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Risk and denials: exploring energy risk possibilities and probabilities from 1945 to 2012

Professor Charles Perrow
Yale University
Date: 20 September 2012 
Time: 4.30 - 6.00pm 
Venue: OLD3.21


Nuclear denials parallel other denials such as climate change and the link between smoking and cancer, aligning state and corporate interests. The US and the Soviet Union utilized denial and secrecy with respect to radiation damages from atomic bombs, bomb factories, and nuclear power plants in order to legitimate the bomb and its bad seed, nuclear power plants. When obvious damages unmasked denial and secrecy, risk analysis was employed. Probability Risk Analysis ignored possibilities, and favoured probabilities, which were always found to be low.  Since they were not zero, the risk analysis trope blamed the victims for their lifestyles or unreasonable fears, with terms such as “radiophobia” accounting for morbidity and mortality.  These dynamics are emerging in Fukushima where the radiation effects are said to be trivial but the psychological effects potentially deadly.  Powerful state and corporate interests are involved in this social construction of risk.

About the speaker

Charles Perrow is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Yale University. An organisational theorist, he is the author of six books, including the award winning Normal Accidents: Living with High Risk Technologies (1984; revised, 1999), award winning The AIDS Disaster: The Failure of Organisations in New York and the Nation (1990) with Mauro Guillen, award winning Organizing America: Wealth, Power, and the Origins of American Capitalism (2002) and over 50 articles. His interests include the development of bureaucracy in the 19th Century; the radical movements of the 1960s; Marxian theories of industrialisation and of contemporary crises; accidents in such high risk systems as nuclear plants, air transport, DNA research and chemical plants; protecting the nation’s critical infrastructure; the prospects for democratic work organisations; and the origins of U.S. capitalism.