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Title: The performance of knowledge in the low level radiation risk debate
Author: Dorfman, Paul.
ISNI:       0000 0001 3429 3735
Awarding Body: University of the West of England, Bristol,
Current Institution: University of the West of England, Bristol
Date of Award: 2005
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All nuclear plant discharge low-level radiation (LLR) to the environment. The problem that the thesis addresses is that of the definition of LLR risk. This thesis is a study of the nature of the LLR risk conflict, and how opposing views about LLR risk are brought to bear at both local and global levels. In other words, the thesis empirically explores the basis of this conflict by embedding a set of linked local risk controversy case studies within the global fundamental LLR risk scientific debate. My position is that risk and safety knowledge is conceived, produced, and deployed in particular ways. In this context, I have conflated the notions of conception, production and deployment of LLR risk knowledge by coining the neologism: the 'performance ofLLR risk'. To this end, the thesis has mapped out the performance of knowledge by and between actors/actants involved in the LLR risk debate. In other words, the thesis has attempted to explore (via case study research) the traces left by the pathways along which differing quantities and qualities of anthropogenic ionising radiation insults are delivered to differing receiving populations and individuals - and various responses to those insults. Further, (via the interrogation of a set of analytical themes) I have explored a number of meanings that adhere to fundamental experimental data. What is significant about elements of the fundamental institutional judgements, are their inherently subjective nature (in the context of complex, uncertain, indeterminate and latent phenomena). In practice, the end-points of these negotiations are institutionally reified as radiation protection risk factors, which are then translated into models of environmental management. Thus, somewhere along the continuum that stretches from fundamental science to rad-risk regulation 'on the ground', the statement 'LLR may be risky', is transformed into 'LLR is relatively safe'. The thesis problematises the appearance of closure (LLR is safe) as a unified truth that is reified in industrial and regulatory products, processes and procedures; by invoking the ANT concept of 'translation', whereby the disappearance of the network of contingent assumptions, negotiations, extrapolations, justifications and uncertainty that comprise that claim is replaced by a black-boxed knowledge construct that is patterned, disciplined, strong and durable. My primary conclusion is that, for the purposes of institutional radiation protection, fundamental epistemological scientific uncertainty about LLR risk knowledge is potentially problematically translated into regulatory certainty. In other words, I present evidence which suggests that the risk communication 'LLR is potentially risky' (via fundamental science) translates into 'LLR is acceptably safe' (for the purposes of radiation protection regUlation). Or more precisely, whilst the institutional radiation protection community remain unsure about the determination of LLR risk (because, at present, knowledge of the action ofLLR and the tools employed to determine that risk, are not sufficiently developed) - for regulatory radiation protection purposes LLR is assumed to be relatively safe. Thus, I argue that there exist profound uncertainty and indeterminacy about the (over)simp1ification of the complex and potentially problematic latent phenomena that comprise the institutional network LLR risk judgement. I contend that these risk definitions seem dependent on the relative strengths or weaknesses of the various natural and social associations that are corralled enrolled and mobilised. The powerful institutional network rests with the LLR safety claim. For counter groups a causative connection between chronic LLR discharge by nuclear facilities and childhood leukaemia clusters and increased cancer incidence in young people in communities near to those facilities remain phantom intermediaries - excluded and excised from the institutional LLR risk definition. However, evidence presented in this thesis problematises the institutional safety claim, and replaces it with another truth claim: that LLR may be unacceptably risky.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available