two frames would really useful in deepening our understanding. Third, I thought it would be interesting to do a comparative study with the case of Japanese technical regimes. I look forward to further discussions in Berkeley!

  13. Very stimulating paper, it holds a lot of provocative insights! I agree that both pro and antinuclear groups often take science, but perhaps could we discuss more about the “controversy” on risk and uncertainties between various “interest groups” (from unknowns unknowns to the voluntary “construction of ignorance”).

    Also, though I find the opposition between institutional and public shaming very interesting, could define a little bit more how you define the “public” (may I suggest you to take a look at my comment to Sonja’s paper, the problem is similar).

  14. Great essay and project! I found especially interesting your opening reference to Farrell and Goodnight’s notion that neither industry, ecology, nor energy are natural categories, but that they are linguistic/cultural constructs. By extension, I assume that how these terms are understood in different national contexts can affect how discursive constructions unfold. This would play to Okada-san’s suggestion above that you take this work in a comparative direction.

    Also to follow up on the conversation I started in response to Kohta’s paper, I think what’s important is how objectivity deployed and structured here. While on the surface there may be a paradox bewteen UCS’ assertion that they are scientific and objective, and their desire for advocacy, it seems to me that how UCS positions itself is quite different from the experts in the Tokyo Hacker Space who have extrinsic (but incidentally no less normative – meanig libertarian/open source) reasons for creating a space for objective technoscientific discourse. UCS recruits members of the scientific community who want to have their objective, scientific approach to the world serve in a positive social capacity, especially by translating technoscientific issues into a conversant form that can in fact influence policy (even if they, as an organization, don’t adopt a policy position).

    The main difference with NEI would seem to me to be the difference (regulability / controllability) of a voluntarist organization versus the PR engine of an industry front organization. This also leads me to think about this at the level of practice. Apropos Bill Kinsella’s remarks, I see the UCS scientists acting out their role as scientists, while the NEI blogger as acting out his(?) role as a technical person who has absorbed the communicative practices of a PR organization/professional.

    (Ah, I see how you probe the word “industry” here now. Is UCS more of an “ecological” organization, then? And how did “industry” articulate its position in the Japanese context with 3.11, based on how “industry” including its voice(s), is constituted differently in Japan as opposed to the United States? Is there an analogous forum to NEI?)

    Also, while UCS may indeed occupy a third space, one committed more to the discursive ideals of a civil society, I’m not sure whether they wind up serving as advocates or surrogates for the public interest. Do they, in practice, confer with the publics that they supposedly represent, or is it an imagined public created out of their own (technoscientifically-bounded) imaginations?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: