Nuclear Actors

We shall analyze the attitudes of four somewhat overlapping groups of individuals – promoters, expert advocates, interrogators, local actors and protestors. We consider these groups, their interactions among themselves, and their interactions with the natural world and the technological systems employed to diffuse nuclear power in civilian and military contexts, in a kind of Latourian actor-network approach as the following definitions may indicate. For each group, there is environmental thinking and direct engagement with the nuclear-environmental world that we intend to discern. Analysis of these groups should enable us to evaluate more completely how ideas of the human-nature-atom interface evolved.


These individuals largely see the overriding benefits of nuclear energy for peaceful and military purposes. They may be policy makers, military officials, scientists involved in design of various applications, and industrial and utility representatives. When they encounter waste or other problems, they argue that a technological solution will be found, they support continued research in waste handling, they believe that benefits of nuclear technologies significantly outweigh risks and costs, and they argue that these risks and costs can be managed. Promoters often represent national foreign policy makers in the effort to sell nuclear reactors abroad, for example, Russia’s Minatom in Iran, Finland, Hungary, Bulgaria and Philippines, France’s Areva in England and Finland, South Korea’s KEPCO in Saudi Arabia, Westinghouse-Toshiba around the globe, and other examples.

Expert Advocates

Experts may also be promoters, of course, but additionally are involved in developing technologies, deploying systems, and evaluating risks, benefits, public health issues, and environmental concerns. They include physicists, nuclear engineers, zoologists, radiologists, lawyers, metallurgists seismologists, geologists, botanists, social scientists and other specialists, and industry and NGO representatives. Some of them are involved in regulatory capacities, many from the early days of government promotion of nuclear power.


Interrogators may also include scientific specialists and public intellectuals, and generally they may have sanguine attitudes about nuclear power. But these individuals may worry about risks of catastrophic accidents or the spread of radioactivity from fallout, and about the cost of nuclear technologies that often receive direct and indirect subsidies from the state. Interrogators have engaged the ongoing and unresolved controversy over handling of low-level and high level radioactive waste, including spent fuel.

Interrogators have been among the first, for example, who questioned what they considered to be the ad hoc decision-making of the US Atomic Energy Commission in site selection and approval of technical documentation from the 1960s, for example, ignoring or underplaying the considerations of seismologists in siting of reactors (Bodega Bay, San Luis Obispo) (e. g. Wellock, 1992; Wellock, 2012). In other settings, too, the concerns of seismologists may not have had sufficient engagement by other specialists and regulators – Metsamor, Armenia, Crimea, Ukraine [never built], Fukushima, Japan, Bataan, Philippines [never built], and elsewhere.) Interrogators have been legal specialists, environmentalists, members of citizens’ and laypeople advisory boards, and activists in NGOs and other organizations who have demanded participation in the policy process about whether and where to build waste dumps, nuclear power stations, and other objects.

Local Actors Including Victims, Downwinders and Others

Of course, interrogators who engaged state, utility, or other representatives of the nuclear enterprise have also been protestors. In terms of protest, to distinguish these individuals from interrogators we find that grassroots involvement in anti-nuclear activities rather than intervention in the policy process is the key factor. We mean here also those individuals whose daily lives and activities are connected with the nuclear world, whether they have desired that engagement or not. These people might be workers in nuclear communities (nuclear power stations, nuclear “reservations,” closed Russian military cities, processing facilities, waste storage operations, and so on. Many of them are “downwinders” and others exposed to radiation through atomic testing or accidents (Tahitians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Bikinians, Utah Mormons, Nenets, Navaho, Tamil). They are indigenes. They are First Nation people. They are miners in Kazakhstan, Namibia, the Czech Republic, Canada and the US (Nelkin; Pasternak; Voyle; Hecht, 2012). They are townspeople near nuclear power stations who often embrace nuclear power for its safe generation of electricity, but in particular for providing significant tax revenues and other benefits to the community that enable the construction of new schools, hospitals, libraries and so on, and provide stable jobs. They are tens of thousands of residents removed from the Techa River valley in the Ural Mountains; the Umatilla, Yakama, and Nez Perce who were forced out of Columbia River basin; the Algonquins along the Ottawa River in Canada who have seen radionuclides migrate from waste storage facilities; and other people directly affected.