Learning to listen: institutional change and legitimation in UK radioactive waste policy

MacKerron, Gordon and Berkhout, Frans (2009) Learning to listen: institutional change and legitimation in UK radioactive waste policy. Journal of Risk Research, 12 (7-8). pp. 989-1008. ISSN 1366-9877

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Over the course of 50 years, UK radioactive waste policy change has been coupled with institutional change, without much progress towards the ultimate goal of safe, long-term stewardship of wastes. We explain this history as a search for legitimacy against a shifting context of legitimation needs and deficits. Following Habermas, we argue that legitimation is derived from a process of justificatory discourse. In principle, there must be a reasonable exchange of arguments between diverse parties in society, based on common norms, for legitimacy to be achieved. We show that the work of legitimation in UK radioactive waste policy has moved from a focus on factual validity claims towards an increasing emphasis on deliberative processes. This reframing of legitimation needs explains institutional and policy changes in UK radioactive waste policy. The most recent phase of policy and institutional change, which placed public deliberation about long-term management and disposal options centre-stage, represents a new step towards bridging legitimation deficits. Plans to build new nuclear reactors in the UK based on a more closed 'streamlined' decision process risk reversing the legitimacy gains that have been achieved through growing openness on radioactive waste management.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: University of Sussex Business School > SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit
Depositing User: Gordon MacKerron
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 20:36
Last Modified: 04 Apr 2012 08:35
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/26889
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