SITE FIGHTS - DIVISIVE FACILITIES AND CIVIL SOCIETY IN JAPAN AND THE WEST
- A Nuclear Street Book Review by Randy Brich -
Siting controversial facilities frequently invokes controversial methods – secrecy, expropriation, coercion and in come cases, incentives. By studying the siting of nuclear power plants, hydroelectric dams and airports, Daniel Aldrich demystifies the process in SITE FIGHTS: DIVISIVE FACILITIES AND CIVIL SOCIETY IN JAPAN AND THE WEST. Using empirical data spanning several decades and comparing the siting processes and methods of Japan, France and to a lesser degree the United States, Aldrich contrasts the advanced nations favored approaches.
Aldrich initially points out that unlike the U.S., civil servants in Japan and France must pass comprehensive entrance exams. He further notes that the ruling administration in both France and Japan each have a mere 150 political appointees, contrasted to 3000 in the U.S., which enhances continuity in state sponsored programs, something that is seemingly lacking in the U.S.
Increased societal demands on fewer resources, together with the evolution of better organized public resistance to controversial facilities, necessitated state intervention at the local level in both Japan and France. Aldrich convincingly shows that cases of small local opposition, usually associated with loosely organized communities where no national opposition group leads the fight, rapidly wither and the state proceeds with construction of dams or airports.
However, where widespread opposition occurs, as in the case of siting new nuclear power plants, France’s heavy handed approach to dealing with organized resistance differs significantly from Japan’s soft approach using incentives and education, as Aldrich observes:
“The French case shows that without sustainable and dynamic civil society to challenge their policies, state agencies have little incentive to create new instruments for handling contestation. … In Japan, on the other hand, broadly mobilized civil society forced the state away from expropriation and other coercive instruments toward soft social controls and incentives.”
Aldrich’s case studies provide ample material for enhanced cogitation especially concerning cases of violence. Unlike the U.S., both France and Japan provide little substantive recourse to state siting decisions. When their public efforts fail in highly controversial cases, frustrated resistors have resorted to violence. For example, in Japan’s Narita Airport siting, resistors used a steel rod to break the knees, wrists and elbows of the chairman of the local expropriation committee. Shortly thereafter the rest of the committee resigned; and though one resistor was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison, the injured chairman committed suicide 15 years later due to constant joint pain from the injuries. Construction eventually resulted in a somewhat smaller airport.
In analyzing the siting of what Aldrich calls “public bads” (as opposed to “public goods”), he initially focuses on airports, followed by dams and concludes with nuclear power plants. Nuclear power carries a high dread factor where the lay public perceives that widespread contamination could result from a reactor accident. While those familiar with the intricacies of nuclear power plant accidents that caused widespread contamination - graphite moderators, no containment dome, etc. – recognize the crucial differences between those and modern reactors; the public doesn’t.
Therein lies the rub. As ATOMIC AWAKENING author James Mahaffey puts it, “As they say in engineering circles, if the first use of gasoline had been to make napalm we’d all be driving electric cars now.” He also describes the public’s lukewarm reception of nuclear power as, “The Paradox Inside a Puzzle Inside a Fantasy.” Yet, the one existing energy source with the potential to create a virtual utopia on earth is the energy source the public fears the most.
With the dispatched ambiance of an objective observer, Aldrich painstakingly reviews the siting of nuclear power plants in Japan and France. His eye-opening analysis provides the mortar to hold together the bricks of knowledge gleaned from his research. For readers of Nuclear Street, these chapters likely contain the most important, useful and indispensable information regarding the siting of nuclear facilities in France and Japan.
Regarding the future of state and local interactions over contentious facilities Aldrich concludes:
“As voluntary associations around the world continue to mobilize and counterbalance state plans, conflict between state and society will create more sustainable, if not necessarily always successful, strategies for responding to citizen concerns. States must recognize the degree to which national plans rest on the reactions of local communities and work to involve them in decision making.”
Jam-packed with 34 pages of references and containing the results of 124 interviews, SITE FIGHTS should be a valuable reference on the shelf of every public, private and corporate official involved in the siting of nuclear power plants and other “public bads.”
Daniel P. AldrichSITE FIGHTS: DIVISIVE FACILITIES AND CIVIL SOCIETY IN JAPAN AND THE WEST,254 pp. Cornell University Press, Hardcover, 2008978-0-8014-4619-1
LAST BOOK REVIEW:
Since then he has retired from the federal government and, after taking time out to build an energy efficient house near the Missouri River, has formed Diamond B Communications LLC. Diamond B Communications LLC uses a multimedia approach to explain complex energy resource issues to technical and non-technical audiences. He also guides for Dakota Bike Tours, the Relaxed Adventure Company, offering tours of the Badlands National Park, the Black Hills and Devils Tower National Monument.
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good one RF
could size of installation affect opinion?
can nc's be smaller and still effient?
e.g. warship's nuke plants?
would be interested to see something on size/effiency
In my research in France and Japan, the size of the installation wasn't a critical factor in local opinion. In many cases, there is "clustering" of plants, where you find between 3 and 7 plants at the same facility. Local residents seem to become habituated to the presence of these facilities once the first one is constructed so that later plants are built with less resistance.