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“Because we’ve got history here”: nuclear waste, cooperative siting, and the relational geography of a complex issue


  • Karen Bickerstaff


This paper takes as its focus recent developments in UK radioactive waste management policy and, through a relational reading of siting conflicts, stresses the need to locate, historically, controversy that takes place in the present. In particular, I argue that temporally distant actors and events, which remain culturally very salient, are critical in shaping the pathway of contentious planning processes. Here I trace the space–time relations that configure the (possible) siting of a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) for higher activity nuclear waste, through a cooperative process of volunteerism, as a matter of concern for publics in West Cumbria. The history, economy, and culture of West Cumbria is intimately connected with the nuclear industry—and, at the time of writing, the region represents the only area of England and Wales for which there are recorded expressions of interest in hosting a GDF. The paper demonstrates that controversy centred on the spatial ordering of the siting process by government—a politics that was rooted in the area’s history with nuclear waste—and the actors and events that had structured this past. In this regard, I argue for a geographical reading of siting controversy that acknowledges the agency of the absent, and the play of distant others in configuring a public politics of the present. Keywords: relational geography, absent–presence, nuclear waste, siting controversy

Suggested Citation

  • Karen Bickerstaff, 2012. "“Because we’ve got history here”: nuclear waste, cooperative siting, and the relational geography of a complex issue," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 44(11), pages 2611-2628, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:pio:envira:v:44:y:2012:i:11:p:2611-2628

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