Risk and social construction of nuclear power development in China: local people’s participation in civil nuclear issues in China at the start of the 21st century
China’s civil nuclear power programme is a sensitive topic which has seldom been researched by social or political scientists inside or outside of China. In the past, public participation activities in relation to nuclear power issues in China were rare. However, in 2005, when the central government decided to promote civil nuclear development and build 40 more nuclear reactors within the next 20 years, the public started to become aware of the potential environmental risks that might be caused by nuclear power sites. Based on six months of ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2007-2008, this thesis represents the first in-depth study of local people’s ways of participation concerning a potential inland nuclear power project in China. It provides rich empirical materials to illustrate local people’s differing perceptions of nuclear power and its risks. The thesis reviews developments in the sociological theorisation of ‘risk’ and, by bringing this body of literature into dialogue with the empirical case study, explores its possibilities and limitations as a means of understanding the social construction of risk in contemporary China. In exploring the social, cultural and political context of risk construction, it illustrates how political power and social status influence local people’s participation in nuclear power issues. It also demonstrates that citizens’ growing environmental risk awareness helps to create space within which they can make their voices heard and, simultaneously, that generating open spaces for people to express their opinions helps to shape their awareness of environmental risk. The central conclusion of the analysis is that, in the context of Chinese society political power, by which I mean policy makers’ ideology and all levels of governments, plays a particularly crucial role in the definition, management and governance of nuclear risk.