Reviewed by Kathy Araújo
, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Kennedy School of Government

Benjamin Sovacool and Scott Valentine propose and evaluate a novel, interdisciplinary framework to explain key influences in nuclear adoption pathways.

The National Politics of Nuclear Power: Economics, Security and Governance, by Benjamin Sovacool and Scott Valentine,  Routledge, 292pp

Conventional policy writing on nuclear energy routinely turns to questions of safety and security, proliferation risk, siting, waste management, and opposition, among other considerations. However, much less is understood about underlying sociopolitical economy factors which shape national development trajectories. Benjamin Sovacool and Scott Valentine attempt to demystify this subject by presenting a provocative theory on conditions which shape propensities for nuclear energy development.

Extending earlier work, such as Henry Nau’s National Politics and International Technology: Nuclear Reactor Development in Western Europe (1975), Sovacool and Valentine analyze eight cases of nuclearized countries from North America, Asia, and Europe. Indicating a principally neutral stance on the acceptability of nuclear energy, the two argue that six conditions are historically essential to sustaining commercial nuclear power development: (1) national security and secrecy; (2) technocratic ideology; (3) economic interventionism; (4) a centrally controlled energy stakeholder network; (5) subordination of opposition to political authority; and (6) social peripheralization. Going further, they contend that this set of conditions must exist simultaneously for there to be robust and fluid development of nuclear energy. Sovacool and Valentine also observe that undemocratic regimes are where nuclear development tends to flourish.

Criticism could arguably challenge the scope of determinants and development that are evaluated, or the decidedly inductive nature of the study. Yet reasonable responses exist for both. For the former, the authors acknowledge the novel nature of their framework and encourage further testing. For the latter, statistical analysis could miss deeper and more complex explanations.

Fundamentally, this writing enhances our understanding of nuclear power in areas which intersect with sustainability, governance, and planning, as well as security and development. Taken together, the strengths of the book lie in its lucid discussion of nuclear technology, its cross-country assessment of discrete adoption pathways, and its predictive examination of relevant conditions. At a time when the world muddles through its post-Fukushima thinking on nuclear energy, this book enlightens with a fascinating and timely contribution.

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