Public Understanding of Science is running a number of articles on nuclear waste and risk lately, including Sari Yli-Kauhaluoma and Hannu Hänninen’s open access “Tale taming radioactive fears: Linking nuclear waste disposal to the ‘continuum of the good.”

Abstract: We examine how the constructor of the world’s first repository for the final disposal of spent nuclear fuel
in Eurajoki, Finland, aims to shape lay understanding of the facility’s risks and to tame the nuclear fears of
the local community by producing positive associations, imagery and tales. Our empirical material consists
of the constructor’s newsletters targeted mainly at the local residents. In the narrative analysis, we identified
a storyline where the construction of the repository is linked into the “continuum of the good” in the
municipality of the construction site and the surrounding areas. The storyline consists of five different
themes all emphasizing the “continuum of the good” in the area: cultural heritage, well-being, developing
expertise, natural environment, and local families. Our study contributes to the literature on pro-nuclear
storytelling by showing how the inclination is towards narratives that are constructed around local symbols,
cultural landmarks, and institutions.

Many of the points made in the article can be made about contamination concerns for other types of waste, and particularly how industrial narratives complicate what “the commons” is, what it is for, and how it works. Here, wastelands become productive lands undergirding development of what is already valued at a local level. Overall, the research can point to how the social construction of contamination risks and industrial storytelling is based on technological determinism, the presumption that technology drives the development of a society’s social structure and cultural values, even when–and particularly when–technical specifics are eschewed for broader cultural narratives about the common good.

Nuclear power plant  in Olkiluoto.

Nuclear power plant in Olkiluoto.