What is it about?

The concept of “post-political uncertainties” describes how specific categories of uncertainty can be produced and mobilized to foreclose in-depth political deliberations around controversial issues. Drawing from a set of public controversies surrounding the role of nuclear power and the threat of radioactive contamination in post-Fukushima Japan, I examine how categories of uncertainty around specific political scenes, like energy security or global warming, gain supremacy over the uncertainties of radiation hazards – invariably foreclosing the expression of concern by members of the public. For some state actors, the potential uncertainties linked with the abandonment of nuclear power have the power to trigger political turmoil of a higher scale than those linked with Fukushima’s radioactive contamination. A form of double depoliticization takes place, in which the issue of Fukushima’s radioactive contamination gets depoliticized through perceived priorities that are paradoxically depicted as post-political, that is, in an urgent need for immediate action and not open to in-depth deliberation. Post-political uncertainties act as effective tools to manage the controversies surrounding energy and toxic waste. The concept highlights how controversies surrounding Fukushima’s radioactive contamination fail to become the subject of public interrogation and political disputes within certain governmental spheres. This kind of depoliticization raises ethical questions surrounding meaningful public participation in decisions that happen at the intersection of politics and science and technology studies.

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Why is it important?

Post-political uncertainties show how nuclear controversies are managed in liberal democracy that nominally rely on public participation, but constrains them so that they are not disruptive. In this way, political leaders and technical experts encourage limited forms of public participation as ends unto themselves, rather than as means for actually affecting policy. Democracy risks becoming mere public participation as opposed to participation in actual decision making.


This article is part of a broader area of research focusing on the governance of radiation hazards after Fukushima.

Maxime Polleri
Stanford University

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This page is a summary of: Post-political uncertainties: Governing nuclear controversies in post-Fukushima Japan, Social Studies of Science, November 2019, SAGE Publications, DOI: 10.1177/0306312719889405.
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