An Exclusive Nuclear Street Interview with Dr. Daniel P. Aldrich, Author Of SITE FIGHTS:  DIVISIVE FACILITIES AND CIVIL SOCIETY IN JAPAN AND THE WEST

- By Randy Brich -

One of the world's leading authorities on the incredibly important subject of siting controversial facilities, sociologist and author, Daniel P. Aldrich, Ph.D., kindly agreed to the following interview reproduced in its entirety below.

Nuclear Street: What is your age and how long did it take you to research and write SITE FIGHTS?

Dr. Daniel P. Aldrich:  I am currently 35; I began this project back in 2002 when I was in Japan interviewing various power utility executives and central government bureaucrats on the issue of nuclear power in Japan.  Between 2002 and 2005 I spent one and a half years in Japan and about 4 months in France doing fieldwork, archival research, and interviews for the project.  After finishing my dissertation in 2005, I revised the manuscript extensively based on feedback from colleagues and from Cornell University Press.  Overall, I spent around 4 years on the book.

NS:  Your work SITE FIGHTS identifies the mechanisms states use to site dams and airports, what made you decide to include nuclear power plants and why did you choose Japan and France?

Aldrich:  The initial puzzle that drove my research was how the only nation in the world to have experienced atomic weaponry could turn around and then develop one of the world's most advanced commercial nuclear power programs, complete with fuel recycling, reprocessing, and MOX-fuel.  I wanted to make sure that my conclusions weren't a function of the area of nuclear power - so I added two other types of divisive facilities which generate negative reactions but at a smaller scale.  Japan has always been an interest of mine, and I added France because it has so many similar governmental institutions - insulated, highly regarded bureaucrats who stay in power for decades, a national commitment to nuclear power, and so on- but uses completely different policy instruments in handling the issue.

NS:  Could you describe some of the seminal books you read during your literature review that convinced you that nuclear power plants were ripe for study and perhaps compare and contrast scholars to industry?

Aldrich:  Some of the biggest scholars that I read include John Campbell (who wrote Collapse of an Industry), Elliot Feldman and Jerome Milch (who wrote Technocracy versus Democracy), James Jasper (who wrote Nuclear Politics), and Dorothy Nelkin and Michael Pollak (who wrote The Atom Besieged).  More recently S. Hayden Lesbirel wrote NIMBY Politics in Japan and Frances Rosenbluth and Mark Ramseyer looked into the issue of nuclear power in Japan as well.  Overall, many of these scholars immersed themselves in the political institutions which so often determine the course of industry - but many industry based executives don't pay enough attention to this issue.  Over and over again social scientists have underscored the important role played by the government in areas of capital-intensive industry.

NS:  Although both France and Japan have the most advanced and successful nuclear power programs in the world your book describes some of the misgivings the local populations have regarding this technology.

Aldrich:  Yes, I think one important thing for engineers and industry to recognize is the broad diversity in risk perception among the population along with the fluidity of risk perception, as Hugh Gusterson put it in a paper he wrote on a national laboratory's attempt to build a waste incinerator.  Even if technicians and bureaucrats see a technology as reasonably or even highly safe, it is almost certain that some percentage of the residents nearby and further away will disagree.

NS:  What did your research show you about some of the local citizens – why are they against nuclear power?

Aldrich:  For some, the resistance is based on ideological concerns - they see the issue of nuclear power as one highly controlled by an "iron triangle" of politicians, bureaucrats, and industry leaders.  Others envision nuclear power as a form of encroaching government powers which sap local autonomy and force programs on unwilling populations. Some local residents might be more concerned about the direct impact of the plant on their lives - whether in terms of safety (leaks, terrorist attacks, accidents) or property values.

NS:  In contrast, why are the countries populations mostly in favor of nuclear power?

Aldrich:  I am most persuaded by the work of Jasper (mentioned above) who argues that the way that the government approaches nuclear power heavily influences the perception taken by the population.  In nations like France, where the government has clearly committed since the end of WWII to a strong nuclear program, the majority of citizens have been in favor.  In nations like Germany, Italy, and Spain, where politicians often campaign against nuclear power or work with Green Parties to oppose it, the population is much less supportive.  In the US, because of the mixed messages from the Executive branch, our population is also more mixed.

NS:  In your opinion why do you think the American public is having such a difficult time embracing nuclear power?

Aldrich:  Many citizens here recognize that some of the long term technical aspects of nuclear power - such as a viable process for handling long term high level radioactive waste - have yet to be successfully implemented.  Whether or not the industry recognizes it, President Obama's decision to essentially suspend - if not shut down - the Yucca Mountain program has been taken by many as a sign that the government is not enthusiastic about solving this issue.  Furthermore, many Americans who saw the near-accident at Three Mile Island, worried about Chernobyl, or heard of the deaths of two workers at the reprocessing plant in Tokaimura, Japan, continue to see nuclear power as a highly risky endeavor.

NS:  I understand that your dataset is available on the net, what is the address and has anybody accessed it?

Aldrich:  The goal of social science is to provide both analysis and data about critical problems - one of my teachers, Gary King, drilled into us the importance of providing our data to other scholars so that they can test to see if our conclusions are correct. All of the data that I collected and analyzed can be downloaded for free at  According to the statistics on the website, people have downloaded data more than 280 times.

NS:  One of the themes in SITE FIGHTS concerns the interplay between expanding population, increased communication and reduced availability of suitable acreage for big projects.  Would you care to speculate on how you see the future shaping up in the developed world?

ALDRICH:  I envision the issue only becoming more acute over time.  Thanks to the internet and to rising citizen consciousness about issues like the environment and health problems, more and more people are going to want to get involved in decision making processes about nuclear power plants, dams, airports, waste dumps, and other "public bads" (as I call them in the book).

NS:  Since your research involves controversial facilities I am  guessing you might have some new acronyms that some of us haven’t heard. My readers are familiar with NIMBY (Not In My BackYard), BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody) and NOPE (Not On Planet Earth); do you know of some others?

Aldrich:  One of my personal favorites is NIMTOO - Not In My Term Of Office.  The regular politician - who might serve between 2 and 12 years in office - has little interest in getting involved in a highly controversial, highly emotional fight over a new project.  Rather than taking sides, it is far easier to do nothing and push the problem onto the next generation of decision makers.  Of course, as land availability decreases, and people only get more involved in decision making, this will make the future struggles all the more intense.

NS:  Finally, when a strongly organized local community is adamantly opposed to a controversial project what is the best way to try to work with the community and what are the chances for success?

Aldrich:  First, the most obvious point that many often overlook is to ensure that local residents have a voice in the outcome.  All of the technocratic data about geological, hydrological, and other factors won't matter at all if the local residents think that you don't care about their opinions and input.  Herbert Inhaber long ago proposed a "reverse Dutch auction" in which we find sites for controversial projects by offering higher and higher levels of incentives until a community volunteers.  If the community doesn't volunteer to host the project - whether a uranium extraction well or a prison - you're going to anger the residents who will see themselves as unfairly being burdened with a project that benefits others more than it benefits them.  Next, in a point made by Greg McAvoy in his book (Technocracy vs. Democracy) and in my own book, the struggle between developer/government agency and civil society - however painful - may in fact produce a positive outcome.  McAvoy documented how the planners in Minnesota went back to the drawing board, scrapping plans for what would soon have been both an unnecessary and costly waste disposal system for better recycling and reuse procedures.  Opposition may lead the developer to think about alternative ways of solving the problem at hand.

NS:  Based on your research, interactions and interviews did you form an opinion on nuclear power?

Aldrich:  I myself remain mostly agnostic; it is clear that high sulfur coals are a tremendous problem for global warming, and that nuclear power has the promise of carbon dioxide free power.  However, radwaste issues remain unsolved and I am hopeful that the next generation - Generation IV pebble bed reactors - will reduce much of the risk that induces contentious reactions from local populations.

NS:  Based on your research, interactions and interviews did you form an opinion of the anti-nuclear activists?

Aldrich:  While some may envision them as ignorant or self-serving, the activists with whom I dealt were more regularly normal individuals who saw themselves as being railroaded by a larger system that cared little for their input or ideas.  In some cities in Japan, anti-nuclear activists weren't ideological at all - they were concerned with the health of their children (having seen extensive coverage of the deaths of two workers at Tokaimura, Japan) and with their livelihoods.  Others wanted to make sure that their home values wouldn't suffer.  Most of them had done their homework as well, reading deeply on the issue and trying to ensure that they could offer an informed opinion, if ever given the chance.  In France, anti-nuclear activists saw peacefully protesting individuals arrested and their homes and vineyards plowed up to make space for new reactors; these experiences embittered them against future developments.

NS: Thank you for the interview and good luck with your book and future research.

ALDRICH:  I hope that this book will stimulate discussion in industry, academic, and activist circles about the broader patterns of state-civil society interaction over controversial facilities.  As the negative consequences of global warming become increasingly apparent, we – as both scholars and citizens – should work to create sustainable and safe ways to produce energy.

Check out SITE FIGHTS at
Dr. Rabbi Daniel P. Aldrich
Assistant Professor, Political Science, Purdue University

Daniel P. Aldrich received his Ph.D. and M.A. in political science from Harvard University, an M.A. from the University of California at Berkeley, and his B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Daniel has focused on the ways in which state agencies interact with contentious civil society over the siting of controversial facilities such as nuclear power plants, airports, and dams.  His 2008 book SITE FIGHTS: Divisive Facilities and Civil Society in Japan and the West has been reviewed by more than 13 journals and is about to be reprinted in soft cover.  His current research focuses on the role of social capital in post-disaster recovery.  He has published a number of peer-reviewed articles alongside research for general audiences.
His research has been funded by grants from the Abe Foundation, IIE Fulbright Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Reischauer Institute at Harvard University, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and Harvard’s Center for European Studies. He has been a visiting scholar at the Japanese Ministry of Finance, the Institute for Social Science at Tokyo University, Harvard University, the Tata Institute for Social Science in Mumbai and the Institut d’etudes politiques de Paris (Sciences Po). He has spent more than three years conducting fieldwork in Japan, India and France.


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 ...
About Randy Brich
Randy graduated from South Dakota State University in 1978 with a M.S. in Biology.  Following graduation he switched gears and began a lifelong study of ionizing radiation and its beneficial applications to humanity.  During the course of his study he worked as a staff Health Physicist with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission specializing in the licensing and inspection of uranium recovery facilities.  He transferred to the Department of Energy where he worked as a Health Physicist at the Randy BrichNevada Operations Office and later to the Richland Operations Office specializing in environmental monitoring, dose reconstruction, worker protection, waste cleanup and systems biology.

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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