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From Secrecy to Public Containment

Sun, August 12, 8:30 to 10:10am, Pennsylvania Convention Center, Level 100, 113B


How do social problems become invisible? This article shows how the Fukushima Dai-ichi accident in 2011 became a non-event in France compared to Chernobyl in 1986. Based on data on the coverage of both nuclear accidents in the French newspaper Le Monde in comparison and an ethnographic study of the actor configuration responsible for this social problem behind the scenes in France, we study the process through which nuclear accidents became object to public containment. Public containment refers to a specific form of publication of a problem that is continuously mediatized without being particularly visible. Analytically, it refers to a representation of an issue inside of established boundaries of the related problem definition and actor configuration. In the case of Fukushima, public containment results from a process of institution-building since and in reaction to Chernobyl. Governmental agencies were created in its aftermath and engaged in a work on interdependencies with potential challenging actors and journalists, coordination of information-sharing and boundary work on the independence between nuclear safety related issues and energy policy choices. These new fragile compromises on the mediatization of nuclear-related issues were tested during the Fukushima accident. Our study suggests that increasing transparency demands on social problems in strategic sectors such as nuclear energy require profound reconfiguration of institutional arrangements on public narratives and coordination between multiple actors. Former strategies of selective publication of information and secrecy are replaced by new forms of containment work that parallel the increasing disclosure of information on these social problems.


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